A few weeks ago I attended a course on global dialogue in Hong Kong and the question was posed to the participants, “is it possible to not have any prejudices?”
Many of us like to think of ourselves as above racism, above ethnocentrism, without prejudice. Many consider racism to be a thing of the past or something experienced elsewhere, we are post-racism. Others among us admittedly are, claiming to express some prejudiced beliefs, or legitimizing our actions. Some of us rationalize racism with commentaries along the lines of, “I’m not a racist but….”, or “I have a friend who is of (this or this ethnic group)”. With all these commentaries I am left wondering where is the line being denial and being. I spoke to many people from various countries and its these perceptions are just as harmful as racism as it shows a lack of self-awareness vis-à-vis the problem: denying, or failing to recognize racism is as harmful as racism in itself.
Going back to the previous question on whether its possible to not have any prejudices, my reply was that it’s not. People have prejudices, people are judgmental: prejudices and beliefs are a means through which we make sense of our external world. We categorize people; we categorize groups based on previous experiences. It’s a defense mechanism and also a way which we learn to navigate through social interactions. “But,” I continued my response, “but it is always possible to challenge our prejudices, to not act on them, and to give people the opportunity to express their own perceptions and voices and to change our beliefs”. The effort to challenge our beliefs, to be open-minded and accepting prevents those of us who are prejudiced from becoming racist. We may be prejudiced, we may hold ethnocentric beliefs, the things that turn us into racist is the close mindedness to not challenge them.
Reflecting on this, I am once again overwhelmed with the debate on racism that has been reignited in the Finnish media following the Abu-Hanna article. I could add so much more on how my friends or I have experienced racism in this country, but I feel in the face of mounting racist’s incidents no more evidence is needed, change is the only thing that is needed.
I hope from the discussion created from the article people start to think twice about their beliefs and actions. People will try and speak out and be more honest about the racist acts they witness, and start to deal with the issue of racism is a more directed manner. I have seen protests against racism, flash mobs against racism but I really wonder to what extent these work to really deal with racism. Will a flash-mob against racism teach a racist person to challenge their beliefs or will it make them defensive, insecure or attempt to deny them. Dealing with racism, in a multicultural society as Finland is becoming more and more by the day, requires both outward and inward reflection: will we dare as individuals to challenge our beliefs? I could write endlessly about this topic, but for the meantime I find it best to keep it simple. I’m asking for people to start reflecting on their own beliefs and work within themselves to remedy this situation. The discussion is ongoing but are we creating change, Gandhi is famously quoted for saying, “”Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”