Racism, Ethnocentrism, and Realities

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Wed May 9 13:40:36 MDT 2001

These thoughts of mine are prompted by various discussional episodes on
various lists:

There's a good deal of confusion these days about what racism and cultural
ethnocentrism are and are not.  They are certainly  big components of that
river of poison that's so antithetical to humankind -- along with all of the
other anti-people isms -- that must come from a murky and fog-bound
headwaters full of goblins and demonic bats.

Racism is the effort to deny the biological humanity of the victim -- the
target.  It's the most dangerous nonsense that humankind has yet produced.
While Anthros talk of various racial stocks:  Negroid, Caucasoid,
Australoid, Mongoloid [with some including Native Americans as Mongoloid --
I'm personally quite satisfied with that -- and others placing Natives as a
separate group], there is certainly, of course,  extremely pervasive
consensus among Anthropologists and all scientists [and has been for many
decades], that "racial differences" are extremely skimpy, superficial -- and
have nothing to do with any intelligence qualities or physical abilities.
Further, there is wide recognition that there is no longer any "pure" or
completely "full-blooded" racial category among humankind.

A concept that waxes a bit now and then, and wanes a great deal, involves
the presumption that specific racial memory and identity  and knowledge are
conveyed genetically.  Known as "biological essentialism" or "biological
reductionism," this is, in my opinion and that of a great many others who've
studied this faddish flower, quack nonsense -- generally not initially
racist in its own right -- but very much open to a downward drift or plunge
into plain old biological racism.  And this has certainly happened in some

Racism is historically new.  It began to develop, and not all that vaguely,
in the late 1400s and early 1500s as western Europe moved into the non-white
sections of the world seeking land and resources, ports and booty, and
slaves.  From the outset, it was the basic rationalization for genocide and
slavery. Very quickly indeed, the Roman  Catholic Church condemned racism in
a series of Papal pronouncements:  correctly recognizing the anti-human
nature of this fast developing  and thoroughly destructive doctrine; and
also very much interested in conversion of the non-Whites [and a bona fide
conversion has to be predicated on a recognition of the basic human equality
of the intended convert.]  These major denunciations of racism carried heavy
weight in Spain, Portugal, France.  But the fast developing Protestant
Reformation saw England and Holland break with Rome -- and, quickly, those
two nations came  early-on to embrace racism as national doctrine.

Cultural ethnocentrism, essentially a "cultural superiority complex", is as
old as humankind  -- and can easily run close behind racism as extremely
dangerous doctrine. Racism, since it seeks to deny the basic humanity of the
victim, is always inherently ethnocentric -- since, if one presumes the
victim to be biologically inferior, it "follows" that his or her culture is
also  inferior.

But cultural ethnocentrism flourishes very widely in its own right.

  Carried beyond quietly private and mildly smug pride -- widespread -- it
has been consistently used throughout human history to justify genocide and
slavery and seizure of land and resources.  Sometimes centered on
theology -- "the only bona fide religion" -- it usually moves more broadly,
trumpeting the alleged superiority of one way of life [culture: the total
way of life of a people] over another.  The targets of ethnocentrism are
frequently, but not always, non-White peoples and their cultures; and here,
false and dangerous terms like "primitive" and "civilized"  are thrown to
the four directions. The Catholic countries -- especially Spain and Portugal
and France and later Italy -- frequently carried ethnocentrism into
dimensions as lethal as  racism.  But, if the target victim [usually
non-White] renounced  (or appeared to renounce)  his/her original culture
and adopted that of the European ethnocentric, he/she was pronounced
essentially equal [or almost so!] to the oppressor.  If the victim did not
renounce, hard and lethal stuff followed fast.

[ A parenthetical digression: But the primacy of economics can certainly be
seen in that the French -- ethnocentric Catholic Europeans --  often got
along very well with many Native tribes [not all] simply because their fur
trade interests and  great concerns about the English coincided with those
particular tribes. This frequently involved not only legal intermarriage
[common with "converted" Natives by the Spanish and the Portugese as well]
but the outright adoption by many French of the tribal culture.  "Some of
the French," wrote the American historian Francis Parkman, an Anglophile,
"were as lawless as their Indian allies."  By the same token, many Scots
who, although Calvinistic in theology, were interested in  close trading
relationships with the Indian tribes, abandoned or never embraced
anti-Indian racism to begin with [although they could certainly maintain an
anti-Black racism].  These Scots [especially Highland]  frequently entered
into legal intermarriage and profitable trading relationships with
Natives -- whereas the English,  more into agrarian and "mainstream"
commercial pursuits, usually maintained, with the help of Cotton Mather et
al.,  a general racism against all non-White people.]

The realities, of course, are that  ethnocentric terms like "primitive" and
"civilized" should be dumped and never used.  Every society and its culture
has its own special origin and vision and unique history and destiny. Linear
ranking is hideously fallacious. The only way any culture can be even
generally  evaluated is to  measure its own realities against its own

In what's called the United States, Blacks have been consistent targets of
racism.  Native Americans and Chicanos and Asians have, depending on local
and regional history,
and  circumstance, been subjected to either racism or cultural

And, when all is said and done, and we sit on the edge of a high mesa and
look out at the geographical contours of the Earth, we see that most of
these blend smoothly and logically together. So it is with  the contours of
humankind which, seen from a high vantage point, flow for the most part into
and with one another. The dichotomy of working class/employing class is  --
no  matter how diverse the various peoples involved -- the great basic
river-thrust.  Of the ultimate outcome, genuine socialist democracy of and
for many colours and cultures, I certainly have no doubt.

Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear]

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