The belief about the superiority of the white race has been a recurrent theme in the history of humanity. The cultures of the white have long been considered "good" and civilized, while all the rest have often been condemned as evil, savage, even threatening to the "developed" world. The non-white have frequently become victims of colonization, slavery, social segregation, maltreatment and abuse. But how is the condition of white privilege evident in our increasingly globalised world? Would it be utopian to assume that with the massive movement of populations from different parts of the world to the white-dominated West, the phenomenon is being more and more eradicated? Or is it becoming more accentuated?
Since a great mixture of people with varying degrees of darkness or whiteness are now populating most Western European capitals, one would think that the phenomenon of racism is slowly dying. There is indeed an increasing number of interracial marriages, and it has been moving to see how lately thousands of people in countries like Germany, the UK or Iceland have offered to house refugees and asylum-seekers. These attitudes are far from xenophobic and indicate that there is a longing for peace and union among the races.
But we cannot be so naïve as to think that this is the general tendency. The number of hate crimes due to racism in the UK has increased dramatically in 2014-2015. The British Home Office has reported 42,930 crimes motivated by race discrimination. In France, especially after the Charlie Hebdo events, according to the governmental organisation CNCDH, minority groups have suffered prejudice and discrimination, with Muslims having been subject to higher levels of intolerance since January 2015. In the German town of Meissen, suspected right-wing arsonists set fire to a newly renovated block of flats that was to house dozens of refugees coming from war-ravaged countries, such as Syria. And on top of these incidents, there is a surge of extremist right-wing nationalism in politics, which fuels discrimination and racism.
I come from Greece, one of these countries that have witnessed the appearance of an extremist right-wing party in the recent political scene. As in other European countries, there has also been a rise in racist attacks and violent incidents in the past 2-3 years, which have been ignited by people’s frustration due to the financial crisis. It is not a coincidence that the extremist ideology of the far right has been popular with the working class, especially with the mass of the angry, unemployed people, who feel the effects of economic despair, having also become disillusioned by the previous governments. The Greek people’s uneasiness against the immense influx of migrants and refugees, who either cross Greece to find better luck in other European countries or settle there, can be attributed to the fact that Greece has been a racially homogeneous country, something which has been radically altered in the past few years. In the minds of the Greek people, therefore, the financial crisis and the change in the racial dynamics of the country go hand in hand. Time is needed in order for them to learn to coexist peacefully, since migrants are viewed as invaders, threatening the country’s stability even more.
However, there have been considerable efforts by Greek citizens to help the immigrants, as for instance in the case of the baker in Kos who has become a symbol of humaneness, as he gives away 100 kilos of bread to migrants and refugees daily. On an even more optimistic note, a social experiment conducted in Athens in February 2015 by Action Aid, whereby a Bangladeshi migrant became the victim of verbal abuse by a Greek man, most Greek participators in the experiment appeared to have a strong reaction against the man’s racist comments, something indicating a general ant-racist tendency.
I firmly believe that a change in perceptions is imperative. The Sufi poet, Rumi, has said: “If you see two in one – I only see one in two”. Instead of endorsing a politics of division and separation we can choose to support peace, unity and equality. Instead of being territorialist and proprietary, we can choose to share. Instead of anger and hatred, we can choose compassion and acceptance. And the number one tool, through which perceptions can utterly transform is education.