Black Lives Matter

Why Hate is not the Answer

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Estimated Reading Time: 7 min

Humans are driven by emotions, not logic

We are facing difficult times, not only in the past few weeks since George Floyd got killed in Minneapolis (USA) and not only in the past few months after coronavirus started to spread. By looking back a little further we also had (and still have) to deal with such ‘minor’ (caution – irony!) challenges like climate change and the refugee crisis in Europe.
What do all these events have in common? From a broader perspective, the emotional reactions to the police killing of George Floyd are comparable to the reactions to the refugees crisis and to Greta Thunberg’s effort to point out the risks of climate change: people are getting swept away by their emotions (anger, fear, frustration) which leads to a society that divides itself into smaller groups.
“We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.”
António R. Damásio
“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
​ Joanne K. Rowling

United we stand, divided we fall

Racists dissociate themselves from black people, while non-racists dissociate themselves from racists. In both cases, people react with dissociation, and in many cases, the act of dissociating oneself from others happens in anger. While it seems to be obvious to most of us that it is wrong to hate or discriminate black people just because they are black, it seems to be quite normal to hate racists for their beliefs. To be clear: I do not tolerate racism! I never did and I never will!
What I am trying to do here is to find something that unites us humans as one, and in the current racism debate – just like in most other controversies – anger seems to be the connecting piece. However, figuring out what it is exactly that makes us angry wouldn’t serve our purpose and in fact it is not necessary to examine the exact reasons. Why?

Anger – just the tip of the emotional iceberg

First, we are all individuals, living in different cultures and facing different problems. Accepting the fact that we all have our problems is already the first step to develop empathy and compassion. Second, anger is an emotion that is often called a secondary emotion in psychology. What does that mean? It means, that anger is only the tip of the iceberg and that there are other, primary emotions such us fear, sadness and frustration that often result in anger. [1]
Now let us think about this: isn’t it much harder to be mad at someone who, in fact, is afraid of something? Or who is sad and frustrated? Sure, an angry person does not look like he or she is afraid or sad or frustrated. But knowing that those emotions must be the catalysts of anger helps us to see persons and situations in an altogether different light.
“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“But feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.”
Anne Frank

Emotions do not lie – Emotions can't be wrong

While it doesn’t make much sense to think about what causes people to get angry, it does make sense to think about what causes people to be afraid, sad, or frustrated in the first place. By trying to figure that out you will have to engage with a person, ask questions about how he or she feels. And by doing so, by showing interest and empathy, you will already give that person the feeling that you are taking him or her seriously – and isn’t this something we are all looking for? Someone who listens to us and who doesn’t condemn us at the very first opportunity?
Always remember: emotions don’t lie. Emotions can’t be wrong. And emotions are there for a reason. Though, we can and should argue about whether those reasons are reasonable or not – and in case of racism, they are clearly NOT reasonable.

People aren’t born racist – they learn to be racist

‘Racism results both from the structures of society as well as individual interactions’. [2] What we can do now is trying to help people to unlearn racism. It might take a good while and it might never lead to success, but in my opinion, it is the only chance to change their minds. Try not to force it and try not to be swept away by negative emotions once you witness racist behavior. Speak up, point out why you think that racist behavior is not appropriate. You may feel like you are on a knife-edge, full of adrenaline with a heart pounding like a jackhammer (especially if you are outnumbered). You may also feel furious, maybe scared, but always try to stay calm and to stick to the facts.
For example, you might refer to an article or to a book that you once read in which the author emphasized that racism is a vicious cycle that was initiated by random events and that is hard to break. In his book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” Yuval Noah Harari points out that random facts like the closeness to America and the immunity to spreading diseases like malaria and the yellow fever in those days were reason enough to ‘choose’ Africans instead of Europeans and Asians as slaves.
“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.”
Maya Angelou

‘Slavery caused racism’ instead of ‘racism caused slavery’

This utter coincidence (and not biological facts like low intelligence or the propensity for doing evil) started the ball rolling and lead to one of the most tragic, cruel, and vital errors in human history.
Harari continues by illustrating, that two centuries of slavery had to end up in a huge disparity of wealth and education between black and white people. Some white people twisted the facts, cited this disparity as evidence for their right to rule over black people and passed numerous discriminatory laws which intensified the racial divide, lessened the chances for black people to receive a good education and to find well-paid jobs, which ultimately lead to cultural prejudices over time. Cultural prejudices, however, caused more laws and norms that undermined the white supremacy – the beginning of a vicious cycle. [3]

Doing the right thing is not always easy and what is easy isn’t always the right thing

Following the herd blindly and being prejudiced against other people without question: very easy. Being swept away by negative emotions and reacting furious or anxious when witnessing racial discrimination: also easy. What is not easy is to strive against the stream – to speak up and to stay calm and factual. It is hard, it always was and always will be, but it is the right thing to do!
No one is born as courageous and confident as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, or Nelson Mandela in their best days. But you know what? Neither did they! Even such world changers and idols had to develop such virtues; they weren’t flawless and – above all – they weren’t fearless! Nelson Mandela once said: ‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
James Baldwin
“None of us alone can save the nation or the world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.”
Cornel West
In this spirit, let us be brave and conquer our fears. Let us speak up against injustice. And let us be calm when anger tries to take over. Racism is not a pandemic; it is not a virus. It is a popular misconception; certain circumstances lead people astray which is something that could have happened to anyone of us and which happens to most of us in other areas of life all the time.
What matters is that we try to get each other back to the straight and narrow – gently, sympathetically, and unbiasedly! Always try to remind yourself that there are reasons for certain behaviors and that those reasons are worth being examined. Listen carefully to what other people have to say. Show empathy and compassion. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love)
Sources: ​
[1] Online Source: Anger: A Secondary Emotion ​
[2] Helsel, Carolyn B. (2018): Preaching about Racism: A Guide for Faith Leaders: 76. ​
[3] Harari, Yuval Noah (2015): Sapies: A Brief History of Humankind: 173-180.

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