Intolerance, Racism and Xenophobia: Contexts and Motivations

“Sexual violence is always a hateful and disgusting act, but it is socially and morally even more unacceptable when it is done by those who ask for and receive hospitality in our country.” These words by Debora Serracchiani – Governor of Friuli Venezia Giulia ( Italian region ) – have sparked innumerable controversies evidently exploited by politicians and journalists. The socialnetwork have been invaded by comments of all kinds, highlighting how the issue of racism is disruptive and even more serious than the reprehensible single incident. Personally, I agree that those who are accepted in a hosting country have an added moral duty due to the necessary trust in the institutions that welcome them. I think that the Serracchiani’s words should be read in this sense. But I also think it is necessary to clarify some aspects of the issue of racism, a phenomenon that is not just about thinking and acting against immigrants or different ethnic groups, but also against cultural, associative, political, institutional groups whose ideas are different from one’s own.

The colonialist and nationalist policies of the twentieth century, but also the imperialist ones of previous centuries, needed to find an adequate justification for the serious violations of the human rights that they caused. The first racist theories, based on the biological superiority of one race on the other, appeared and developed in the sixteen century with the spread of the empires of Spain, Portugal and England. The collective prejudice of the biological superiority of the European race has allowed to overcome the sense of guilt but also the ethical limits in many historical events that have followed from the slave trade to the Nazi Holocaust. His founder was Count de Gobineau, who wrote a book on the inequality of human races in the second half of the eighteenth century. Other nineteenth century supporters of the racist theories, such as Houston Stewart Chamberlain, exerted a strong influence on extremism and nationalist movements. The racial issue has, however, been added to other pre-existing forms of discrimination and persecution based on religious, political and cultural grounds.

For the racist personality, the value of a human being is not determined by his ability or talent but by being part of a group, whether it is a gang or a national or ethnic community. More often than not, everything is translated into hatred and contempt for those individuals who are “different”, those who are outside the “group”. Racism is highlighted in the refusal to accept cultures and ways of life other than your own, especially if individuals outside the group are also characterized by disadvantaged economic conditions and social degradation. Ultimately it becomes a way to charge the weaker, the different, those who do not think the same way, for the causes of collective discontent.

It is true that racism emerges in those social classes that do not want to lose their average level of well-being, but it is also true that it becomes a sort of self-defense, rough and primitive, against the loss of identity and values that represent the framework of the social security of the reference group.

By addressing the phenomenon from the psychological point of view, it is clear how racism indicates the discomfort of who is the instigator, together with envy and other feelings that originate from comparisons. Their dissatisfaction needs to throw the blame or aggression against others who they consider in some way the cause of their malaise.

Racist ideologies are maintained by groups with weak, untalented personalities, unable to compete effectively in one or more moments of their lives. Denying permission to the existence of the other, of what they consider different and therefore the enemy, allows the exaltation of one’s ego. These individuals thus create psychological strategies to reach a fake awareness of strength that is only ideal but not real. For this reason they are not willing to question the identity of their group, but rather they are willing to defend it at all costs, up to the use of physical violence. The “frame” in which they are integrated is the guarantee of their psychological safety. Unfortunately, this weakness of the ego, which is the basis of youth bullying and adult racist ideologies, is a symptom of a psychotic disease and unfortunately we have to realize the enormous diffusion of this disorder.

On the contrary, the progress of human society is produced by the ability to adapt to changing living conditions and environmental factors. It is this ability that allows a culture to grow. The most evolved civilizations are those that have gained greater integration amongst cultures and ethnicities. Those who grew more slowly are the ones who lived in isolation, that is, with few contacts with nearby peoples. The exchange of experiences, knowledge, technical and operational skills has always been the way to become more competitive and thus dominant. Just think of the isolated tribes in the Amazon or African jungles, but also the Australian peoples before the arrival of James Cook or the Americans who did not know the wheel before Colombo’s arrival.

In our times racism and nationalism emerge mainly within the matter of migration. This is today one of the most disruptive “forces” in the world and apparently without control. The presence of more and more migrants, refugees and asylum seekers leads to growing hate and misunderstanding among the various ethnic groups. This is why, in this context, religious, political, ideological and cultural differences are amplified. Another aspect to consider is the economic crisis. In this period, intolerant positions are widespread towards those who are considered as the scapegoats of the household’s economic criticalities and the cause of the reduction of the community well-being.

Much of the responsibility for maintaining racist and nationalist ideologies is also due to inadequate literacy over the historical context. Not being able to in-depth reading and understanding a text leads to remaining slaves of prejudices and prevents from the understanding of the complexity of the phenomena. One remains limited within a world with few conceptual categories, with simple ideas, never subjected to criticism and analysis. Often in schools it is not possible to deepen the contemporary history or even the recent one that has seen in the Nazi Holocaust the most serious example of the effects of nationalism. In this context, racist popularizations easily gain consensus and plagiarize the masses.

Finally, in recent years, mass media have contributed to fueling intolerance and racism by giving a distorted view of the phenomena, reserving a morbid attention to the stories featuring foreigners as perpetrators whilst passing silently those in which on the contrary the foreigners were victims. Thus, a distorted vision of reality has been created, fueled by social networks and fake news that proliferate in these platforms.

Racism and intolerance are therefore the result of a set of geopolitical, psychological, cultural, religious, economic issues, but they are also a matter due to communicative and educational difficulties. As long as the conditions to all this will be maintained, the progress of our civilization will seriously be compromised. It is in moments like this, when the prejudice overcomes the ideals, that each of us must play its part, especially educational.

“The difference between people is only in their having greater or lesser access to knowledge” (Lev Tolstoj)

Massimiliano Fanni Canelles
Massimiliano Fanni Canelles
Head of CAD Nephrology and Dialysis, Health Department with University of Udine
Adj. Professor in Alma Mater University in Bologna of International Cooperation
Editor of SocialNews Magazine
President of Auxilia Foundation
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