How People Become Racist

Andrei Tapalaga
Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona Unsplash

As racism presents itself to be at a quite high peak lately, everyone is looking for an answer or better yet a cause of why certain people are racist or present social behavior towards others of a different race that makes them feel differentiated from most of a certain society. Racism can be interpreted in many ways but what most people do not understand is its origin.

There is a wide debate within the world of psychology about people being born racist. Although I am a true believer that it is impossible for someone to be born racist, there are others who have become so indoctrinated by their own hate towards a specific race that they truly believe racism is a “genetically transmitted disease”.

We can say with certainty that racism is built from various experiences that people have with people of other races. However, if a person of a different race has insulted or attacked you, the response isn’t to hate that person due to them being of a different race, but hate them for the person they are. With this said, experience does not seem to be the exact trigger for racism, so what is?

Xenophobia: a misunderstood term

The main definition of xenophobia is the fear of strangers, although the definition presented within the Cambridge dictionary makes it seem more like the definition of racism:

“Extreme dislike or fear of foreigners, their customs and their religions.” (Cambridge Dictionary)

When defining a term, choosing the right words is vital to the perception and understanding of others. Xenophobia within the world of psychology is quite difficult to define or explain with exactitude as people present xenophobic tendencies that differ from case to case. As mentioned before, most people that are xenophobes simply fear strangers, people that they do not know, no matter their race or skin color.

Many articles have been written towards differentiating racism from xenophobia, and yet people still seem to see no difference between the two terms. Racism within our modern society is quite similar to a pandemic. None of us know with certainty where did the virus start from, but we all have our own assumptions influenced by different things, but mostly by social media. The same applies to racism.

I have seen xenophobia being used in quite many ways, some people even trying to classify the term in different branches such as “cultural xenophobia” and “immigrant xenophobia” which are both indirect derivatives to racism. There are plenty of articles lately that present racism as the motivator (trigger) to xenophobia, although I believe it is the other way around.

The media is miseducating the masses by always associating this term with racism. I believe it is because people have been lately put off by the word “racism” so the media is trying to replace it with something else.

The correlation between xenophobia and racism can be seen when looking at cases of environmental shock which provoke cultures to become tighter, therefore not necessarily secluded from other cultures, but more distant. Such types of inductive experiences can be developed within one’s mind to reach certain conclusions about a particular group of people, but before that happens usually xenophobia kicks in.

In this case, the person suffering from xenophobia isn’t afraid of a particular culture or race but afraid of everyone who isn’t part of their culture which from a psychological perspective isn’t a racist tendency, but actually, a natural one as we define safety by associating others with our own culture and knowledge.

A correlation between racism and education

I had read a very interesting paper that presents a different perspective to this issue written by psychologist Alan G. Vaughan in which he critically analyses the discussion between two like-minded people that are of a different color. The two like-minded people are Alan G. Vaughan who is black and his friend Andrew Samuels who is white. As they both have a strong grasp of psychology, they understand how racism works within one’s mind.

The ideology is that they both are highly educated individuals that are of different ethnicity, race, and culture, but they see each other as two human beings that are only different from their personal characteristics. If one was to get upset with another, they would not bring hate based on their ethnicity, but simply base it on the person they present through their personality. It is the misinformation or the uneducated population within a culture or community that does not allow themselves to grasp the understanding of other cultures in order to coexist. This has been also very much reinforced by different religious beliefs and the use of religion as a political system in the past.

I believe that therefore racism and xenophobia are correlated because in both cases people are missing the information necessary to feel comfortable with a person who may seem different based on appearances, but whom you may have many things in common. That may well be the problem because in modern society we judge people based on appearances and stereotypes without having the necessary information about their character.

There is also a huge debate between the correlation of racism and education, many people believe that society should learn from historical events why racism is bad. Whilst the other side believes that racism is just about ignorance presented by people who are highly educated.

I think that the best people to respond to this argument are teachers as they are the ones who see new generations develop and how they develop based on the education they receive or which they don’t. It should not be their job, but it is to educate children in order to leave school with the necessary knowledge to judge people based on their characters and not other stereotypes. Many of you would say they should be educated to not judge at all, but judgment is a social norm that is indoctrinated by most children due to social media.

Hating people based on their ethnicity has also become a social norm. It is normal for a human to follow the unethical actions of others if these actions are repeated over and over again. This is where xenophobia, education, and racism all correlate because they are all conflicted by social norms that are mostly manifested by the younger generations.

That does not mean only younger generations tend to reinforce racist behavior, but they are the ones who are the least educated on this matter. Education systems around the world should also focus their curriculum on social subjects and how to control their emotions.

We are all different, therefore we all perceive things in different ways, and that is the reason not all of us can understand these social subjects without being educated by others with experience within the subject. If I would have not been a victim of racism, I would not dare to talk about it, but living in such a highly diverse society had allowed me to see racism and I sort of came to the conclusion that racism is mainly triggered by stereotypes that have been created in the past.

However, my statement is contradicted by many psychologists and psychiatrists that see racism as a mental illness rather than bad social behavior. If this were to be true, then we have many people suffering from extreme mental illnesses, but I think that we all beg to differ, as racism is a social behavior you chose to enact and aren’t forced to (I will leave this argument for another article).

Whilst, on the other hand, xenophobia, as any other phobia is considered a mental disorder, and that is another reason it should not be associated with racism. People chose to be racists, and the problem is that in some cases people who have the knowledge of racist behavior still chose to be racist because of the hate indoctrinated in them by various communities or societies and not because of experiences.

Most people that present racist social behavior go by the stereotypes which they never experienced. I believe that our society has simply become too immature to where we have to be the bigger people and chose to not respond with racism to racist people, but with knowledge about our races to show them that all of us on this planet aren’t so different after all.

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