The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines racism as 'a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race' and as a 'racial prejudice or discrimination'.
The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination says that the term "racial discrimination" means any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.
Racism, as we know it, finds its origins in the institutions of capitalism and slave trade. As CLR James says “The conception of dividing people by race begins with slave trade”. Though most ancient societies were based on a slave system, racial discrimination was quite unknown. Colonial rule and the rise of slave trade formed the foundation of racism and racial discrimination.
Memories of Holocaust
Long before his ascent to power, Adolf Hitler had been obsessed with the alleged superiority and purity of the Aryan race. The Nazis believed that the Germans were a superior race (Übermenschlich) and the others such as Jews, Romani, and Slavic people were inferior (Untermensch) and a threat. To keep the German race pure and to propagate a staunch anti-Semitic ideology, Hitler and the Nazi Party packaged racism into the state political ideology. Supported by German scientists, the Nazis initially embarked on a mission to prohibit the reproduction of Jews, Romani gypsies, and other ethnic minorities, by force sterilization programs.
What started with humiliation and even sterilization in 1933, built up to brutal torture and systematic, state-sponsored murder of about 6 million Jews and millions of Romani gypsies and other tribes which lasted through 1945. The total number of Holocaust victims is pegged between eleven and seventeen million. The Holocaust remains one of the worst and most terrifying instances of racism in history for the blatant denial of basic human rights, for the mass murder, the insensate human experimentations, and extreme cruelty displayed by the Nazis. The result was the “extermination” of nearly two- thirds of the Jews in Europe. The Nazis had plans to exterminate about 45 million Slavs as well.
A Look at Apartheid
In the years following the World War II, the Apartheid became the most significant and singular symbol of racism. Apartheid is a system of racial segregation. Under the Dutch and British colonial rule, racial segregation had been introduced into South Africa but when the National Party came to power in 1948, Apartheid became a government policy. The rights of the black population in South Africa were severely curtailed. The administration and privileges were confined to the whites and the Afrikaner ethnic group. The Apartheid caused much resistance and the repression sparked off many violent incidents till 1994 when the last Apartheid law was abolished.
One look at the statistics reveals the extent to which the Apartheid affected the nation. In 1978, there were about 4.5 million whites and Afrikaners in South Africa while the black population was pegged at about 19 million. While less than 20% of the national income and 13 % of the land was held by the black majority, the ruling whites and Afrikaners wielded about 75% of the national income and 83% of the land. Apart from the torture, the brutal violence and murder inflicted on them, the dismal living conditions of the South African blacks was condemnable. The doctor to population ratio in 1978 in the country was 1:44,000. Infant mortality rates in rural South Africa were as high as 40% while in urban areas was at about 20% (among whites the infant mortality rate at the time was about 2.7%). Some of the most memorable protests against the Apartheid were the Sharpeville Massacre (1960), the Soweto Uprising (1976), the Church Street Bombing (1983) and the Cape Town Peace March (1989).
Across The World
Apart from Nazi Racism and the Apartheid, the modern world has seen many instances of blatant racism often marked with violence, torture, and violation of human rights.
The Komagata Maru incident of 1914 is remembered as one of the earliest incidents of racial discrimination and exclusion in the 20th century. The steamship carrying 376 passengers from Punjab in India sailed from Hong Kong to Shanghai to Yokohama to Vancouver. 365 passengers of the Komagata Maru were not allowed to land on Canadian soil due to their Asian origin. The ship was forced to return to India.
With the expansion of European colonial authority in Australia, the Aboriginal natives of the land suffered much discrimination and neglect. Having been forced into confined settlements which festered diseases, most of the Aborigines perished. Between 1869 and 1969 a number of children of Aboriginal descent were removed from their families by State and Federal agencies and by church missionaries in accordance with parliamentary acts. These children are referred to as the Stolen Generation. The Caledon Bay Crisis of 1932-34 marked the culmination of prejudice against the Aborigines and the efforts of Donald Thomson played a vital role in evoking popular sentiments in support of the natives. Much of the racial suppression and cruelty ended with equality and protection laws being subsequently passed in Australia.
In 1962 when Ne Win rose to power, his persecution of Burmese Indian led to a mass exodus from Burma. In a similar instance of ethnic cleansing, Uganda’s President Idi Amin forced the country’s Asians to leave the land.
From the United States
Following the American Revolution, slavery was abolished in the northern states but still remained a robust system in the south and till about 1865 racism-fuelled slavery remained in force. Through the early 20th century the African-Americans of the US undertook many protests to gain equal rights. The brightest star of the African-American Civil Rights movement in the US undoubtedly was Martin Luther King. In 1960, Harper Lee published her only novel To Kill a Mockingbird centered on the deep rooted racial prejudice and injustice in the American Deep South. The book went on to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film by director Robert Mulligan in 1962.
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Amendment XIV) to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1868 requires the states to provide equal protection to its citizens. This provided the basis of the US Supreme Court judgment prohibiting racial segregation in education in Brown V. Board of Education (1954).
Towards the later part of the 20th century, American society made quick strides towards the achievement of equality and securing equal rights and opportunities for all ethnic groups. With Barack Obama’s election as the first African-American President of the United States in 2008, the country opened up to a new era transcending racial biases.
Racial profiling is the enforcement of law or initiation of arrests by law enforcement agencies and personnel based on the race or ethnicity of a person. In the US racial profiling is challenged by the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. Racial profiling has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union as well. In practice, however, racial profiling is used in the US and other countries and often undermines human rights. In a 2011 Rasmussen Reports survey most Americans admit that racial profiling is a necessity. Airlines in the US faced a sharp increase in racial profiling lawsuits following the September 11 attacks. Arab-looking, Middle Easterners, Muslim, or South Asian people have borne the brunt of racial profiling following the September 11 blasts. Among the earliest hate crimes following the blasts was the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, who owned a gas station in Mesa, Arizona. The murdered Frank Roque was sentenced to life imprisonment.
On August 5, 2012, in a shocking racist attack, several people were killed by a gunman in a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The incident caused huge outcry all over the world.
In 2005, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) reported that about 80% of the anti-Islamic crimes in the country were committed in California (20%), New York (10%), Arizona (9%), Virginia, Texas, and Florida (7% each) Ohio, Maryland, and New Jersey (5% each) and Illinois (3%). Most of these constituted hate crimes.
An Issue of the Past?
The Ku Klux Klan is a far-right anti-Semitic movement in the United States that is estimated to have membership between 3,000 and 5,000 as of 2012. White nationalism and supremacy and anti-immigration are the ideologies propagated by the Ku Klux Klan which is shrouded in a history of violence and terrorism.
Though slavery in Brazil was abolished in the 19th century, a legacy of racism still permeates the Brazilian society. 2011 research indicates that over 63.7% Brazilians believe that the race of a person interferes with the quality of his or her life quite significantly. The life expectancy among the whites in Brazil is about 73.13 while among the blacks the life expectancy is pegged at 67.03. Homicide rates among blacks is a staggering 65% while among the whites is about 29%. The representation of the blacks or of those people of black origin in Brazil was at a mere 8% in 2008.
In 2008, Amnesty International claimed that racism in Russia was ‘out of control’ with over 85,000 neo-Nazis in the country. Besides anti-Semitism, negative actions and prejudice against the ethnicities of Caucasus and Central Asia and non-Russians in general are rampant. In August 2006, the bomb explosion of Cherkizovsky Market in Moscow left 14 dead. The market was frequented by foreigners and eight radical nationalists were found guilty of the bombing.
Racial discrimination against the north-east state states has been a traditional issue of conflict in India. Persecution of students from the north-east has been a matter of concern in many urban areas including the capital city, New Delhi.
In 2012, Abdul Musa, an Indian–origin postman won a racism case and a hefty pay-out after exposing endemic anti-Asian racism in his UK office. A May 2012 survey result by OnePoll revealed that about a third of Britons confessed to being racists and about one-tenth admitted to being accused of racism by someone close. Over 88,000 children in the UK have been branded racists, said the survey.
Sports has a way of unveiling racial prejudices and hatred. The current expulsions at Olympics 2012 has exposed the deep rooted prejudices in the hearts of whom we consider accomplished athletes and sports stars. The Hellenic Olympic Committee announced the expulsion of Greece’s triple-jump champion, Voula Papachistou for having tweeted a derogatory joke about African immigrants. Switzerland's Michel Morganella became the second athlete to face expulsion after he tweeted a racist message in which he referred to the South Koreans as a "bunch of mongoloids" and said that they could “go burn”. Conservative MP, Aidan Burley, faced much flak from anti-racist groups after referring to the Olympics opening ceremony as ‘multi-cultural crap’.
In July 2012, Mark McCammon, a black footballer won a racism case against Gillingham FC. McCammon was racially victimized and ultimately sacked by Gillingham FC. Racial abuse has been at the center of sledging and during the 2007-2008 Indian tour of Australia cricketer Harbhajan Singh was accused of racial sledging by Andrew Symonds. The allegations were not proved, though. In April 2012, with Joel Ward scoring the winning goal for the Washington Capitals against the Boston Bruins, racist tweets started to do the rounds and were compiled by Chirpstory and BlackSportsOnline. The tweets were severely criticized by the National Hockey League.
Article 1 of the 1945 UN Charter defines "promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race" as one of the United Nations' purposes. In 1950, The Race Question by UNESCO proposes to "drop the term race altogether and instead speak of ethnic groups". Most countries of the world have robust laws protecting ethnic minorities and prohibiting racism and any form of discrimination.
Is Racism A Global Concern?