Since its formation in 1952, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and its affiliated societies have supported equality and embraced diversity. With these attitudes central to our worldview, Humanists actively oppose all forms of racism including ethnic1 cleansing. In fact the formation of IHEU with its humanistic, ethical worldview was triggered mainly by the failure of the established religions to effectively oppose the genocidal persecution of Jews, Gypsies and other minorities by the Nazi regime, during WWII.
Denigration and outright hostility to those who differ from one’s own group are typical overt forms of racism, of the type we have come to associate with Pauline Hanson and those active in far right groups.
A more subtle, covert form of racism is to selectively support those from a racial or ethnic group with which one identifies. Peter Dutton, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, opining that Australia ought to facilitate the immigration to Australia of white South African landowners, who were reportedly facing persecution, is an example. He explained his view as follows:
Australia has a refugee and humanitarian program, as well as a number of other visa programs where we have the potential to help some of these people that are being persecuted. So I’ve asked my department to look at options and ways in which we can provide some assistance, because I do think, on the information that I’ve seen, people do need help, and they need help from a civilised country like ours.
Dutton’s concern for white South Africans, contrasts markedly with the government’s policy of locking-up refugees seeking asylum in detention centres.
Racism stems from an inclination to avoid or even be hostile towards people of different appearance; coupled with dividing humans into a number of races2 which are ranked from superior to inferior. This idea of ranking was given scientific backing when scientists began assessing the mental capacity of people from different races. With the typical scientist being white and western, using tools, such as IQ tests made-up by a similar set of people, it came as no surprise that being white and western ranked more highly than those of other racial origins.
The findings from these studies seemed to provide evidence for an already established view, among Caucasoid people, of their superiority over the other races; a sense of superiority that had facilitated state-sanctioned discrimination toward peoples of supposedly inferior races.
Examples of state-sanctioned racism from the recent past include slavery in the USA, the ‘white Australia’ policy and apartheid in South Africa. Even though all three countries have abolished these policies, discriminatory practices still linger in the behaviour and attitudes of many people in these countries. For example, in Australia this is shown by the continued discrimination against of Indigenous people, along with the inhumane treatment of refugees locked up in remote detention centres and the recent media-driven panic over so-called African youth ‘gangs’.
To support equality and embrace diversity, as most Humanists do, requires education and understanding. Education gives the knowledge that different racial and ethnic groupings have far more in common than the superficial differences in appearance might imply. From this follows the understanding that tolerant and cooperative interactions between people of different appearance and cultural patterns, ensures a more harmonious society.
Australia is a good example of the type of society you get when people of different racial and ethnic origins manage to get along together. While racism still exists as mentioned in the examples above Australia has set in place policies to minimise the uglier consequences that trouble many other countries.
- An ethnic grouping refers to people who are usually of the same racial type and share the same language, religion and other cultural practices.
- In 1775, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, in his The Natural Varieties of Mankind, divided humans into five main racial groups, Negroid, Caucasoid, Mongoloid, American Indians and the Malayan race, without offering any hierarchy for these five racial groupings. Others have proposed different variations of Blumenbach’s classification, with or without ranking them.
Reproduced from Victorian Humanist, Vol. 57, No. 3, April 2018
Copyright © 2018 Rosslyn Ives