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Nationalism is the new Racism

April 29, 2011

I’m not anti-American; I’m pro-human. There’s nothing disparaging to America or patriotism in this article.

Before we can compare nationalism to racism, we’d better be clear on their definitions. Racism is “the belief that there are inherent differences in people’s traits and capacities which are entirely due to their race, however defined, and which consequently justify those people being treated differently, both socially and legally.” Nationalism “involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. It can also include the belief that the state is of primary importance, or the belief that one state is naturally superior to all other states. In some cases the identification of a national culture is combined with a negative view of other races or cultures.

I must admit, when starting to write this article I did intend to target patriotism. It was the flashier headline. But I soon learned that the actual definition of Patriotism is “a devotion to one’s country for no other reason than being a citizen of that country… when used in contrast with nationalism, the term may still express the more constructive, less antagonistic or aggressive ideal.”

I doubt that many Americans understand this difference. I didn’t. I think a majority of our population view themselves as patriots when they’re in fact nationalists. I think that many of us lack the capacity to feel pride without looking down at someone else. Classic bully syndrome.

What nationalism and racism have in common is this: they both assume a superiority in one group of people over other groups. How they differ is in their definitions of these groups. But is one definition superior to the other? (no pun intended)

Racism assumes that there is a natural, clearly definable division between human races. But most modern scientists will tell you that the concept of human races is erroneous. There’s only one human race; we’re all the same at a genetic level. There’s no discernable difference between a Maori and a Scandinavian (for example). The wide range of physical features evident is simply due to the diverse environment of earth and its effects on humanity over millennia.

Nationalism draws its own lines. They’re more readily defined – just look at a map. Instead of grasping for a ‘natural’ line of delineation like racism attempts to do, the concept of nationalism has sprouted its own. Boundaries gain their strength from the belief that people give them. But are they valid? Excluding the obvious geographical borders, would there be any way for an independent observer – without a map – to recreate them? Could this observer discern between an American and a Canadian? A Japanese and a Chinese?

Frankly I doubt it. Culture and nationality are human constructs, and they change. Look at a map from a few centuries ago. Are the lines different? Have some cultures moved from one nation to another?

I don’t think that human constructs can be used as valid scientific lines of delineation. (Take that, psychiatry! Take that, sociology!) We’re too diverse on an individual level to be grouped in any completely accurate fashion. As such I find nationalism to be just as insidious as racism.

But why is racism considered the more ugly word? It’s become extremely non-PC to even mention in public. Sports commentators lose their jobs over it, politicians their careers. It’s like we’ve been told so many times racism is taboo that we’ve come to believe it’s real; another thing to avoid. Perhaps it’s because of slavery that we’re so sensitive about the word. Some of us feel guilty and some of us feel angry, and the easiest way to alleviate those feelings is to pretend they don’t exist.

It also helps to replace them. Especially if it’s with something you can take pride in. Something the guilty have in common with the angry.

Enter nationalism into the picture. So far it carries no negative cultural connotations although its actual definition can be viewed as disparaging. Why is this? If it’s not alright to hate someone for their skin color (and it isn’t), why is it alright to hate them for where they were born, or for their culture? It isn’t. But different has always been viewed as dangerous, and when you’re looking for a scapegoat – especially one to alleviate your own guilt – any enemy will do.

Try this: next time you hear somebody say ‘God bless America,’ (or wherever you’re from) replace the country with your ethnicity. Does it feel different? Why? Aren’t you part of both groups? What’s different about being part of a country as opposed to part of a people?

I’ll tell you what’s the same: either way someone is excluded. Centuries from now, if mankind ever builds a global culture (or unites in the face of an alien attack), the people will look back on the nationalist era with the same scorn we feel for racism. They’ll laugh at the lines we drew in the sand, and cry at the blood we spilled into them.


From → Rants

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