Tackling the roots of racism

The deep roots of racism, its brutal consequences, and the pseudo-science that underpins it. Opinion Piece Newham Recorder 8.7.20

The roots of racism lie deep, not least in East London.

Take the West India Docks, the first of the industrial era docks which help define the area. They were built by a consortium of slave-owning businessmen to cash in on the burgeoning empire.  Records show slave owners lived locally, including Stratford, Plaistow and West Ham. What explains such inhumanity, and why is Black Lives Matter still so relevant?

How to Argue with a Racist is a timely book by geneticist and broadcaster Adam Rutherford, a patron of Humanists UK. Adam examines the pseudo-science that has underpinned prejudice and black subjugation. As he points out, skin colour is literally only skin deep. Modern genetics shows all humans share almost all the same DNA. Colour  does not in itself explain differences and similarities in physical and intellectual ability.

Yet false beliefs persist, often unconsciously.   One striking example is the lack of black Olympic swimming champions. Even some well-meaning liberals still put this down to genetics, and the myth that black people have heavy bones.  Adam points instead to the correlation between lack of achievement and historic lack of access to swimming pools.

Of course, all lives matter, and inequality is rife. But Black Lives Matter confronts the particular scourge which non-whites encounter on a daily basis, an additional layer of grief and difficulty suffered for no reason other than skin colour. How else to explain, for example, why such a tiny proportion of black footballers in the professional leagues make it to be coaches or managers? The wildly disproportionate number of black Londoners being stopped and searched should likewise concern us.

For racists, ethnic difference in achievement, say among Nobel prize winners, vindicates belief in racial supremacy. For anyone who values science and fairness it should prompt investigation and action. The disproportionate toll Covid-19 has taken on BAME communities, particularly in Boroughs like Newham, highlights that we have not been ‘all in it together.’  We must work to make sure we emerge with greater awareness and that more positive steps are taken to address bigotry and inequality.

Paul Kaufman
Chair, East London Humanists

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