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Hien Luu | Sunday, February 12, 2012

What can we do about racism? “Probably not much.” “Nothing.”

Popular answers would likely fall somewhere within that range. It’s such an embedded institution, you might say, there’s no hope of overturning it — at least in the foreseeable future.

What if racism isn’t even the issue? What if, akin to addressing the consequent B by addressing first its cause A, we could address a deeper issue that fuels racism itself?

Racism has nothing to do with color, just as sexism has nothing to do with sex or gender. At the end of the day, racism is based more on the attribution of moral, social and political significance to a person’s pedigree. In other words, a person is to be judged based not on his or her personal actions and character, but rather on the collective actions and characters of his predecessors.

It sounds stupid to us, but only when boiled down to these sentences. It’s apparent, though, when it festers in a seemingly harmless way in our minds through preconceptions and judgments. In reality, this is how racism works.

When viewed in these terms, racism is simply the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. This is cause A. Collectivism manifests itself in every instance in which we hold other human beings simply as members of groups rather than individuals.

At the core of each instance is the neglect of the individual and belief the collective is the source of identity and value. It is the driving force behind every loss of individual freedom in our personal, social and political lives.

Here, things begin to look hopeful for us. If collectivism is at the root of racism, then it’s a simple matter of focusing on individualism, right? Well, not really.

We should instead be looking to individuation. Individualism involves comparison and competition. It involves an imbalanced self-centeredness and self-elevation propped up by unfounded value judgments of others. Ultimately, individualism is a destructive force that drives people apart.

Individuation, on the other hand, a term used in psychology, involves a growth that maintains both balance and unique individuality. To really posses all of these things individuation entails — independence, self-determination, original thought — is an extremely difficult feat for all of us. We bend each and everyday to others’ expectations and wishes, telling ourselves the whole time that we are freethinkers.

Even for those of us who make it a task to be an individual, we simply look to the media to tell us how to be an individual. Through meticulously messy hipster clothing, peculiarly placed piercings, outlandish colored hair, stated obscure yet quirky interests, we can all be “individuals.”

What they sell you, then, is merely an illusion of that individuality you so desperately seek.

At the end of the day, the most independent person could be the most normal-looking guy or gal in the room since individuation relies more on your willingness to sacrifice social acceptance for your freethinking than your willingness to sacrifice your freethinking for social acceptance.

Perhaps there is no need to go as far as the media and the industries to see the powerful arm which collectivism wields in our daily lives. We could look to our dorms, dining halls and classrooms. How much are we learning in our classes? How striking or controversial or shocking are our interpersonal conversations? Are we really doing much besides getting the grades and the piece of paper called a degree? Or are we all living the lives others have told us are right, true, and a guarantee for happiness?

You’re probably thinking this article has strayed from the issue of racism, but you cannot truly address racism if you do not first and foremost address its cause. To succumb to this method of thought and way of living is to be a victim of collectivism. To succumb to this method is to be a participant in the mainstream conversation that perpetuates preconceived notions of just about everything.

We, more often than not, will make our decisions based on these embedded and unoriginal notions. We will expect whites to have it all coming to them. Or inversely, we will expect non-whites to cruise through life because of affirmative action and government handouts. We will expect blacks to behave one way, Asians another.

In summary, we will expect traits independent of a person’s race to be dependent upon it. If we each could be our own individuals, we might begin to understand others as individuals as well.

If we can begin to understand others as individuals, we wouldn’t be making value judgments of a human being based on an imagined collective of many. If collectivism didn’t exist, racism wouldn’t exist.

Thus, the most simple yet most difficult solution to racism: be yourself.

Hien Luu can be reached at

[email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.