While there are many theories that have been put out to explain the origin of racism, none of them have provided a substantive or conclusive enough explanation. Racism advances the argument that characteristics and abilities are based on skin color, and that some racial groups are superior to others. However, modern science has ruled out the role of skin color and physical attributes and its relations to capability of individuals. These discoveries confirm that racial classification is only skin deep, and that human beings belong to one human race. Moreover, scientists have discovered that people of different “racial groups” can share more in common in terms of genetic composition than the people of the same racial groups. Modern science has eliminated the significance of race in our understanding of society and people. Despite the concept of race being a social construction, the power behind it cannot be underestimated.
The effect of historical racism is palpable. Globally, racism was the overriding reason for the spread of European civilization, slavery, and the colonization of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In Africa, racism was the reason behind 60 years of conflict between black southern Sudanese and the Arabic north. The Tutsi and Hutu conflict in Rwanda that led to the death of one million people is yet another significant consequence of racism. Belgium’s treatment of Tutsi as runaway Caucasians ignited much resentment from the Hutu majority. With the combination of discriminative politics and income inequality, a perfect recipe for conflict was bred. In South Africa, racism was institutionalized in the form of apartheid. Racial segregation became a state policy in South Africa. Even though the African Bantus constituted 70 percent of the population, they had no representation in parliament and were treated as second-class citizens in their own county. South Africans lived in this arrangement until 1994. In the settler colonies of Australia, North America, and New Zealand, racism led to the extermination of millions of the native people. The US provided limited rights to African Americans until 1960s even though they boasted of a constitution premised on freedom and equality.
Granted, the subject of racism is a sensitive one. For this reason, some people feel uncomfortable talking about racial issues. Nonetheless, in order to completely wipe out racism, there is a need for increased dialogue and consciousness. While it is easy to hold on to grudges and to blame each other, it is difficult for the world to progress under a racially charged environment. If the world is to realize a better future, the citizens of the world have to embrace the reality of a multiracial world. Focus should be placed on corrective measures as opposed to victimization and blame. Where necessary, there should be state engineered support systems aimed at correcting historical injustices. To bring home the discourse on racism, I will use Principia College as a case study.
Even though Principia College is a small society compared to American society at large, it provides a platform from which we can discuss racial issues. As a small college cohort with Christian Scientists, Principia College has been an example of racial harmony and societal equality. With over twenty percent of the student body being international students, Principia College can boast of being a small United Nations. Many cultures are represented at the College. Our Speaker series program brings speakers from around the world to our campus, helping our community members view the world as a global village. While this could be a big achievement for a small college like Principia, our journey toward racial harmony is not over. This journey has not been a rosy one. Before the 1960s, Principia College was only a white man’s world. Sociology professor Billy Miller is the only black professor at the college and was the first black student at Principia. The following years witnessed an increase in the number of blacks and minorities on campus. By 2008, almost 15 percent of Principia students were black. Interestingly, 95 percent of the black students were from Africa. One can only guess why African American students have shied away from enrolling at Principia.
First, Christian Science as a religion is based on high levels of reading and comprehension. Historically, African Americans have been denied access to education for political and social reasons. Without effective education, the connection with the books is lost. So is the love for reading. A religion that is heavily based on constant study and reading would therefore not be so appealing to an uneducated African American. In contrast, African students populate Principia College because of the African culture’s strong emphasis on education. For many Africans, education is the way out of poverty. Families and community put great value on the education of a child as a means of upward social mobility. The generous financial aid offered by Principia College makes it affordable for African students to acquire an education at the college.
Second, African Americans might be few at Principia College because of the school’s location. The African American population is mostly urban. Many live in the cities and in neighborhoods surrounding the city. A school situated in the middle of nowhere (almost one hour from the city) limits its access to the urban African Americans. If Principia was located in the city of St. Louis, maybe there would be more African American students attending. For Africans, the location of the school does not matter as much. Again, state bureaucracy upon arriving in the United States regarding visa issues and school transfers make it difficult to transfer from one school to another. Coupled with the African society’s perception of a US education as a sign of success, African students opt to stay in Principia.
Even with the vibrant presence of African students at the college, Principia has not escaped the curse of racism. While incidences of racism are few and subtle compared to other colleges, the very fact that they happen at the college illustrates that the college is not immune to racism. One aspect of racism that occurs a lot at the college is subconscious racism. For example, looking at the list of speakers that come from Africa, one can almost see a trend that the speakers were either victims of violence and war, or are advocates for such issues. While these are critical issues in Africa, it does not help to have only one image of a place depicted every time. The image of Africa presented by the speakers is that of a violent and unstable continent. From Rose Mapendo (Congolese genocide survivor) to Emmanuel Jal (former child soldier), to Betty Bugombe (peace mediator in northern Uganda), all recent speakers have been victims of violence and war. To an outsider, the message is clear: Africa is full of conflict! There are so many potential speakers that could tell stories of victories for Africa, such as athletes, politicians, artists, scholars, and more. I cannot deny the good intentions of the panel selecting the speakers. However, a critical analysis of the speaker series will reveal a subconscious thought of Africa as a continent prone to war and turmoil .
Racism also manifests itself in the Dining Room at Principia College. Any visitor at the college would be quick to notice the level of segregation at the dining table. Most of the time black students sit together, Latino students sit together, and white students sit together, usually separated into separate sections of the Dining Room. It would be easy to assume that black students speak one language and therefore they are inclined to sit together so that they can speak their language. This argument is invalid for two reasons. For one, African American students have joined the African table. This means that the language spoken at the table must be English. African-American students would not continually sit at a table where only foreign languages are spoken. Secondly, Africans do not speak one language. While it is true that the majority of international students from Africa are Kenyans, and Kenyans speak Swahili, it is not true that they will speak Swahili at a table where Ghanaians and Zambians are present. The common language here would be English.
What is happening at Principia College is not an outright form of racial prejudice or racism. Rather, it is the result of strong ethnic identity coupled with color consciousness. Students are treated with the same rules and given the same opportunities. However, the same students intentionally choose to segregate themselves along racial lines. There is little that the school can do to change this. This is a matter of personal choice. As long as no one is hurt, there is no problem. What Principia can do is incorporate an encompassing understanding of different cultures, particularly Africa. I think this will do a great deal in challenging the stereotype that Africa is a negative place and that nothing good except music comes out of it.