On Racism and Othering

The following text is partly in response to friends or anyone really who is rightfully upset and hurt by ongoing racism in the world. My fear is that this pain makes it more and more difficult for us to engage openly, and to challenge ourselves and our prejudice, or if you like: myself and my prejudices. I sense that a lot of people on the receiving end of racism are fed up with finding themselves in a position where they are asked to explain or end racism or are asked to forgive, more so than those who commit acts of racism, directly or indirectly, are willing to do the work to overcome it, or even look at potential racist behaviour, or to admit to their position of privilege.

It’s become longer than I thought, and I believe what truth there is in it is personal, thus not necessarily The capital-T Truth.

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Stranger, in degrees

Let me start by stating my conviction that as human beings we are all the same in as much as we share the same basics needs. I even believe that a conscious recognition of this fact could help solve our most urgent issues, political, economic and otherwise, on an inter-personal level. African ways of putting this: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, Zulu for ‘a person is a person through other persons’, which is at the heart of the idea of ubuntu, in slightly different terms also present in Martin Buber’s I and Thou. A version more reflexive of the previous colonial situation is the Shona saying murungu munhuwo – ‘a white person (usually mzungu in East Africa) is a human too’. And yet as part of our existence, which is deeply shaped and coloured by our very personal experiences, we may easily forget about this and start setting our individual experience as “norm”, and thus create a default world view that construes everything beyond our own experience as “strange” or “other”. Continue reading