The death of George Floyd and the riots that followed in the US, the UK, France and other parts of the world brought the issue of racism to the fore.
But what is racism really? As many might know, it is derived from the word race, which in turn comes from the Latin word radix, which means ‘root’.
There are all kinds of racism: ethnic cleansing, like that of the Red Indians of the USor the Armenians in Turkey; apartheid, as we have witnessed in South Africa; economic racism—those who have been to Washington, DC have noticed that you are moving quickly from an upscale neighbourhood and three miles away you will find poor houses where only black people live; discrimination against women who were unable to vote till the 1920s; untouchability in pre-Independence India, etcetera.
Whenever a civilisation dominates, it tends to regard the other races as inferior and even to enslave them. We have seen it with Rome, which conquered the whole European continent, parts of Africa, even, and imposed on thesecountries its way of life, its customs, its very religion. Western civilisation, predominantly white, did not reach its peaktill the 18th century and then also proceeded to force its language, way of life, fashion, religion, etcetera,upon countries it colonised throughout the world.
Yet, the first parameter of racism is that it is a ‘fluctuating phenomenon’: for example, it is said that the first great civilisation in the world, even before Vedic India, was that of Africa. There is ample archaeological evidence for this. Is it possible that at that time, the black Africans who dominated,also imposed their ways and even enslaved others? Quite likely, given that in these times slavery was not looked down upon.Is it thus likely that those who dominate, can become one day dominated?
The second phenomenon is that there is ‘karma of racism’. If you take my country, France, which colonised in the 18th and 19th centuries, North Africa—Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, etcetera—and exploited these countries. In those days, nobody saw anything bad in it because the mentality was different. Even after the Second World War, in the 1950s and 1960s, France imported cheap labour from these nations to perform the tasks that the French no longer wanted to do: sweep the streets, collect garbage, manual labour, etcetera. These people were often looked down upon—and today their great-grandchildren are angry with the French white. This anger sometimes manifests itself violently, as was the case after George Floyd’s death. Now, the white great-great grandchildren of those who exploited North Africans may be completely innocent and even absolutely abhor any form of racism, but they are the butt of this often violent anger. There seems to be an injustice there—but it is just karma. Indeed, there is a collective karma of a nation, which happens often after a considerable span of time. The Dalai Lama himself speaks of what he calls “black karma”. He says that Tibet is suffering today at the hands of the Chinese because of feudalism in Tibet for a long time where the nobility and the high clergy exploited the lower classes. Is it then possible that nations like the United States, France or England that colonised half the world, today pay their ‘black karma’in the form of this rioting and huge anti-racism movement?
The third characteristic of racism, which we rarely talk about, is that it can also be ‘religious’. The ethnic cleansing in Rwanda, or the genocide of Armenians are perfect contemporary examples of it. We know also how the Spanish and Portuguese armies, along with their Christian priests, eradicated entire civilisations in South America,such as the Aztecs and Incas. Very few people have mentioned too that one of the greatest examples of this religious racism came under the form of Muslim invasions in India and their seeking to impose violently Islam onto Hindus. From the Hindu Kush to Mumbai 2011, it has been calculated that approximately 80 million Hindus were murdered. Aurangzeb, much praised in history books, forbade Hindus to ride elephants or palanquins, imposed the humiliating jizya tax, razed their temples, murdered them. Is it not one of the worst forms of racism? Recently, the ethnic cleansing of the Hindus of the valley of Kashmir, which was done in the name of Islam: ‘convert or die’, the mosques of Srinagar and the Valley blared and many Hindu leaders and intellectuals were murdered (I was there), prompted an exodus of 350,000 people, who became refugees in their own country.
Today, Western Christianity has evolved a lot: I have a Protestant brother and when he comes to India, he can enter a Hindu temple and not feel that he is committing a sin; I know devout Catholics who are open and appreciate the beauty and diversity of India, but Indian missionaries, (as there are no longer ‘white missionaries’ in India), practice a Christianity that prevailed in 19th century Europe and their goal is to convert people by any means, even if it is unethical,to the ‘true God’. This is also a form of racism, using unethical financial incentives.
The fourth characteristic of racism, or rather of anti-racism, is that today it tends to be ‘politically correct’. Is the US racist? Certainly, but Americans still twice elected a black man, Barack Obama, and the largest number of viewers ever of a Netflix programme is for The Last Dance, an ode to the flying grace and incredible talent of Michael Jordan, the best basketball player of all of all time and a very black man, whom Americans have worshiped for three decades.
The extremes that occur at the moments: looting, bringing down statues, the shame of being white, that makes people kneel, are also in the domain of the politically correct … As usual, the Western mind goes from one extreme to the other. It was shameful to be gay in Hollywood for so long, but now every TV series has to have a gay couple; and from slavery, one of the most inhuman systems designed by man to exploit others, it is now considered dishonourable to be a white man or woman.
The fifth element that helps to go beyond racism, comes from India: whether or not you believe in reincarnation (note that until the Council of Trent, Christianity believed in it)—listen to the ‘Bhagavad Gita’, the Bible of many Indians, which should become the Bible of the world. There, Krishna tells Arjuna, as they are about to fight the enemy and Arjuna sees friends and even people with whom he is related in the opposing camp: ‘There is in each human being an eternal spark, which is born and born again and cannot be harmed—you only kill the body.’ If we look at racism from this point of view, it means that in past lives, we have been white, black, yellow, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, man or even woman perhaps … from this perspective, there cannot be racism or homophobia because we are ONE.
And this is the sixth parameter: ‘love’. As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar rightly says: “Love moves the world.”
Whether we are Christians or Hindus, white or black, it is the only element that connects us all, beyond any race and creed. We are all pained by the racism that still exists in the world, but even more pained by the violence that is happening today.