How To Manage Racism, Sectarianism and Sexism

Monday, 19 February 2007

[Picture of Two Ku Kux Klansmen]RACISM, segregation, apartheid, exclusivity, equal opportunity, élite… these words (and many others) strike fear into the hearts of modern folk. Why?

It may be the case that there once was a bad situation, and steps were taken to correct it. However, once a balance has been restored, there is no longer any need for the correcting force. The trick is knowing when to withdraw the correcting force, when to recognise that the balance is restored.

[Picture of Two Muslim Women]Perhaps the problems we face today amount to a shift, where the oppressed has become the oppressor, and the imbalance has merely switched to the other side.

I would suggest that we have come a long way as a civilisation; the poor and lower classes seem to be better off, women seem to have a better status in society, people with coloured skin are no longer seem as more primitive, and so on.

[Picture of Chasidic/ hasidic Jew]As such, now may be the right time to stop and reflect. Have we come a long enough way to ask questions like “What is wrong with segregation?”, or “Is racism all bad?”

The fact that superiorities existed at all suggests that it is human nature. Bad as well as good is part of human nature, and must be understood and managed — not merely denied or avoided.

So let’s look at this a bit closer then. A study by Zajonc in 1968 found that we like things that are familiar to us. We like people who are closer and more similar to ourselves. We even vote for people on that basis. Look around, there’s plenty of evidence for this.

[Picture of praying muslims]Lots of British people have immigrated to Spain to retire — funnily enough they tend to stick together and do not integrate with local Spanish people. In Britain today, Polish immigrants are living together from preference — just as Indians, Pakistanis, Jews, Irish, Italians and all the other groups did before them.

Of course, this is declared wrong and unfair; when people choose to live in a country they must try to integrate — “when in Rome”. It is “wrong” to set yourself apart, to wear certain clothes or act in certain ways; we are all supposed to be the same, somehow.

[Picture of Sikhs]In a similar vein, people who start a business tend to hire people similar to themselves to do the things they can no longer manage due to workload. It may be natural and understandable, but it is illegal, prejudiced and unfair.

[Picture of man with fez]Some people have, over the years, suggested that racism is the result of the natural segregations, and that we’d all be more fair, and more equal if we were less segregated and more integrated. They argue that by forcing different cultures, religions and nationalities to mix, say at school, for example, then they will naturally come to like each other and the barriers will come down.

In Scotland, it has been argued that the removal of Roman Catholic Schools would integrate children better, and eventually lead to the end of sectarianism. In England the same argument applies between Muslims and Christians.

“However, when scientists have examined school integration, they have discovered the opposite to be true; school desegregation is MORE likely to INCREASE prejudice between black and whites than to decrease it. “
(Stephan, 1978, quoted in Cialdini’s ‘Influence Science and Practice’, 4th. edn, 2001, p.154)

[Picture of Marching Orangemen]It seems that a school setting (as well as a workplace environment) is a tense situation — it is difficult; there are rules, and people are trying to get ahead/ ahead of you. It’s about doing well, seeking approval, about winning. The situation is bad enough without also being forced to integrate with the other gender, a different religion or a different race.

[Picture of Orange flute band]Students naturally group themselves ethnically — they separate themselves from other groups (Rogers, Hennigan, Bowman & Miller, 1984; and Oskamp & Schultz, 1998), and continued exposure to other groups causes frustration, conflict and competition. All of which leads to less liking and more racism/ sectarianism.

Scientific researchers have recently found, however, that when mixed groups are required to work together toward a goal, then the natural social barriers break down and there is greater integration and liking.

The question is how to fabricate goal seeking scenarios for schools, colleges, universities, the workplace, and the neighbourhood.

[picture of Eskimo woman]The so-called “Jigsaw” classroom is one approach, but much harder is the question of what to do elsewhere in society.

[Picture of Red indian Chief]Perhaps such manipulations, being false and unnatural, ought to be disregarded, but what then? Unless we change our entire society model away from competitive capitalism toward socialism or even communism, there is little chance for real integration.

Commerce and capitalism rely on the exploitation of markets and wage-earners, not on harmonious groups of non-competitive co-operative goal seekers!

So what can a capitalist government do to improve relations between Christians and Muslims, between Catholics and Protestants, between blacks and whites, and between women and men?

Legislation and the force of law seems to be counter-productive; the bizarre scenario exists of a predominantly male, white company being obliged to recruit one disabled person, one woman, and one black to avoid accusations and prosecutions.

[Picture of Chinese with Hat]What if women were allowed — or indeed encouraged to start a company that only employs women? What about all-black companies or firms made up of disabled people? This make sense, in a strange way, for the groupings would be natural, there would be a reduction in prejudice because people are not foisted upon each other in a competitive environment.

This suggests that in a natural un-jigsaw world, Roman Catholic Schools should be allowed and encouraged — as well as all-girls schools, boys-only schools, Jewish schools, etc.

[Picture of marching scottish bagpipe band]Keeping groups apart seems to be the best way to avoid hatred and conflict. In a capitalist country, each company is competing with every other company, so if there was a difference because of the addition of a race or creed element, it would be favourable.

It seems that for a multi-cultural country to be happy, we have to celebrate the differences, not try to merge everyone into a bland sameness. It is certainly not racist or sexist to desire the company of people like yourself, it is not playing to a stereotype to be true to yourself, and comfortable in that freedom.

All that has to be taught is respect for others, delighting in the differences, and this basic understanding of how sociological groups relate within and without. The Science of Networks shows that the strength lies in the weakest ties (those people who act as a bridge between distinct and remote groups), in other words, groups relate via a certain type of person/ personality — not by some piece of legislation — and that networks of group clusters are a better way of understanding society that an integrated whole mass (see Why You MUST go to the Pub, June 27th, 2003).

Governments and legislators have to now review the situation and make the necessary changes based upon the new scientific evidence. In any case, everything needs a periodical review because time has moved on and everyone has changed.

4 Responses to “How To Manage Racism, Sectarianism and Sexism”

  1. Neil Says:
    Judgment day for Catholic schools? article in The Scotsman by Fred Forrester about integrated schooling in one of the worst areas for bigots and sectarian violence in the world.

  2. Rory Says:

    On the segregation issue it’s interesting to play around with a Schelling Segregation model. Thomas Schelling found that even the weakest preference to living next to someone of your own colour resulted in almost total segregation. One easy-to-use model can be found here:

  3. ruth Says:

    16 Oct 2010 Church responds on NI schools comments made by First Minister (Peter Robinson)

  4. Kelly Says:

    It is as if David Cameron read this blog article. Check out the buzz on the BBC after his failed multi-cultural speech. Brilliant.

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