We often frame racism the wrong way. Racism isn’t really about the colour of our skin. It’s about power.
Racism is when people in power decide groups of other people, for whatever reason, are different, that they’re inferior in some way.
But it doesn’t always have to be white people in power framing people of colour as inferior. That certainly qualifies as racism, but it ignores other racism.
For example, 100 years ago, Anglo-Saxon North Americans saw Irish people as inferior. They saw Italian people as inferior. They saw Slavic people and other Eastern Europeans as inferior. But put any of these people against Anglo-Saxon people and you’d barely be able to see the difference between their skin colour.
Yet despite both groups being “white”, one group was racist toward the other. That was possible because the ethnic group in power decided that other ethnic groups were inferior.
Or take the Sámi people of northern Scandinavia. They were forced to learn the languages of the imperial states who claimed ownership of Sámi ancestral lands. There was also pressure on the Sámi to become Christian. The Sámi were subjected to forced sterilization. The Sámi were displaced to make way for settlers from the south and for economic development of the region. All this despite looking superficially like the southern people who oppressed them.
And it’s not just “white” people either.
For example, when the Japanese occupied the Korean peninsula, they outlawed education beyond just primary school, which, of course, limited social mobility for Koreans. The Japanese owned about 94% of the capital produced by Korean factories. They severely limited the freedom of the Korean press. By WWII, the Korean language was no longer taught in school. The Japanese stole tens of thousands of Korean cultural artifacts. They saw Korea as backwards and in need of modernization, yet that modernization benefited Japan, extracting and exporting natural resources for Japan’s use. Koreans were forced to take Japanese names. Finally, they forced Shintoism onto the Korean people, displacing other religions.
Korea wasn’t the only area occupied by Imperial Japan. Okinawa, Taiwan, Micronesia, parts of eastern Russia, parts of China, also fell victim to their colonial efforts.
You can see this same sort of racial hierarchy throughout the world. The Rwandan genocide, the Guatemala civil war, the Ürümqi riots in China, and others all have race at their core.
Racism isn’t about the colour of skin. It’s about power. And those who have the power get to decide who belongs to the empowered race.
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