“White culture is boring.” You hear this a lot in the Anglo-American sphere of the world. But this viewpoint is entirely reserved for the Anglo-American sphere. The rest of us – in continental Europe, for example – feel quite alienated by it. Because we don’t think of ourselves as “White people”.
It may make sense in the U.S., as “White people” there may have European heritage, but don’t have much left in terms of their ancestral cultural heritage and have thus far failed to build up any distinctly white American culture. That’s not a bad thing. The U.S. is supposed to be inclusive, that’s why it is great that American customs are practised by all Americans, not just “White people.” At the same time, people who were marginalised by society (especially Black people) have created their own communities, which add additional layers of culture and flavour on top of what is considered American culture.
The fact that White Americans have not done that is evidence of white supremacy in American society – and their colonial guilt.
At the same time, the Anglo-American struggle with racism ignores just how deep racism really goes worldwide. Because racism is not just about skin colour. It often manifests that way and is easiest spotted that way, but there are different forms of racism all around the globe.
There is no such thing as human races
Racism is discrimination based on the notion that there are different human races. Factually there used to be different human races, but everyone alive today belongs to the same race of homo sapiens. Our race has survived, because we were the most flexible and adaptable out of all. There is as much genetic difference between a black man and a white man, as there is between two white men. Studies have proven this definitively.
That is why in Germany and Austria, in the process of de-nazifying the countries, the word “race” has been corrected in its usage to only be used where scientifically correct, e.g. different races of dogs. The English usage of the word “race” to differentiate between human skin colours boggles the mind of any German-speaker. To us, that is already racist. We understand now that there are different ethnicities (i.e. semantic differences that have emerged as evolutionary adaptations to our particular living environments), but no races. A race would constitute a significantly different genetic structure, which none of us have, not even those, who still have some 2% Neanderthal genetic material within them.
Ethnicities, however, vary quite a bit and they are not solely based on people’s skin colours, but also on many other semantic features, such as ear sizes, eye colours, jaw structures etc. and we have been constructing notions of different races around them everywhere.
In the Congo, Bantu people are stigmatising Pygmy people. In Somalia, the Bantu are stigmatised in return. In many African countries Black people are discriminating against and killing other “Black” ethnic groups, because of long-standing religious and racial discrimination. The same happens in the Middle-East and Asia.
Often, racial constructs are also heavily intertwined with religious discrimination. For example, the notion (shared by the Nazis) that Jews are a race is wide-spread. Christians and Muslims are also often considered their own races. As soon as a cultural division has gone on long enough, the notion that the other side, isolated for a long enough period of time, is another race, incompatible with one’s own arises. It is ludicrous and yet it is pervasive in virtually every culture.
And it is understandable too. Humans are by default wary of new and unfamiliar things. Xenophobia, in part, stems from the survival instinct that tells us not to trust someone we don’t know. And it is much easier to explain that someone is different because they look or act differently, than it is to explain the complexities of the human genome. That is why racial slurs will be most often heard by less-educated people in Europe (though we are also aware that particularly wealthy people often exhibit just as much racial discrimination).
Europeans discriminating against Europeans
In Europe, we now are more focused on hating Arabs and Muslims, but we used to be racist towards each other for the majority of our shared history. I grew up in Austria in the 90s and early 2000s. During that time, former Yugoslavians and Slavs in general were treated like lower-class citizens. Being half Polish, half Austrian I would have to deal with a lot of racially motivated bullying. There were relatively harmless stereotypes, like “every Pole is a car thief”, but it went further to insults like “Half-blood” and “Subhuman”. In many cases, verbal assaults like this were followed by physical abuse. I have been in more fights than I can count and many of them were started by a racial slur against me.
That is why I always identified strongly with other minorities, like Black people. I never saw myself as “white” or “privileged”. Today I have achieved high enough standing in society that I am seen by most as just another white heterosexual man. How privileged, how boring… And I get confronted on panels by statements and questions about colonial guilt and how I can use my white privilege to help those that are less fortunate. And I don’t know how to answer these questions. Because I can’t identify with Western Europe’s guilt. My family was tortured and in some cases murdered by Nazis and Soviets. I have experienced my own share of racism in my youth. But somehow now I am one of the perpetrators, because Western Europeans just see me as another white man?
White people are not merely “White people.” We have different ethnicities, cultures, and histories. Throwing us all into one pot is not only shallow, but also racist in itself. And it only serves to perpetuate the notion long-held in Central and Eastern Europe that Western Europe is different and doesn’t understand us.
Slavs are still fighting for equity
When Central and Eastern Europeans think of racism, they think about the last few centuries, during which different European empires destroyed and oppressed their respective populations. We haven’t properly dealt with that yet and we are not ready to join the Western club of “white people”, as if nothing happened, because we are all white Europeans and the non-whites are now the outsiders, so everything is fine. Nonsense.
How often is the construction worker, the moving company, the cleaning lady or your secretary from a Slavic country? How about the sex workers you meet in Western Europe? It is not a coincidence, but a historical fact that Slavs in Europe are only beginning to recover from the oppression they faced over centuries. Our economies are nowhere near their Western counterparts, though growing fast, thanks to European integration. And as a result, Slavs continue to face stigmas, as they tend to occupy the lowest level positions in Western Europe.
European integration may have helped to decrease racism towards Slavic people in Europe. But unfortunately, it has done nothing to change the mindsets of Western Europeans, who still see themselves as the centre of Europe and cling to power in Brussels. Why else is there not a single Slav in a leadership position since the 2019 European elections? The fact that far-right parties are rising in Central and Eastern Europe is just an excuse. It is an excuse to not take us seriously and keep us out of power, which is exactly why these parties have risen to such prominence in the first place.
Racism perpetuates racism. The more you marginalise us, the more we will feel the need to lash out. The more we lash out, the more justification you feel you have to discriminate against us. This endless cycle needs to stop before it gets out of control. But the first step lies with Western Europeans. It is up to them to reach out and bury the hatchet and preferably not by inviting us to jointly discriminate against another group of “outsiders”, because unfortunately, it seems too many of us would be willing to participate in it, in exchange for no longer being labelled as the wretches of Europe.