What’s stopping us from making real efforts to “fix” racism?
Some acts of racism are driven by the very worst prejudice, discrimination or antagonism, like killing a man by kneeling on his neck. But many acts and expressions of racism – whether denigration of a group of people of a particular skin color, or closing borders to migrants, or labeling certain people as ‘thugs’ or ‘terrorists’ – are often not caused directly by racism itself. Rather, they are indirect symptoms of something else: aporophobia, the fear or deep dislike of poverty and of poor people.
The causes of racism are complex. To tackle it, we need to understand it. We need to go beyond vilifying certain groups, like the police. We also need to avoid whitewashing groups by apologizing for individual behavior (“a few bad apples”, “unique circumstances”, yadda yadda yadda). Racism is not something specific to any group. To a greater or lesser degree, it is in every group, and most individuals, in society.
It is almost impossible to separate notions of skin color and wealth. Race and income. The relatively poorer the community, the more likely that it is composed of people of color and ethnic minorities. Anywhere in the world. So you cannot talk about racism without addressing aporophobia.
We all have some level of aporophobia; we just didn’t have a name for it until a few years ago.
Most people don’t want society to change
‘Fixing’ racism (if that could ever be possible) could only come through making massive societal changes, with consequent economic upheavals. And that terrifies people. Because changing society means that our own economic status could change. ‘Rich’ people fear and resist any major changes to society, not so much because they fear that major social upheaval will result in them losing their actual assets (when they are being rational, many people – not all, obviously – know they could happily live on less money, a smaller home, etc.). Not even because they fear that they will become ‘poor’. They fear that they will lose their identity of ‘not-poor’. This isn’t classism. It isn’t about the super-rich protecting their offshore bank accounts. This fear crosses class boundaries because within any class there are the ‘not-poor’ and the ‘poor’. (Lower middle class are poor compared to upper middle class…. you get the picture.)
Stress and insecurity breed fear
People are particularly stressed and distressed right now – even more aporophobic than usual – due to coronavirus. It’s both a health and financial stress. Health is linked to where people are on the poverty scale, and those at the lower end are at greater risk from coronavirus, both in terms of health and finances. Sickness from coronavirus has a financial cost and can result in loss of assets or even death. Loss of actual income (or fear thereof) and loss of life (or fear thereof) through coronavirus foment widespread fear.
George Floyd’s murder was one more atrocity that became the spark that ignited this fear into anger and protests. The tipping point. There is nothing original in that perspective, but I believe that finding the right words for things helps us to analyze statements like this and to think and talk about them more clearly. Naming things helps us.
Aporophobia: the fear that divides us
‘Aporophobia’ is the word that can help us talk about racism. Aporophobia is a deep-rooted part of the human condition and a driving force for our lives. It’s a core aspect of self-preservation, even the survival instinct. Much of what we think and do is driven by fear, including this fear of poverty and the poor. It can be a positive force that drives us to go to school, work hard and look after ourselves and our family. Its dark side is misanthropy and hatred of specific groups of people.
I believe that whether you are left-wing or right-wing, antifa or maga, depends not on some deeply-held and clearly-defined “values” but on how strong your aporophobia is. Often, what we label as racism is rooted in aporophobia.
If we could get better at talking about our aporophobia, bringing it out into the light to examine, challenge and try to overcome it, we would be much better able to be #UnitedNotDivided.
Originally posted on LinkedIn.