I was in a cafe in Ubud in Indonesia today drinking a coconut oil latte. The cafe seemed to be staffed by brown-skinned Balinese women. From the kitchen, a blonde white girl (who looked to be a teenager) appeared and asked one of the Balinese ladies for a key. She kept asking, “Where is the key? They key?” The Balinese woman didn’t seem to understand. Her English was not great. The blonde girl sighed in frustration.
From all this, I could sense that the blonde girl thought little about the Balinese women, that they were beneath her. I could be reading the situation wrong. Maybe these Balinese women were incompetent or maybe they were treated with disrespect because they were poor, and so perhaps discrimination is a result of skill or wealth rather than race.
In my opinion, racism is natural and normal. Even I am racist to a degree. The reason why many people are racist is because we need to understand our world and make decisions using limited information. We learn through experience, often seeing trends and correlations around us and from these we form ideas.
Although generalization is a logical fallacy (see faulty generalization and hasty generalization), we all do it to some degree because we don’t have infinite time to be able to collect all data. Most of us are also mentally lazy, so rather than think too deeply about an individual, we tend to simply make assumptions about them based on easily recognizable features such as skin color, clothes, the car they drive, the watch they wear, the job they have, their income, and so forth.
Lighter skinned people seem to have more wealth than darker skinned people, and so many people link lighter skin with more wealth, and wealth is correlated with intelligence, so lighter skinned people are considered wealthier and more intelligent. Balinese people tend to have dark skin, and lighter skinned people include not just those from Europe but also the Chinese as well as Arabs.
At a subconscious level, I am sure many lighter skinned people looked down upon darker skinned people, but I am sure it occurs the other way around as well. Many dark skin people seem to look up to whiter people.
Since skin color is correlated to wealth and intelligence, anything that signals white culture in Asia seems to be status symbols. Many Asian women, for example, seem very keen on marrying white men, and when Asian women have white boyfriends, they parade them around like trophies. I had lunch with an Indonesian girl a week ago who told me that one of her coworkers went to Australia to study, graduated, and when he returned he refused to eat traditional Indonesian food because he considered himself an Australian and therefore was too good for Indonesian food. Instead of eating nasi goreng, he ate burgers and fries!
It is not just Indonesians who get big headed eating American fast food. I’ve seen this behavior in many other Asians countries as well. I find the behavior humorous because in America and Australia, fast food is seen as the food of the underclass, something poor people eat. If you eat lunch at McDonald’s and come back to work and announce to your colleagues that you’ve been an McDonald’s, they will deride you and think you are lazy, fat, uncultured, and unhealthy.
Even though I believe racism is natural, it doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea. Often when we jump to conclusions without all the facts, we make the wrong decision. For example, suppose someone came up to you with a business proposal. He wants you to invest $1 million in his restaurant business. He is white and wear nice clothes, so you trust him based on these features, hand him $1 million, and then it turns out you were the victim of a scam. Rather than take the time to actually research the person and his proposal, you made assumptions based on somewhat irrelevant features (skin color and clothing) and jumped to the wrong conclusion.
The solution to racism then is research or knowledge. Racism occurs because there is lack of research, lack of information, and lack of knowledge. The more facts and logic you can throw at a situation, the less racism there should be. However, if you use too much facts and logic, this requires more time and cognitive exertion, and it is certainly possible to go overboard with analysis and thinking.
I myself am an Asian person with somewhat brown skin, although I cannot speak any Asian language, and I was born in Australia. People see my appearance and make numerous assumptions. The way I combat this is to simply lay down the facts. My hope is that by educating people, I can reduce racism.
The most common mistake people make is confusing race with nationality. When most people meet me, they ask me where I am from. This is a confusing questions because it is not clear whether they are asking for your race, your ethnicity, or your nationality, so my response to is respond by stating a fact, such as, “I normally live in Australia.”
Many people, when they hear that I am an Australia, are confused. They typically say, for example, “I thought you were Indonesian? You look Indonesian!” The best way to respond to this is to clarify that race is a way of categorizing people based on skin color, body shape, etc whereas nationality is a legal-political construct. Ethnicity, like race, is a way of categorizing people based on race as well as religion, language, and so forth.
People on average tend to not care about where I am born and keep asking me what my ancestry is or my ethnicity. This is very difficult to answer because my parents were born in one country, and their parents were born in other countries, so it’s very mixed and difficult. I can tell that people I talk to want simple answers. They want one country so that they can instantly attach me to certain stereotypes and then quickly understand me (or think they do), but I find it fun to try to go into detail about the intricacies of where certain ancestors were born, the definition of race versus ethnicity, whether races even exist, and so forth.