The underlying premise of most anti-racism initiatives appears to be that education in the virtue of tolerance is the key to eradicating it from our society. It is the most obvious place to start, but we need to go deeper.
There may be racist beliefs and attitudes within our subconscious mind that are responsible for more than the set of intentional actions and judgements that we would ordinarily hold up as prime examples of racist behaviour.
There seems to have been a recent rise in the number of high profile incidents of racism. It is interesting to note the ones involving professional footballers, who would otherwise insist – and I am sure they actually believe it – that holding racist attitudes and beliefs is wrong, and definitely not in their nature.
It is interesting in the sense that it throws some light on the possibility of individuals holding racist beliefs and attitudes without necessarily being aware of this being the case – to the extent that they would happily offer a strong rebuttal of what their behaviour would appear to suggest.
The same possibility holds in the case of other forms of bigotry. Keeping the discussion within the world of football, homophobia and sectarianism are other good examples of this.
Subconscious connections between many of our basic beliefs help form the bedrock of our judgements and perceptions. The problem is that many of the connections at this level are rarely formed intentionally. They emerge on their own accord through our upbringing into a particular way of life.
The way we perceive our environment and the judgements we make about the situations we find ourselves in may carry implicit commitments to beliefs we would not consciously recognise as our own. But that is the curious thing about some bigoted beliefs – first person authority is not always a given.
These are the toughest cases to tackle, because it requires some form of introspective acknowledgement that certain utterances and gestures may carry doxastic commitments that are irreconcilable with what you consider to be your everyday outlook on life. It is a hard thing to do.
The psychology of bigotry is complex. Getting inside the mind of a bigot is difficult, particularly in your own case. Access is ordinarily denied at the first point of entry. It is our subconscious gatekeeper’s job to stubbornly refuse this type of interpretation on our behalf and suggest a more respectable alternative.
And returning to high profile incidents associated with football for a moment, the challenge becomes even harder. The good efforts to tackle racism are often completely nullified by the use of expensive lawyers who are adept at creating that all important element of doubt, even in cases where there should have been none whatsoever.
Here we reach an almost insurmountable barrier. There is a possibility that unacknowledged bigoted beliefs may well be found within each and every one of us, which makes the challenge of eradicating racism from society hard enough.
It is made even more difficult by the fact that many high profile individuals appear to think nothing of appealing to ridiculously expensive mechanisms to guarantee the type of impunity the rest of us are denied – and the upshot of this is that racism, for very different reasons, is always likely to be a feature of our society, despite our best efforts to tackle it.
This doesn’t mean we should give up trying. It simply means that every single individual in our society – including those who have sufficient funds to opt out of our hard earned moral space – has an obligation to think about finding and confronting the bigot within.
Even though the very idea of doing that would feel unnecessary to those who can afford to ignore it, and contrary to everything the rest of us would want to believe about ourselves in the first place.