America's Lingering Infection: Racism

In the novel, “Cold Mountain”, the hero deserts because he determines that he is going to die of his festering wound if he stays in the hospital.  He steps out of the window and attempts to go home.  Going home proves difficult, to say the least.  The war was over  for him, and it wasn’t.

In many ways the life of a single confederate soldier is a metaphor for the civil war and the nation.

Yesterday we observed Martin Luther King junior Day.  Despite the fact that every major city now seems to have a Martin Luther King junior Boulevard, and his life and death are celebrated annually, we as a nation still suffer from a festering wound.  The wound of that war is still a pus oozing sore that won’t seem to heal.

Why is that?  Will the wound never heal because it was never treated properly?  What wasn’t done then that should have been, and is there anything to do now?


Eric Clapton’s rant at a 1976 appearance:

“Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white. I used to be into dope, now I’m into racism. It’s much heavier, man. Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back.”

In 2009, Britain’s Prince Harry, referred to a member of his platoon as “our little Paki friend”.  Paki is considered a derogatory term for Pakistani’s.

Prejudice is not solely an American affliction.  Neither is it a white affliction. Prejudice and racism are not the same thing.  Prejudice is the expectation that individuals from a group will act in a way that a person thinks the group exhibits.  Racism is the belief that one group is inherently superior to another and should derive privileges due to that assumed superiority.

White supremacists are by definition racist.

Are the comments of Eric Clapton or Prince Harry necessarily racist?  What difference is there – if any – between tribalism and racism? 

Oddly enough, while Eric Clapton’s comments are revolting ( and he has since admitted to being “ashamed” of them)  they seem more aligned with tribalism than racism, and Prince Harry’s comment sounds more racist.  Clapton wanted to keep Britain as he had always been comfortable, English speaking and white.  His rant seemed more aligned with loyalty to his group than a feeling of superiority.

Prince Harry, on the other hand, used a condescending tone in describing his fellow platoon member suggesting a feeling of superiority.  It has to be kept in mind that Harry, being a member of the royal family of Britain, probably feels superior to everyone, however, this seems different.

Vietnamese rarely leave the house without the familiar cone hat.

By protecting themselves from the sun they give the illusion of being wealthy and not needing to work.

When I was in Vietnam I found the Vietnamese to be quite prejudiced against Cambodians.  They expected certain behavior from Cambodians, and seemed racist in that they saw their lighter skin color, compared to Cambodians, as a preferable trait.  However, lighter skin color was sought by Vietnamese because dark skin meant that a person had to be outside doing manual work in the sun.  Light skin was a marker of class.  A brief web search reveals that, now, Cambodians are described as prejudiced against Vietnamese based on a past history of perceived mistreatment by Vietnamese.  That prejudice is described as racism because of ethnic and skin color differences, but is it? Do Cambodians consider themselves to be inherently superior to Vietnamese and deserving of privilege as a result?

Are black Americans who hate white Americans racist?  Perhaps, but more likely they are prejudiced against whites who have, as a group, shown centuries of behavior indicating attitudes of racial superiority – racism – and blacks are not racist.

The problems with racism and prejudice are that both assume things that are not true.

Not everyone within a group acts alike so prejudice is based on a fallacy.

Racism suffers on two counts; race itself is an artificial construct, and there is no evidence that any group of humans, divided along any arbitrary set of criteria, is inherently superior to any other group.

Returning to our original question about the civil war and the wound that won’t heal, our nation was founded on racism.  Racist policies were furthered, it is true, by economic interests, but the basic fallacy was race and racism.  Furthermore, while economic interests in the South were fundamentally threatened by abolition, racism existed throughout the nation.

Racism is the infection that keeps America's  wound open.  The notion of race should have been systematically eliminated at the end of the War between the States.  True, there was some effort to do so, but safeguards were not adequately put in place to eliminate race and racism.  Allowing states to maintain separate rules about the treatment of individuals along a number of lines should have been eliminated. 

Our present problems with immigration are rooted in tribalism and racism.

I’m not a religious person, but religious leaders throughout humanity’s history have understood the evils of tribalism and racism.

Leviticus 19:34 – “And when a stranger is dwelling with you in your land, you will not mistreat him; the stranger shall become for you like one born from among you, the stranger with you, and you shalt love him like yourself; because ye were strangers in the land of Mitsráyim…”

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