The anatomy of racism

For Mario Kreutzberger, Don Francisco, who wondered where racism came from.

Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, tweeted: “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” A contrary view came from two Cuban-American representatives, also Republican, Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Ileana was specific: “Diversity is our strength.” The clash was reported by El Nuevo Herald.

Therein lies the core of a permanent debate: human, i.e., animal nature, espoused by King, opposed to the artificial rationality that has emerged in the course of our civilization. Uniformity against diversity. Genetic links versus relations founded on the law. The logic of race, of blood, of Hitler, against the logic of natural rights and, if you wish, the logic of the Judeo-Stoic-Christian tradition.

True, racism is on the rise worldwide. This is demonstrated in the growing episodes of anti-Semitism. It’s happening in France, Holland, Spain, Italy. The slogan “Make America Great Again” is not only an economic or industrial issue, it’s making the U.S. once again essentially white, northern European and uniformly English-speaking, the way Representative King would like it to be.

That’s how the American ruling class was when the republic was founded in the late 18th Century, a mythical golden age when the Founding Fathers came together. That’s how it was until an African-American gentleman named Barack Hussein Obama came to the White House as the nation’s 44th president.

That narrow definition of the United States may today include (though to a lesser degree) Jewish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Greek-Americans and the rest of the expatriates who have immigrated en masse to the United States in the past 150 years, but the hard nucleus of U.S. identity, the ethnic group that generates the strongest stereotype is the mythical Anglo-Saxon enthused by Donald Trump’s victory as, for example, Congressman Steve King, the descendant of the Irish, the Germans and the Welsh.

Racism is a feature inherent to human nature. Children are born without experiencing it, and evolve that way during the first years of their lives, until they gradually acquire an identity. That’s the point of no return. As soon as the id defines itself and takes root, it triggers a blind impulse to segregate or liquidate the others, the different ones, those who really are not part of its group or share its primary identity.

Identity makes us racists because we gradually cease to be individuals in the abstract and become part of a tribe that identifies itself by the color of the skin, the type of hair, the shape of the eyes, the language we use, the intonation of our speech, the gestures we use, the religious beliefs, the mythology or shared stories and a thousand other details that form and conform the members of each group.

Anthropologist José Antonio Jáuregui, an especially intelligent scholar, suspected that that behavior of “identitarian” closeness was part of a natural strategy that would enable the species to prevail in the complex and aggressive course of evolution.

People who are part of a tribe have better chances to reproduce and pass their genes on to their descendants. To do this, the brain guides us in the right direction by means of neurotransmitters that carry pleasure or pain stimuli. As Jáuregui put it, we are “slaves of our brains.”

Nationalism and sports fanaticism — almost always twinned — are an expression of this phenomenon. (Some days ago, when the Catalonians won an improbable soccer game with five successive goals, seismographs in Barcelona recorded the triumph with one point on the Richter scale produced by the joyful leaps of tens of thousands of frenzied Barcelonians, suddenly united by the paroxysm provoked by the victory of the local team.)

How could a mestizo with an Arab name and partially African origin win the presidency if societies remain bound by those ancient and invisible ties? Because, at least temporarily, the republican (in the good sense of the word) concept of the species had triumphed — we are all equal under the law. It was the triumph of republicanism, a blessed device based on the beautiful superstition that what makes Americans “American” is respect for the Constitution.

That’s where we stand. Struggling against a million-years past, so that people won’t be prejudged by the color of their skin, the gods to whom they pray, the sexual desires that dominate them and the rest of the elements that constitute their identity.

Eventually, all that will be achieved and we will expunge racism forever. But it will take a long time for reason to win that combat. After all, we were animals for millions of years and it was only 25 centuries ago in Athens that Zeno the Stoic, a red-haired foreigner, small and knock-kneed, dared to say that people had rights beyond parentage and place of birth. A mere while ago.

Published in Spanish by El Blog de Montaner on Saturday March 18th, 2017

*The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author.*