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Onyekachi | The Subtle Face Of Racism In The 21st Century

Onyekachi | The Subtle Face Of Racism In The 21st Century 

Prosperline Onyekachi Amadi

Whenever we hear racism our minds often picture the gruesome treatment given by whites world over to the black man. We often picture the thick animosity between people of two races where one race feels superior to the other. It is a known fact that all humans are divided into races. This is the concept racialism puts forth. However when any of the races begin to feel superior to the extent that they dehumanize people from other races, this then is racism.

In this 21st century, the term racism seems to be obscure. Of course with the abolishment of slave trading, the existence of the International human rights charter, the establishment of the United Nations and the ideals they stand for, as well as various national and international bodies world over dedicated to protecting the human rights of man; the fight against racism is largely seen as won. Is this assertion true? Is Racism only something that existed from the 1500s to the 1900s when slave trading was a thing? Is it possible that with the technological and scientific advancements of the 21st century and the leaps and bounds in the awareness of man’s inalienable rights that racism still exists? This is the question this paper hopes to answer.

Traditional racism was often overtly expressed in two broad ways: via individuals and via institutions. The most prominent examples of racism are between the white man and the black man. This however does not mean that racism exists only between these two races. Individual racism exists when an individual harbors personal bias to the people of a perceived lesser race and treats them as inferior. When the white man arrested and imprisoned the black man for speaking back at him in apartheid South Africa, that was individual racism. When a white man in Alabama during the post slave trade era makes a cruel joke of the black man and forces the black man to laugh at this joke, this is individual racism.

On the other hand when institutions such as Healthcare, Housing, Legal, Educational, Economic etc, set up rules and regulations that favors members of a certain race over members of a perceived inferior race, this is institutional racism. In offices where you had the “white only area” signs in the early post slave-trade period, this was institutional racism at play. Often times, these “white only areas” in key institutions were more conducive and could boast better standards than those of the “colored or blacks” within the same institution. These were the two forms of racism that we were exposed to and the type we view as largely being abolished.

In recent times however, Racism has taken on a more subtle approach. We do not have brazen individuals who spew venom at people of another race openly. Of course no one wants to be called “racist” in this 21st century as it connotes lack of civility. Institutions are tagging themselves as “cultural friendly”, informing the public that they do not discriminate against people of any race and provide an equal opportunity for everyone. All these actions are to show that we have won the fight against racism. Yet racism continues to exist subtly via different forms. The 21st century racism is such that it exists in tinier bits and as such looks inconsistent with the traditional racism we know.

Now, instead of the two big and bold forms of racism (individual and institutional), we have smaller more dangerous but seemingly insignificant ones like: Ethnic racism, Religious racism, Environmental racism, Occupational racism, Body racism, Inter and Intra gender racism. All these forms of smaller racisms are successfully working to kill our collective efforts at combating racism in the 21st century. How you may ask? Come along with me and find out.

Recall that at the beginning of this paper I made a differentiation between racialism and racism. Racialism can be said to be all numbers but broken into odd numbers and even numbers but racism is when the even number treat the odd numbers in a demeaning way because they feel superior to the odd numbers. Having established this difference you will agree with me that racialism is a naturally occurring phenomenon. We might all be Nigerians but some of us are men and some are women. Some men and women are Yoruba, others are Igbo and others still are Hausa, very many others are Tiv, Ibibio, Calabar etc. Among the Yoruba we have different dialect speaking people and the break down goes on and on. Racism comes into the discussion when and if the Igbo begin treating the Yoruba as inferior and vice versa.

I have discovered by careful observation that in most Nigerian movies, two sets of ethnicity stand out as either house-helps or gatemen. The house girl or boy is either “Ekaite” or “Okon” from Calabar or Akwa-Ibom and the gatemen are mostly “Musa” or “Haruna”. These characters are often introduced as dummies for the purpose of comic-relief. Furthermore, we have ethnic notions that have played negatively on one ethnic group’s view of the other. Thus subtly introducing feelings of superiority of one tribe over another. This has played out in people’s reality in the aspects of marriage and even employment. It is not uncommon to hear statements such as “Igbos are proud, Igbos like money, Igbo girls are materialistic etc. We say terms like “Yoruba Demons, Yoruba people are dirty, Yoruba men cannot be faithful, People of oily soups etc. In the case of the Hausas you hear things such as “Hausas are terrorists, they’re adamant or heartless, they could be faithful but should not be messed with, they’re power drunk etc”. These are some of the subtle racial notions people carry about with them. We see it in reactions of members of one tribe to members of another. We see it in the media portrayal of these people. We see in social media skits and on other platforms. As harmless as these seem they are build up of racism and fuel for inter-ethnic clashes.

It is not unusual to hear that men or women with certain names in this part of the world are more likely to be unfaithful in their relationships or that people from a particular area of the country are likely to be less civil than people from another part. Locations such as Lekki, Victoria Island, Festac Town and the many GRAs are considered areas for the more civil and elite members of the society. As such it is hard to believe that a “Lekki big boy” can steal a phone but a boy from “Oshodi or Agege” in Lagos, Nigeria, is more likely to do something that low. In the same vein we subtly consider all Muslims as “bomb wielding terrorists” and Christains as “fanatical or religious bigots”. Parents would rather their children take on more “noble” professions such as Law, Medicine or Engineering than Music, Art or Sports. Making a certain set of profession look more superior to others.

It is not news that single women within certain age ranges are considered inferior to others who are married. It is no news that career women are considered more superior to stay-at-home women. Men with certain income levels are considered superior to other men who earn less regardless of the fact that these men work twice as hard or as smart as their higher earning counterparts. It is no news that a certain tribe is favored during employment because the employing officers are from the same tribe. It is no news that despite the same quality of education being the same or maybe even higher, those who attended Polytechnics are considered lesser than those who attended the University.

These and many more are the modern faces of racism in 21st century. Although these examples mentioned might be specific to Nigeria, racism exists in similar pictures in different Nations world over. This modern racism aims to attack the personal values of individuals world over and silently fights its way back into national and international institutions. Racism thrives on “Unconscious bias”. Those seemingly little opinions of others can form “scary realities” that are still very potent in creating imbalance in relationships among all races in the world. The fight against racism is a conscious one that begins in the mind. Your experience with a member of a certain race (gender, religion, nationality, ethnicity, culture, occupation etc) should not inform your reality with others from the same race. Let us end racism once and for all. The world deserves better!

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