Is racism whatever you want it to be?

“Tribalism is easy to understand. What is racism? Traditionally, race seems to have been synonymous with tribe. Yet, the term race could not have been applied rationally in the unending confrontations between the tribes (later, the nations) of Europe; these people are too much alike in appearance through significant cross-breeding. That is, over a long period of time, many of the tribes of Europe moved into the temporarily traditional terrain of others of that stock, thereby creating a blended variety of European of white appearance. Yet, there are significant pockets of Europeans displaying visibly divergent appearances in cranial structures and facial features.

A similar pattern of long-term blending, with significant pockets of physiognomically divergent peoples to be found – going from East to West – in the lands of China (excluding its occupied territories), the southern coast of Asia and islands south and east occupied primarily by the people known as Malays, the Indian sub-continent, Central Asia (including China’s occupied territories), Western Asia, Arabia and adjacent terrain, North Africa, Central and South Africa before being invaded by Europeans … .

Within each of these huge areas, there are fine gradations of skin colour, reflecting earlier incursions and intermixing. Yet, there are visible similarities in body shape, cranial structures and facial appearances associated with a near-uniformity of skin colour which can separate the bulk of the people in each major geographical category (as defined above) from the others. The categorisation set up above is obviously not a fine cut, but a broad-brush canvas with tolerable credibility.

It is not surprising that an attempt was once made to identify only 3 categories of humans – white, black and yellow. The success of European colonisation had led to the claim that white people were at the top of the totem pole of inborn abilities. A major problem was that the white people were described as Caucasian, which also includes my ancestral people. We are apparently Caucasian too! And many of my family are quite light in colour, implying that there is a North Indian or even a Central Asian strand within my genetic inheritance. For instance, the son of a nephew has green eyes. And I have been taken to be a North Indian by North Indians, while the Tamils have no trouble in identifying me as one of them. Back to the drawing board!

A more difficult problem is that skin colour, shape of cranium, and facial features aside, we humans are too alike. ‘What a bummer’ said my pink-faced Eurasian friend, whose Malay grandmother’s genes having been totally submerged by the genes of a single European ancestor.

It is my belief that the term race was converted by the colonising ‘supermen’ to apply to inferior coloured people.”

(Is there a more ridiculous issue than lumping together under the banner of racism: a persistent charge by certain Jewish Australians that any criticism of Israel is racist; anyone who is rude to, or denigrates, an accented white European immigrant in Australia is also racist; a brown-skinned man who addresses some remark in his own language against another brown-skinned man who is clearly of another tribe is accused of being racist; a white person using abusive language against a coloured person; and any person who indicates that he/she does not like another person because something about that person offends?

Those who believe that words can hurt or humiliate in the way that acts of overt discrimination do want legislation enshrining their claimed right to legal action (by whom?). In this context, have any individual Aborigines been protected by racial legislation from personal abuse?

As for immigrants, after more than 6 decades of a highly interactive life in Australia, I claim that we immigrants are not wimps; we simply ignore the ignorant who use words of denigration against us.

The chapter ‘On tribalism and racism’ in ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ covers some of the issues.)