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“I started my life with a single absolute: that the world was mine to shape in the image of my highest values and never to be given up to a lesser standard, no matter how long or hard the struggle.” - Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

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We are in unprecedented times. There are no signs the coronavirus is going to disappear anytime soon and the economic and effects on people’s wellbeing are only just beginning to be realised. And yet, people’s attention has been turned elsewhere - to the death of George Floyd whose pleas for breath were completely ignored by the policeman kneeling on his back and the policemen around him. The episode recorded, the backlash inevitable. But what started as a protest against police brutality has soon developed into a global protest against racism in all its forms. And yet, countless black people have died before this at the hands of the US police which hasn’t come close to prompting protests on the scale we are seeing now. It’s as if people’s frustrations have been unleashed all at once. Some would argue the appetite for change and protests themselves are a sort of catharsis for people who’ve been locked down for so long.

It’s safe to say no-one really anticipated the strength of feeling and outrage towards George Floyd’s death. It tipped the scales, galvanising a whole generation to come together and do something to combat and put an end to the racism which exists within society. It’s as if a new set of rules has been created in terms of what people will tolerate, with one focus of the protests being to deface or tear down statues of anyone connected with slavery or who held racist views. The scope of the protests goes far beyond the streets. It encompasses calls to ban any material which is deemed to have racial undertones – eclipsing the way people have defined norms and even comedy in the past and present. The purge has already started with many organisations obliging the frenzy to remove terminology or material which may be deemed offensive to any creed, culture, or racially underprivileged group.

Yet, it appears, that this overwhelming need strike a blow against racism, has come at the expense of any constructive or coherent strategy to tackle the root causes of racism within society. Statues, of whom many didn’t even bother with or know who they were, are suddenly being torn down. There are calls to ban any material with racist undertones and delete a whole section of history connected with slavery - including historical figures and their endeavours. The notion, that the act of re-scripting human history will suddenly solve the racism inherent within society, is at worst naive and at best being incredibly optimistic.

The idea that society can suddenly reset itself by selectively omitting aspects of its past is flawed from the outset. I’m not saying we should commemorate anyone connected with the brutality of slavery, but dismissing or hiding the past closes down the avenues which enable us to properly learn from the past. A racial stereotype which may have been considered humorous or the norm 30 years ago, would be considered as unacceptable or abhorrent to people today. Examples like these demonstrate how far society has progressed in terms of its changing attitude towards race – but we can’t for one minute think we’ve gone far enough. Surely the greatest example of an equal, free, and unprejudiced society is one which is disinclined to racism in all its forms whether spoken or otherwise. A society where people have enough awareness and understanding about themselves and others so racist ideas don’t gain any traction in the first place. Seeking to re-write history or banning people’s exposure to historical events of figures is an ineffectual way of combatting racism.

For those readers around the world, I can only speak as someone brought up in British society. In school, we were all taught the notion, that as a democratically free society, we were all equal. At the same time we were taught about a family of people who lived off other people’s earnings, invented roles for themselves and waved at crowds of people from horse drawn carriages. We were encouraged to give special reverence to members of this family for no other reason than they were the Royal Family. Now, for those of us who did think a little for ourselves, this was difficult to reconcile with the educational curriculum. Arguments about tradition and heritage didn’t really explain away this contradiction to me and it was only when I was old enough to read Orwell’s Animal Farm that things became clear – ‘Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others’.

The point I’m making is that, in Britain, the concept of people’s differentiation was instilled in us through our education and the existing inequalities arising from the extended rights and privileges bestowed on people simply because they are considered royalty. These inequalities are meant to sit alongside the fanciful notion we are all equal in British society. With such a great start in life, how can anyone expect to have a balanced perspective on human equality. The other thing, from my experience, sadly lacking in the education curriculum was ethics. I’m grateful that the school system taught me many things, but unfortunately the curriculum didn’t often extend to teaching children to think and appraise ethical and moral dilemmas for themselves as individuals. To develop an awareness of the inequalities which arise from using birth-right as an instrument to determine privilege. To think beyond the prejudice of colour, nationality, or beliefs. It is people’s susceptibility to peer pressure and their immersion in collective attitudes and thinking which creates the breeding ground for prejudice.

Racial prejudice is often a symptom of people who either don’t think for themselves or who are unable to grasp or make sense of the people or society they are in. These inabilities manifest themselves in the way some people define others. Unable to see the bigger picture and beyond certain stereotypes, these people rely on compartmentalisation and defining whole sectors of society according to fickle and irrelevant differences such as skin colour, nationality, or what God they believe in. The fact that someone resorts to blanket labels or prejudice, as a means of making sense of those around them, shows a woeful lack appreciation in understanding people.

Society has come a long way since the dark days of slavery but understandably, for many, it has not come far enough. Real change in people’s attitudes towards race and discrimination will not come about through banning things or deleting history. Human inequality is an aspect of every society often, as I demonstrated earlier, reinforced from a young age. It’s real enemy are those who truly think for themselves and appreciate and understand the people around them. Those who are above petty prejudice and appraise everyone equally. Its only when there are enough of these people that racial prejudice, and indeed other forms of prejudice, will be consigned to history.

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