Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Racism in America: not what it's made out to be

I would like to preface this by stating that I am an American expatriate.  I have lived overseas for 11 years; I have resided in 3 countries and spent significant amounts of time in 26.  I am writing this post to address a number of people who have been commenting about the rampant racism in America.

The term racism is bandied about in contemporary American culture for any discrimination.  If you dislike a particular culture, religion, ethnic group, behavior, or "race", you will likely be labeled a racist.  This waters down the meaning and significance of the word racism.  Racism is when you judge some ones worth, capability, etc. based entirely off of the loosely defined term "race".  Disliking or judging a particular religion, culture, etc. is not racism and should not be treated as such.  For instance, I can dislike cultures that circumcise babies for legitimate medical and humanist reasons.  I can also dislike Islam for the behaviors or beliefs of its adherents.  Neither of these things would justify my being labeled a racist.

Another aspect of racism that is rarely considered is simply people's natural preference for norms.  We generally feel more comfortable around those we are used to; those who are "like us".  Japanese are infamously xenophobic and racist.  Their country is extremely homogeneous and many Japanese feel uncomfortable around foreigners.  This is so prevalent that foreigners are not allowed in many establishments in Japan.

Initially this experience in Japan bothered me.  I was constantly being discriminated against; I was not allowed to do certain things solely because I was Japanese.  However, as I traveled more I came to realize that this is normal.  Go to any major city in the world and you will see that a large group of ethnic Chinese will have formed communities together.  The same is true for ethnic Indians, ethnic Africans, Latino's, etc.  It is normal for humans to feel more comfortable in familiar surroundings.

My travels have shown me that every country has racism.  The primary difference with America though is that passive racism is not seen as acceptable by most of society.  Americans are more aware of racism and are more prone to point out any form of discrimination.  This heavy focus on racism and its perceived sleights, real and imagined, causes foreigners and Americans alike to view America as disproportionately racist.  However, that's far from the reality.  Out of the 26 countries I have visited, America has far more interracial couples, less racist policies, more tolerance and even out right appreciate of foreign cultures, etc. than any where else I have been.

This is not to say that America does not continue to have genuine issues with racism.  I am simply trying to put another perspective on the race issue.  I would be happy to have others peoples views on this issue.

1 comment:

  1. I have also traveled to various countries, and I generally agree with you. You make some excellent points.

    Now, I don't think that most Japanese are racist. I think that many are just not used to foreigners. Most Japanese probably look up to Westerners more than they should, in fact.

    But it's true that there are a dwindling number of establishments which outright prohibit foreigners (politely, of course). They are unafraid of being sued or anything.

    I think that in America, there is much more recourse to right a wrong that you've suffered due to racism, while in other countries, that might not be the case. Also, in other countries, racism shows up in other ways which Americans might not recognize straight away as racism.

    Finally, as you say, there might be racists in America, but the outspoken anti-racists are always around in large numbers, too. In some other countries, neither group may be easy to spot.

    Good post!