Racism. Xenophobia. Prejudice. Discrimination. It seems every word written against these forms of hatred will be ignored nonetheless. People feel targeted, shamed, belittled when hate is addressed. After all, hate is an emotion we all feel. Whenever these topics are brought up, whether privately or publicly, reality tends to shift a bit towards the severe, a razor’s edge of a bristled hair, a stinging grain of desert sand, the apathetic sigh of a bracing wind. Postures stiffen, ears prick up, faces freeze up as spaces heat up. Things that were so abstract, so indefinite a moment before suddenly harden, colder than ice, stiffer than statues, harder than bricks. Stares get haughty, eyes become fixed, glares concentrate into laser focus, seeing right through a person—seeing something else entirely, something far worse.
Words immediately become accusations, pointing fingers to knife points, a barbed wire to a solid wall dividing “us” and “them”, “the privileged” and the “underprivileged”, “the majority” and the “minority”, the “invader” and the “victim”. What needs to change about them to accommodate us. What’s wrong with them, what’s good about us. After all that back and forth, all that arguing, all that pain, a crude picture develops: Other people are self-serving. Other people take the blame. Other people are the problem.
Surely, this is nothing new. There is nothing new under sun. This is something we have always struggled with as humans everywhere, whether it be tribes pillaging for personal gain, or countries at war, or now more often, nations turning a blind eye to the calamities of other nations and the ensuing suffering of multitudes. We have always been self-interested. But the complacent belief that we have always been so and can do no better gives us no ideal to strive for. There is no moral high ground or honorable cause to fight for. There is only the brutality of willful selfishness, which itself, ironically, is universal and unifying.
It would be a broad miscalculation however to make equivalencies of deeply ingrained, historical and institutional wrongs to the tenuous strivings of marginalized groups towards fairness and empowerment. The world as we know it has been formed—malformed—by brutal conquerors, the history books written in their languages, recording their triumphs and justifying the inequalities they created and continue to maintain.
The strong do not associate with the weak. The strong want to be separated from the weak. The strong do not want to become weak. No matter, how you spin or rationalize it, if the strong make no effort to help the weak, eventually, inevitably, the strong prey on the weak.
I could never presume to come up with any new or convincing argument against hatred, one that hasn’t already been said before, time and time again: Thou shall not judge lest ye be judged. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Love thy neighbor. All you need is love. Give peace a chance. Love conquers all. I can’t even write those sentences down without immediately hearing the common retorts of today, also profoundly lacking in originality: The world is not a nursery school. I don’t hate other people/races, I just love my own people/race more. We should not care for foreigners more than the people of our own country. We must protect against invaders. This is just PC Liberal/Leftist propaganda.
Yet, no amount of reasoning, law or action can ever hide or eliminate that crucial, stubborn fact that we are referring to fellow human beings when we talk about “foreigners”, “inferiors”, or “invaders”. Human beings, who are not fundamentally different from ourselves, no matter how much we wish and strive and claim otherwise.
It is 2018 and we have fully decoded our own DNA, which, it turns out, is 99.9% the same for all of us. Nothing can change that fact (for the time being). No amount of money. No difference in nationality or culture or race or religion or titles can change the fact that we are all human. Yet, we strive to be distinct from each other. This is not necessarily wrong if it is based on earned merit and not on diminishing or oppressing others. Unfortunately, the results are cruel and disastrous if we attempt to make ourselves superior in the countless other ways, blatant and subtle. Ironically, a firm belief in our own supremacy actually makes us act less human, more monstrous, not at all better or more superior.
We have achieved, perhaps for the first time in history, mass connectivity. People all over the world can experience events and interact in real time. Anyone with an opinion can get feedback on that opinion. Anyone with an argument can incite a counter-argument. Witnessing these endless loops of assertion and dissent, evidence and doubt, affirmation and refusal can be overwhelming. Yet, we still cannot eliminate even the crudest forms of racism. We now find ourselves having to utter such things as, “Kids should not be in cages.” or “Racism is wrong, it is unacceptable and morally reprehensible.” We should know better. We have such powerful tools at our disposal, these things should be common sense by now.
But hate always seems to find a way to manifest itself. Now, its most powerful and prevalent manifestation is the idea that certain people are culturally inferior and therefore threaten our well-being and our civilization by their proximity or growing existence. This is a complex, far-reaching, and nuanced idea that must be taken seriously and addressed by leaders everywhere. Unlike claims of racial or genetic superiority, there is crucial validity to cultural superiority or cultural inferiority and this validity breathes new life into archaic and cruder forms of hate, as we are seeing now with the Trump administration and the prominence of right wing, populist parties throughout the world.
The validity is in the fact that we each have a culture and these cultures are subject to change. They are dependent on people to uphold them. They cannot continue to exist without repetition, tradition, reinforcement and dispersal. The culture of democracy, science, equal rights and individual freedom is indeed threatened by cultures of religious extremism, gender inequality, tribalism and authoritarianism. Ironically, the current popular remedy to these threats—so often falsely attributed solely to Islam or to poorer nations—is to elect an anti-immigrant, right-wing government that exemplifies none other than that very threat!
The cure to fundamentalism is not more fundamentalism. Terrorists and fanatics alike, on all sides, want nothing more than stricter laws, more walls, more isolation, and for other nations to turn a blind eye to their acts of cruelty. They do not want refuge for their many victims. Cross-cultural exchange, transparency, cooperation and open channels of communication are much greater threats to extremism in all its forms than border walls and travel bans.
Coming from a financially destitute Asian country myself, which has been called “culturally inferior” by some Westerners, I have experienced discrimination. I have felt their hatred. I have witnessed the fear that I may be contaminating the serenity of someone’s homeland or threatening civilization itself. The irony that my thoughts may be perceived by others as valuable here in this medium, while I still experience dismissal as an inferior in my daily life will never escape me.
But I don’t want to ever forget it. I hold my pain close to me as I interact with those who seem different from me. I know how it feels to be dehumanized, demonized, underestimated. I would not wish it on others. My wish is that people always consider that fellow human beings exist beyond any definitions and quantifications. Human beings who are capable of change, learning, and most of all, who feel the pain of being negatively assessed by others. The greatest irony of all may well be that we are led by hatred towards a dark path we never intended, even though the beautiful world we dream of was just steps within reach.
Text and images by M.P. Baecker © 2018.