With the rise in communication across regional, political, and racial boundaries, we have unparalleled opportunities to experience the richness of other cultures. Yet beyond the celebrations of our ethnic and cultural differences lurks an often hidden, often disguised evil. That evil is racism.
Though racism in its extreme form prompts shock and condemnation from the majority of people, it is racism's more sinister workings that are the great danger. Institutionalised racism and ethnocentricity for instance, create discord which separates people from one another. My country, New Zealand, prides itself on its race relations, with the Maori population being recompensed for injustices at the hands of European settlers. Yet underlying this there is an antagonism and in some cases a deep rift between Pakeha (white) and Maori. This also extends to new immigrants, who are perceived by some to be a `threat' to their standard of living and job prospects in New Zealand.
Why do we divide ourselves along racial lines? I would suggest that the problem lies within us. Our own sense of inferiority or superiority manifests itself in how we view and deal with others. We feel accepted by those with whom we most identify. However, a sense of self-worth based on similar attitudes or backgrounds can be dangerous, as anything that threatens it, threatens us. Intolerance is often based on an inner fear of our settled views and way of life being challenged or upset.
If the potential for all of us is to feel threatened by differences and to judge one another by outward appearance, how then can we overcome racism? Building relationships across cultures is a significant part of this. But perhaps it is more important that we recognise what it is that makes us judge people according to their skin colour or appearance.
Growing up in a home where people of differing race frequently visited, living in another culture for several years, and having many non-European friends at school, I prided myself on not discriminating according to race. However, I have realised that I accepted the subtle and perhaps unrecognised attitude of many of my peers, of the superiority of white New Zealanders. I realised my own hypocrisy and faced the fact that I valued my Asian friends less than European friends. This was for a large part due to my fear of what others thought of me. Thus, the root of the problem lay in my own sense of self-depreciation. My healing lay in the recognition of myself as a beloved child of God, and the ability to make friends across cultures as a gift rather than a weakness.
There is no such thing as a non-racist: you are either racist or anti-racist. Thus, it is the responsibility of each one of us to take a proactive stance on race. It is also important that we are humble and willing enough to admit where we have gone wrong. One only needs to look at the past--and present--to see that forgiveness and reconciliation are a vital part of building a true global village.
Sarah Wood, New Zealand