Racism is a tribal affair

Racism is a tribal affair

Around the first fire in the first cave where sat the first family, there was only the good communal atmosphere of a group of individuals sitting together in support of each other because the world outside the cave entrance was no place for the less hairy human to go out alone into the potential maws of predators waiting for their next meal. This, one can assume, went on until the first family grew and the progeny gave birth to the point where the first family’s tree spanned a few generations.

The most possible likelihood (tautology!) is that the cave got too small for the growing family, the valley became too small as the family grew into a village, and the families had to go out in search of land. The other possibility is that the herds of game moved and the initial hunter-gatherer families moved with them. These are all just the possible answers to the question of how the human race ended up spreading throughout the entire globe. How the members of the initial human family in a cave sometime in prehistory ended thinking they are so different that they could view each other on a level of humanity and sub-humanity vexes one’s understanding. It is the premise to the question of how we ended up racist.

Dale Carnegie in his bestselling manual, How to Make Friends and Influence People, defines the human creature as naturally tending towards racism and self-interest. In fact, he bluntly puts the human being as naturally racist, a view which I choose to differ in. People become what they are on the basis of the amount of freewill they have with regard to describing what their personal view tells them. Robbed or denied of the freedom to choose how they define the world around them the human being will not see the difference to the point where they start believing that their difference is better than other people’s difference.

Racist tendencies are largely born out of the lack of understanding of the reality difference brings to the fore, especially when it comes to the question of identity. Identity is hinged on the idea of one individual choosing to pledge their allegiance to a certain skin colour, individual, pattern, behaviour, and other human characteristics as found in the idea of the tribe. Identity is proliferate where there is a certain level of acceptance on the part of the host with regard to the one seeking to identify with them.

Where there is lack of acceptance, the individual is more likely to go out in search of them that will identify with them, or, as has been the case, to form a new identity altogether to be followed by those that seek to identify with them.

This type of behaviour marks the beginnings of the idea of individualism, where the individual begins to pursue the idea of being independent from the socialised behaviours, knowledges and tendencies initially taught to them by the family, social group, and community. People that set out to pave their own way sooner than later begin to see themselves as different from the group that gave birth to them.

They begin to form opinions that take them further away from the idea of the tribe into the sphere where they begin to focus more on the attributes that mark their difference from the rest of the society that gave birth to them or grew up in.

The terms stray away from the reality that commonness is to new-found terms that include ‘uniqueness’. The reality is that no one human is unique, unless they lay eggs like the platypus, or have scales like the pangolin. The quest to mark the individual differences is what gave birth to the ideas that form the concept of racism, where one begins to view other individuals on the basis of preconceived notions of what the perfect human being should be like.

That a simple Austrian artist ended being the catalyst that would foment racial hatred to the extent that it would hurl the world into a world war and give birth to apartheid in South Africa was the result of presumed lack of acknowledgement on the part of society and a narcissistic character. Adolf Hitler formed the idea of a perfect blond and blue-eyed Aryan race in his private quarters. A rejected artist bitter at the fact that he was denied entry into art school after serving Germany in the First World War ended up so anti-Semitic that his reign of terror ended up with the deaths of more than six million Jews in concentration camps.

The man that penned Mein Kampf could have turned out different had he been accepted into art school (one would suppose), but the bitterness he harboured towards the world was expressed the day he first expressed his rhetorical talent as the leader of the Nazi. His reign was the culmination of the racial hatred that likely stretched from the beginnings of modern human civilisation. His was not the first, and was not the last, because racism continues to the present day as is seen in the stories of black football players addressed as primates by the very audiences they entertain with the skills on the football field. The current Clicks saga is not the first, or the last, and it does trigger questions with regard to the real roots of racism in the world.

The way we view ourselves has always been put into question at those points of time where ‘liberation’ becomes common speak. There are trendsetters in the world of fashion, and sadly speaking, they somehow are always Caucasian. This type of one-race show has led to the point where people of other races begin to think white is the standard when it comes to the issue of beauty. The Clicks advert case that has now been captured by Julius Malema’s EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) political party is a glaring example of how the tribe is still the bigger part of the discussions on race.

That white is still represented as more beautiful than black more than 25 years after the end of apartheid is proof that racism in South Africa and the world in general is still a hot topic. The pictures in the franchise’s advertisement on hair products clearly shows that someone somewhere still holds the notion that the white race is still superior to the black race. In the midst of the uproar after the attacks on the racism of the adverts, the issue of how we view each other as human beings in the world is reduced to mere tribalism. Some members of the white tribe still see themselves as more superior; the Clicks advert scandal only serves to reveal the reality of how they view other groups on a race level.

Stereotypes that have been set in place have not been done away with and black children in Africa still grow up thinking that the image of what is beautiful is only that which is white. The view presented by Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye of a black girl Pecola yearning to have the bluest eyes because it is to her the image of beauty as taught by the slave society she grows up in. Every human being adopts the habits and the mannerisms of the master class, and the white race has always had the historical advantage of being masters and lords over the other classes.

This means that the children of the other classes grow thinking that what the upper class does is what is right. The racial stereotypes are perpetuated by continuing habits that at a subtle level reveal that the black race still view themselves as inferior. The Clicks scandal brings into question the issue of how black women view themselves or end up being viewed by other races.

It is true that there are arguments by black women that their hair being presented as dry and woolly and ugly was wrong or racist. This is a veritable argument on a regular day, but it does not wash on an African wedding day or when those special occasions come. Black women are seen wearing hair extensions of every different white shade and texture when they want to feel ‘beautiful’.

There is never a day when natural black hair is seen as beautiful or accepted, there are subtle structures in place that prohibit black men to join the workforce with their natural hair because it is seen as ‘dirty and unkempt looking’. Those crazy baldheads Bob Marley speaks about rule the world and besmirch the black image with their opinion.  

Social reality versus human reality reveals a trend that has been shoved under the carpet for too long. History shows that the race discussion only comes to the surface when there are major occurrences. The social reality avoids straight out confrontation between the different sectors of society on the issue of race relations. The images of such icons as Mandela and Luther King Jnr are used as pacifiers when it comes to the issue of dealing with the malaise of race hate and confrontation.

Instead of addressing clear and present problems with regard to the manner in which races relate, one finds speakers avoiding the ‘let us relate in this way’ approach and choosing the evasive ‘what would Mandela/Luther King do’ approach. It is true that these icons did a lot to ensure that the relations between the different races of the world are pacific, but the fact of the matter is that there are still people in the world that see their effort as nonsensical.

The supremacist groups that include Neo-Nazi movements and the Ku Klux Klan shall never view the black man as human at any point in time. To them, the ‘we and dem’ stance shall never change, in short, their view to how we should relate is governed by a superiority complex that cannot be done away with by any form of reason. It is a view as old as human civilisation, or even older if one is to view it from Shakespeare’s position in his Othello.  

In the tragedy Shakespeare wrote about a powerful Moor general it is unclear, however, whether Shakespeare meant us to see Othello as a black man, or one more Arab in appearance. In those medieval Shakespeare’s days, the term Moor was often used broadly, to refer to any person with dark or black skin, including black Africans. Several references in the play seem to describe Othello as a black African.

No matter what the exact colour of his skin was, the important point is that Othello was an outsider in Venice, an exotic figure who, while being admired and valued for his military prowess, more often provoked curiosity, fear, and even hatred.

These same feelings toward Africans were probably shared by the members of Shakespeare’s audience. To the English of Shakespeare’s time, Africans were strange and foreign enemies of Christianity, given to heathen practices such as witchcraft and voodoo. In the literature of the time, they were invariably portrayed as villains.

The Africans who came to England were viewed with suspicion and hostility. This is one of the reasons why in 1596, Queen Elizabeth I issued an edict against the African foreigners, reading as follows:
“Her Majesty understanding that several blackamoors have lately been brought into this realm, of which kind of people there are already too many here . . . her Majesty’s pleasure therefore is that those kind of people should be expelled from the land.”

Considering the prevailing racial relations climate in the world, it is not surprising that Shakespeare should have written a play in which the hero was an African, and a very noble character at that. As an artist who was aware (‘woke’ in modern speak) Shakespeare knew it as fact that race does not define talent or prowess. He understood what modern racists do not understand: colour does not define the individual.

The Clicks saga comes in the wake of white officers killing a black man and shooting another, in the wake of black players racially abused where they ply their trade in European clubs. These modern Othellos have to deal with being viewed as subhuman despite their tremendous talent and contribution to sports and entertainment. That such incidences as the Clicks scandal that has come to life on social media are given a dismissive glance will go on to perpetuate the racial tensions in the world. The world and its races have to come to a point where being human counts far more than what colour and tribe one comes from.

We have to accept the fact that racism is a form of inferiority complex that has to be done away with if we are to progress in terms of racial relations and global harmony and peace. There is no one greater or smaller than another, there is no we and them, there is just the human being that faces similar struggles and challenges despite the issue of race. Ultimately, all of us face the same disease, poverty and death the leveller deals all of us the same card.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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