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  1. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    What Do People Get Out of Being Racists?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Catrin Lewis, Dec 30, 2014.

    I'm nearly to the point in the rewrite of my novel where I reveal the antagonist in all his racist doucebaggery. When I originally wrote it all the characters were caricatures and it was enough for him simply to be a racist jerk. Now that the protagonists are better rounded he's got to get a life, too, or drag the whole story down.

    He's still got to be a screaming, I'm-gonna-kill-everybody-who-doesn't-look-like-me bigot. But I have to convince the reader of why. What does he get out of it? What does anybody get out of being a racist? And no, the mere fact he's a white guy raised in the mid-South is not motive enough.

    This is what I have so far:
    • He was close to his minority-hating grandmother who encouraged his proclivities and rewarded him by leaving him all her considerable fortune
    • Being a racist gives him a sense of power and superiority
    • It allows him to control others who share his attitudes but not his cunning
    • It allows him to think he and his group are better than any other without his having to do anything particularly good or great
    Other ideas? Everybody does what they do for a reason, even if the reason is "I'm too lazy to do anything else." What about someone like my antagonist?
     
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  2. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    You're on the right track. Many people are racist because they feel that their identity and way of life is under threat; either their cultural traditions or their security (either safety or financial.) Racism is also embedded within a sense of superiority. By associating your ethnicity as being superior to another ethnicity it makes the believer feel more empowered. Indonesians are incredibly racist towards the Chinese, and that feeling of 'us vs them' requiring nothing for inclusion other than a fluke of birth means they are able to exploit and control the Chinese. Black vs White racism in America harks back to the Slavery days, and whites feel their culture is threatened by successful Blacks taking their jobs and power away.

    It's all about ego, really. I mean, every racist thinks their race is the best simply because they are part of that ethnic group. How egotistical is that!
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think "learned" is the only explanation.
     
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  4. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    You can do better than that. This is about creating characters, which means understanding why they think a certain way.
     
  5. !ndigo
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    !ndigo Member

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    I'd agree with Selbbin that there's a strong element of fear. Fear that they will take over, fear that they are better/stronger, fear for personal safety, basically fear of the unknown... and all of that gets suppressed and translated into a desire to overpower them and feel superior.

    you might also look at some research that's been done on ingroup/outgroup bias
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In-group_favoritism
    http://www.understandingprejudice.org/apa/english/page7.htm
     
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  6. Gawler
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    Gawler Contributing Member

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    I would agree with Selbbin to a degree but I would also add that people by nature are more comfortable within the culture and standards that they have been brought up with than a culture that has different values. For example if a cannibal from the highlands of New Guinea moved in next door to you, would you feel comfortable? That is an extreme example but it illustrates how racism has worked over the centuries. Now that we have more multicultural societies and people are more educated the amount of racism has reduced but not disappeared.

    The more sheltered and insular societies tend to breed the greatest racism.
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Not in 25 words or less. ;)
     
  8. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would say that people are fundamentally pack animals, and when they see someone who clearly belongs to another pack they all start pissing against trees.
     
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  9. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    I think part of the hate is rooted in the need to prove oneself legitimate. Traditionally, different races have had their own way of doing things and have some degree from cultural disparity from the other race. While the need to feel superior and somehow better because of one's heritage is, imo, the primary reason, it goes on to the fact that when people do things differently than us, we either have to tell ourselves a) they're wrong, b) we're wrong, otherwise why are we not doing it that way? If we're wrong, we have to change, which well we often don't. Otherwise, they're wrong and then it sort of becomes necessary to think of them lesser than us. Tolerance is, of course, the best answer, but I suppose not our first instinct.
     
  10. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    Must demonstrate superiority because of an inferiority complex;
    ignorance;
    an inability to recognise that race is an accident of birth and that no-one had a choice in skin colour;
    pack mentality to the exclusion of rational brain function;
    more ignorance;
    denial of accountability for actions - never sees consequences
     
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  11. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    These are good, but they can all be used to describe lots of people who are actively anti racist.
    A few causes/traits that I think might be exclusive to racism (and not anti racism) would be fear and also stupidity. Also, escape goat. "I'm poor because of all those damn ..." I imagine that miserable people can very quickly become racist.
     
  12. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    The inability to accept difference; treating anything and anybody that differs as threat and enemies. I doubt there's is something
    "logical" or that it entails any advantage over others, so you pose the question from the wrong angle, I'd say.


    You might consider watching this from 19:50

    http://www.rabbisacks.org/confronting-violence-name-god/
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2014
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think mental laziness also comes into the mix in certain cases. It's much easier to label and dismiss people as a group—having certain 'characteristics' in common, at least in the eye of the racist—than it is to engage with real problems. Much easier to just blame immigrants for job scarcity, for example, than it is to look at the corporate practices that actually caused jobs to disappear.

    Look at all the racist garbage that gets passed around on social media. I'm often shocked, not only by the content of these statistics, cartoons, articles, posters and supposed news stories, but by the fact that people just pass them along without investigating the sources, or doing any checking at all. They can't be bothered. It's easier to just 'like' the post, share it, and move on.
     
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  14. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's all been said already and I too think fear is the hard pit at the center of the juicy peach of racism. There are lots of other factors, but fear is present in them too. @GingerCoffee mentions "learned" as a core component of racism, but I would flip that coin around to its other side and say "taught". If we focus on learned, then we have to wonder what is the drive to learn to be racist and there's no good answer at the end of that question. But what is the investment in teaching racism has a plethora of answers, many of which have already been mentioned by the prior posters. It's all based in fear. In America, racism against blacks is raised to a mythology in the manner of teaching. I'm sure the same holds true for other other Peoples who are the objects of racism.

    The Black Man is a sexual deviant whose only drive in life is to lay with white women.
    The Black Man is born a drug addict.
    The Black Man has a giant horse penis grown specifically to emasculate your little white-man's dingaling.
    The Black Man is lazy as the day is long.
    The Uppity Black Man is an aberration in his success and even more dangerous than the Lazy Black Man because he confuses you with his eloquent speech and acceptable table manners.

    Do you see how all of this is present in the American Mythology of the Black Man, but how it's cartoonishly ridiculous? Who would believe this of any person unless it were force fed to you over the years? That's what I mean when I say mythology.

    ETA: I'm only recently discovering that the Chinese seem to be the objects of deep racism for many different Peoples in Asia. I have a pal from my Air Force days who is an English teacher in Seoul, Korea who has told me that Koreans who are racist think of the Chinese as "dirty". The same is true, I understand, for racist Japanese people. My pal in Korea also explains to me that racism is a slightly different animal in Korea than it is in America, or at least it seams that way from an inculturalted viewpoint. Koreans who make what westerners regard as racist statements feel that they are merely making observations. Strangely, anything said about the Korean culture to a true Korean is received with deep offense and high drama. There is a dichotomy at play in how the dynamic is regarded, Korea v. Everyone Else.
     
  15. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Actually some racism is illogical, I've come across who racists who've said folks from (not saying it, not going to perpetrate the stereotype in the slightest) are pathological liars, why? What contributes to them being like this? 'They just are, it's well known', 'I've known many people who've been lied to by them', 'These guys lied to me and there's this one guy (more often than not it's usually only one other guy) who was also lied to by them', 'It's in their culture, in their own home country they're liars', 'It's in their culture, they're poor and HAVE to lie and then bring it (the habit of lying) back here'

    To hear them speak, you'd think it was biological.
     
  16. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Add another voice to the "fear" idea.

    You might want to read some of the literature from racist groups (Stormfront is an obvious one, but I'm sure there are others). They don't ADMIT to the fear, necessarily, but I feel like it oozes out of everything they DO say.

    For a white person to be racist is, essentially, a conservative act. They don't want things to change, they don't want to lose their power, they don't want to stop feeling special. People of colour are seen as a threat to the white way of life.

    I'm not sure that the "what does he get out of it" question is going to be useful, though. That suggests a conscious decision ("I've decided to be racist as a way to further my career") and I don't think racism works like that. A lot of racists would deny being racists - they'd say their realists, or something. Or pull one of those, "Am I racist? Well, you tell me! If it's racist to want to look after my family and make them safe? Then I guess I'm 'racist'. If it's racist to hold to certain values and fight against people who want to destroy the traditions of this great nation? I guess maybe I'm 'racist', according to that definition." etc.
     
  17. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Fear, mostly. Fear of what someone might do and using a physical thing like skin color to mark them all with the same brush. If his grandmother spends her days with the TV blaring "MINORITIES R DANGEROUS!!1111!!!!!" she would come to believe it, and he would believe it as well.

    Then comes ignorance. If all he knows is "This minority group is bad, and here are examples of why they are bad!" and he never (willingly or not) gets the chance to see that no, not everyone in this group are rotten to the core, the initial fear grows stronger and stronger. After all, it's easier to see the other guy as the embodiment of Satan himself when you never have to look him in the eyes and hear him out, hear his side of the equation. By seeing the other side as pure evil, it makes the racist person feel stronger, feel good because in their minds, they're in the right, they're morally correct and the other side? Well, who gives a whale's arse about them? They're the bad guys, they're the ones who want to hurt people, not the racist person.

    Loyalty is also an issue. Naturally, we don't want to go against our own family, our own flesh and blood. We want to fit in with them, so if they're running around saying that minorities are horrible, etc., we find ourselves conflicted. Imagine for a moment a girl from a racist family falling in love with a non-white guy. What is perfectly harmless and obvious to us (it doesn't matter if he's a space alien, hon. If you love him, that's all that counts,) would be emotionally difficult for her. She would want to make her love and her family happy...but her family hates this guy because he isn't white.

    It's the same with xenophobia (a theme in a story I'm working on). Fear, ignorance, and loyalty to your own kin go a long way to painting a caricature of an entire group of people who are different than your people.

    EDIT TO ADD: In the case of my xenophobic character, he's a bigot because he suffered in the hands of people of a different country and the initial fear blossomed to hate and indifference. He willed himself to not learn from them because in his mind, they're all evil. He wants to hate. It makes him strong, keeps him alive. Compassion and mercy nearly got him killed the first time around. As far as he's concerned, he now knows better than to extend any ounce of kindness to people he deems unworthy of such a thing.
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2014
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  18. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Except a lot of learned racism comes from culture, not someone actively teaching racism. Sure if parents are racist they may indeed teach that to their children. But what about the culture one absorbs from the whole society?

    Blacks are dangerous, they must be, look at their images on the news.
    Asians are smart, look at how they are portrayed in the movies.
    Girls don't like math, Barbie said so. (OK, so that's sexism, not racism but the principle applies.)
     
  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You could also view it as an evolutionary remnant that has now outlived its usefulness. That explains the predisposition in humans, at least to some extent. For our evolutionary ancestors, it was important to their survival to be able to discriminate like versus unlike. It's a kind of tribalism also seen in the animal kingdom. As we grew, as a human race, into a more complex, global society, that kind of tribalism doesn't serve us well, but our evolutionary roots are still hard-wired into the brain to a degree, and when you look around the world you still see the effects of that.
     
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  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    While one might think it has outlived its evolutionary benefit, that would be if one used idealistic outcome measures. If you are a warlord or revolutionary rebel leader, 'us vs them' could still be to your advantage. Same for some religious leaders, cult leaders, gang leaders, politicians and so on.
     
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  21. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This is true. I suppose it has outlived its usefulness if we're to get where I think we should go, which is in the direction of more progressive, tolerant, and open society.
     
  22. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Actually after reading @Link the Writer 's mention of aliens and such, I'm suddenly of the mindset that racism COULD be necessary :p

    If you've got a race like the Asari (mass effect), where the kids of a union between a human and asari is ALWAYS asari, we ARE literally looking at a dangerous thing. In the case of the asari, it's not merely that males can impregnate asari, but women can as well (and I'm assuming asari are incapable of impregnating females of the other species). A mixing of the race here doesn't mean a mixed race HUMAN kid, it means an alien kid. In this scenario, asari would ALWAYS continue, but humans could breed themselves out (I would like to state, just in case anyone's interpreting this in some way, that I mean this purely for alien species, not humans).
     
  23. chicagoliz
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    As Steerpike indicated, humans are wired to sort themselves into groups. If there aren't obvious groups, they will be created -- you can see this in the Hutu/Tutsi split where, these people were not originally in two different groups, but more or less randomly put into those groups and it caused a huge civil war and genocidal desires.

    Race happens to be perhaps the most obvious physical characteristic, which is probably why these groupings are frequently along racial lines. On top of this, it is always easy to blame others for whatever is displeasing. So, unemployment, money woes -- any kind of lack of self-fulfillment is easy to blame on some "other" group. And powerful people will exploit these tendencies for their own gain.

    Racism was fomented to keep poor whites in the U.S. from allying with poor blacks. Poor white people could be assured that at least they were white, and therefore "better" than black people. That's what causes them to often vote against their own self interests and to align themselves with the interests of white people who are wealthy, rather than to find common cause with black people whose economic interests are the same as their own.

    When societal institutions reinforce racism, it's less likely to be questioned, and even to be acknowledged by people who don't give thought to these sorts of issues and who are not inclined to learn or ponder the the state of the world.
     
  24. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    Jumping out of the fear bandwagon and hopping into my new train.

    Stubbornness and misunderstanding. Some people simply refuse to try to understand others that are different, usually because they are just too stubborn to change or do not want to invest the time. Misunderstandings lead to misinformation, which enables fear to develop. For example, a lot of people know that many snakes are venomous, so they assume that every snake they see is venomous and act nervously; however, once they find out that the snake is not venomous, their fear subside greatly--if not disappear entirely.

    Things like a sense of superiority or inferiority does not come from simply seeing something different. Most people are not racist toward a flower even though it is obviously different. It has to be the way that the something different presents itself relative to the understandings of the ones doing the viewing. For example, some of the early European settlers considered the Native Americans to be savages and barbarians because they did not have the same social organizations and level of technology.

    As for what people get out of it? Just an ego boost. Discrimination is the number one cause of war, after all.
     
  25. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess maybe we need to decide what we mean by 'racism'.

    I was thinking of the virulent, aggressive form described in the OP when I said I thought it was caused by fear. But I agree that there are other forms of racism that aren't fear-related. I think these are often based on, as Nilifiry suggests, misunderstanding.

    An example? I used to work at a really remote school in Ontario. I was there when the first black student moved to the area. He was definitely treated as 'other', and a lot of people had racist attitudes about him. But there was no hatred or fear - more fascination. The kids acted like he was a rock star. Everyone wanted to sit with him (and touch his hair!), everyone made sure he knew when the basketball try-outs were (and when he didn't make the team, due to really not being very good at basketball, there was a mini-revolt against the coaches, complete with claims of racism!), etc.

    But before that student graduated, quite a few other black kids moved to the area, and THAT was when we started seeing more aggressive racism. One kid was a novelty; ten kids was a threat.
     
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