In simple terms, there is no biological basis for racial classification. It is thought that we have only 0.1 per cent genetic variation within our own species. Whilst we may look different externally, factors such as skin colour, size, and hair are known as clines and have more to do with environmental conditions than genetic composition. Yet in reality, this is irrelevant; race does exist in a cultural sense, and racism is a palpable phenomenon which has affected millions of people throughout history. Notions of ethnicity and race have become powerful political tools in the modern world, and it is crucial that we attempt to comprehend the intricate complexities of racism if we want to negate it. Like a depraved snowflake, no one form of racism emulates another in its entirety, rendering it extraordinarily difficult to get to grips with.
In the Western world at least, the term racism has been bundled into the same stratosphere as fascism, authoritarianism and other generally far-right belief systems, where discrimination of minorities tends to be a regular occurrence. I wouldn’t blame you for taking this position but I would insist that we need to go beyond merely ignoring a number of glaringly significant issues surrounding the causes of racist ideology. It is easy to label racism as a reflection of fascist bigotry and to dismiss all counter-arguments without at any point actually listening to anything anyone has to say about its essential nature. While some of the more entrenched causes of racism are harder to alleviate, there are several other contributing factors that we a have a fairly decent chance of countering. But we need to consider more than race itself.
I would posit that racism has less to do with political ideology than it has to do with the ethnic composition of nations, and with that a lack of exposure to people from different ethnic backgrounds. Let’s begin with a short game. I name some countries and you list them from most to least racist. GO!
Finished? Well, believe it or not, a recent study revealed that of the countries that participated, Finland came out on top as being the most racist. A supposedly progressive Scandinavian nation that’s meant to provide moral guidance for the rest of us, maybe Finland isn’t all that it seems. Similarly with Sweden, a country equally as renowned for its spotless political virtues, racism appears to be a problem. A report published by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has recently espoused serious distress over the extent of the current racial abuse in Sweden. Granted, Finland has flirted with fascism in the past, but for a nation that’s supposedly the happiest country on earth, clearly not everyone there is incandescent with joy.
Maybe I’m just ignorant, but I was surprised to discover that South Korea is another country tainted by endemic racism. A survey conducted by two Swedish (what a coincidence) economists asked respondents hailing from over 80 countries to identify types of people they wouldn’t want to have living next door. Of the potential answers listed, “people of a different race” constituted as a fair indicator of that person being fairly racist. Thus, the more often people in a given country answered with “people of a different race”, the more likely that country was to be imbued with racist tendencies, according to the conductors of the survey. Whether or not you agree with this methodology, the results indicated that South Korea ranked highly (30-39%) in terms of possessing racist civilians.
So, you have three countries here, all of which are commonly perceived as being first world, well-educated, prosperous nations. Why then are they exhibiting uncharacteristically racist tendencies? The answer lies in homogeneity:
“People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer.”
– Andrew Smith
When I endeavoured to discover what was at the root of racism, I began cross-referencing notably racist first world countries with ethnic homogeneity, and the results were illuminating. Fearon’s list of cultural fractionalisation – number 1 being the most culturally fractionalised and number 159 being the least – ranks South Korea as 158th, Finland 142nd and Sweden 128th. Also noteworthy is Italy’s especially low ranking at 155th, a country long associated with far-right politics and currently spearheaded by the Five Star Movement. In contrast, despite what you may think, in the grand scheme of things Britain is not a particularly racist country. I am sure this will greatly offend a number of readers but I plead you to look at the facts. In a way it is strangely complimentary. Just hear me out.
Britain has been a melting pot for much of its history as a nation. As a result, the UK has experienced a much greater degree of ethnic integration than most other countries. When people of ‘different’ races integrate without economic and political impediments, amicable and harmonious relations tend to be the result, as people begin to realise the misconceptions they’ve been fed about other nationalities are false. Canada serves as an even better example than Britain, being more ethnically diverse and enjoying a greater degree of consonance between its inhabitants. I genuinely believe most people don’t enter this world wanting to dislike other people, and I also believe that if people were just willing to give certain people a chance when they otherwise wouldn’t, we would fare much better as a species. Exposure to different cultures and ideas, in the long term, is a good thing, if we choose it to be.
But it is easy to react negatively to things that seem alien to us, such as a cohort of ‘alien’ people entering your country with ‘strange’ cultural nuances that don’t necessarily conform to your way of life. Negligible exposure serves to warp our preconceptions of other people, and it takes time for people to see these prejudices for what they really are. Politicians have realised this tendency, and have exploited it to their advantage time and time again. Generally in politics, if a phenomenon suits someone’s agenda, irrespective of whether he or she actually agrees with that particular phenomenon, that person will use it to his or her advantage.
You’re probably sick to death of it by now, but I cannot complete this article without mentioning Brexit. But just look at these statistics; shortly after the vote a survey showed that 33% of people voted leave did so because it “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders”. Moreover, 81% of Leave voters regarded multiculturalism and 80% regarded immigration as “forces for ill”, compared to 19% and 20% of Remain voters respectively. Clearly, immigration had a lot to do with Brexit. Does this render Britain a racist country? Not necessarily.
What is crucial to note is how areas in the UK that witnessed the highest rate of increase in residents born outside the UK between the 2001 and 2011 censuses – not the most ethnically diverse areas – were the areas where the leave vote did best. Boston in Lincolnshire had the highest proportion of leave votes in the entire country. Is it a coincidence that it also had the highest rate of increase in residents born outside the UK this century (a whopping 467%)? I think not. Nor is it a coincidence that economically deprived areas of Britain, burdened with long-term structural unemployment and low-quality education – the losers of globalisation – also voted Brexit, Wales serving as a prime example.
What do these two graphs tell us? They tell us that misinformation, economic deprivation and exploitation conspire to create the perfect storm that is racism. Do not think that I am directly correlating the leave vote with racism. Many of my friends voted leave and I know for a fact that none of them is racist. However a number of people voted leave on the foundations of racial prejudice. Millions of people feel fucked over by the system, and rightly so. Austerity has left the most vulnerable in society worse off. But those at the top are master manipulators, both left and right wing, and have seen to it that the worst off in society perceive immigrants and minorities as the main problem. People fear what they don’t understand, regardless of whether they’re acting rationally or not.
The fact that the most racist countries across the globe tend to be developing third world nations should come as no surprise. Where racism is surprisingly rife one finds a number of common factors: cultural homogeneity coupled with an influx of heterogeneity can often turn bad due to fear and ignorance. Compounded by economic stagnation and political manipulation, racism can augment in places you wouldn’t expect. I don’t claim to offer any solution to the enduring issue of racism, nor do I proclaim this my opinion to be beyond challenge. I’m just trying to elucidate an issue so damningly opaque. All I condone is cooperation and fruitful discourse and I welcome anyone, from any socio-economic and ethnic background, to argue against what I have espoused.
Written by Tedd Askin