By: Ethan Castilloux
June 9th, 2020
A Pandemic has knocked out the world’s economy and race relations in the US spark the largest civil rights movement since the 1960’s and a giant caldera volcano rumbles back to life threatening to tear down everything. If you were unaware of modern history and the year 2020 this might seem like the start of a bad post-apocalyptic movie where a hero all but beats the odds and manges to save us from the brink. A film that after witnessing the unrealistic nature of it all when leaving the screen we roll our eyes. But what if that hero could be you? The Giant caldera volcano in Yellowstone park is a topic I will leave for mother earth to decide if it will erupt or not. But the two other massive events are something that we are all intertwined with on a deeper level with societal changes that are yet to be fully realized or seen. Some for the better and some for the worse. But what if we could begin to become aware of our shortcomings as a humanity? Perhaps we have hopes of achieving real dramatic change, like some great eras promised to build until the sands of time eroded them and their ideals, leaving behind a morsel of their intended morality and meaning.
The Covid-19 pandemic, the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyed and Breonna Taylor are making us all react in many different ways. Some pivot and face the changes willing to look inwards and reflect upon themselves, searching for growth and change with a world that seems to be changing as well. Others adopt fear and hate into their hearts, and hold onto a past that might not ever return. In a time that calls for unity and community, some chose to distance and let basic instinct take the wheel. Standing behind their prejudices like a shield they hope will protect them, as they lashs outwards with weapons imbued with discrimination, xenophobia and racism thinking this will be the only thing that might keep them safe in uncertainty. How do we begin to become aware of the processes that lead people to these behaviors? First I will discuss the environment to bring an understanding that has led to these tense circumstances in the current landscape, then I will speak more in-depth about racism and how we can mark this moment as a time for change and a step in the right direction.
The Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic started at a wet market in the Wuhan province of mainland China, It spread across there and eventually the world as well. But what it spread as well was a renewed form of discrimination against an Asian population. The word Xenophobia comes from the Greek words ‘xenos’ meaning stranger and ‘phobos’ meaning fear. Where racism deals in discrimantion based on human traits, xenophobia is discrimaination based on culture. Both fall under the umbrella of discrimination and racism but this specific form has become very apparent during this pandemic, especially in Vancouver where we have such a large Asian population. When there weren’t enough answers to explain what this disease did or how it affected people, it created a lot of unknown questions that some looked to solve with answers that were not rooted in reality. Take the case of a 92 year old Chinese man who was assaulted on March 13th at a 7-Eleven. A middle aged white male came into the store and started making racist remarks about Covid-19 to the elderly chinese man. This escalated to Caucasian man forcibly assaulting the Asian man and forcing him out of the store, throwing him onto the pavement where he hit his head. With the world’s cultural tensions in mind, we can begin to understand that racism is a product -or a cause – of these such events.
The best way to solve a xenophobic society is to educate and garner a better understanding of a culture that is not your own. This can begin in schools from a young age understanding that we are all humans but we all have different cultures that make us unique. Students in school can learn about the history of different cultures and their social norms and why they exist will help people from a young age have a more open mind. Lack of education brings fear of the unknown that activates primal tribalism (more on this later).This kind of systemic xenophobia begins especially in smaller secluded communities where residents have possibly never been exposed to other cultures. This, in turn, makes them fearful of something that they don’t fully understand creating an us-versus-them mentality yet again.
What is it about something different that makes people not want to change or step out of their comfort zone, when in reality they’re so much to be gained from learning about another culture that can bring deeper greater meaning to your own life? There are almost 7 billion people on this planet and not all of them have the same culture as your own. Multitudes of other cultures that are both thriving and living another existence that isn’t the exact same as this one that doesn’t make yours better or worse. To believe that your culture is the only one that can bring normality or joy is narrow-minded, and you’re closing yourself off for greater connection with a global community.
Evolutionary Psychology might have some of the answers to explain what biological reasonings are to blame for our innate prejudice and discrimination and how we can begin to recognized these. This is a field that has grown in interest recently, it looks to explain the reasonings of human behavior and actions based upon our evolutions as a species. A subsect of this subject is that of Tribalism, which is “the state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes” as defined by Oxford Dictionary. A trait that all of us have within us, having ancestors linked to hunter/gatherer groups from hundreds of thousand years ago. These group sizes consist of around 150-200 people (Dunbar’s Number Theory) that we would be in close proximity with at any given period that would maintain stable social relationships.
The nature of toxic tribalism can set a wedge between groups of people leading to an us vs them mentality. Meaning that someone “unknown” to you or someone’s culture you might not fully understand can lead to dangerous racism that can dictate rationality. We are naturally skeptical creatures; it has kept us safe for thousands of years. But these basic human insticts cannot be a reasoning for continued discrimination and hate. We must rise above our barbaric undertones and snap judgements. Curbing and creating a filter for thoughts that bubble up from the deep parts of our brains. Start to have an inner monologue to realize these thoughts are not rooted in factual reasoning but are just blind primal instincts.
There needs to be a new way of looking at the process we go through to metamorphosis. Something about the way humans react when they have been told in which the way they are living is out of touch, or that they are shown that change needs to be made on the individual level makes them dig their heels further in. People take it as a slight of them personally and respond by doubling down on previous opinions when the subject is broached in certain ways. How does a person go about presenting an ideal or topic in a way to show a person a different perspective?
Variables of such a conversation will be different pending on the subject matter and the person in question’s willingness to be open minded. But a good place to start is understanding the basic philosophy behind changing minds. Aristotle and the Greeks taught us that every good persuasive debate has 3 main points: logos (the message), Ethos (the speaker) and Pathos (the audience) that form what is referred to as the Rhetorical Triangle. In order to have a balanced argument so must be the points of the triangle. Logos can be described as the reason or the text of the message, having a position that talks to the logical part of the brain in the form of facts, statistics. Ethos appeals to the credibility of the presenter, giving validity to your character in the debate. What gives you the qualifications to speak on such a subject? This can be from learned experiences or having a deeper understanding of a topic. The last which can be the most important is Pathos, knowing your audience. Part of being human is appealing to people’s emotional sides. Humans are a fine balance on a scale with both logic and emotions on either side and our morality and reasoning for our actions lie somewhere between. Knowing the other side of a subject gives you a greater understanding for what it means to have that perspective, empathizing with the listener. Research both sides of said position and it will both bolster your own giving you with the knowledge of the audience, and this will bring people a sense of connection knowing that someone took the time to understand them. When people get into hard conversations they tend to raise their guard into a defensive position, rejecting anything that could come their way. Using emotion and appealing to this side of a people lowers the shield making room for open minded conversation and logic.
The science and reasoning behind what makes people choose the decisions they do, can give us all a more grounded connection to understanding ourselves and each other. Taking time to look in the mirror and reflect on the emotions and logic that goes into having a position of exclusion, xenophobia and discrimation. All humans make thousands of snap judgments and decisions daily, but let’s leave behind the judgements that stem from fear of the unknown. We need to move past behavior that led our ancestors to converge into smaller groups defending against the “other” that turned us into them. Realizing that we still hold onto some of those residual toxic behaviors can be a large milestone on the path of making space and room for progress. After such drastic shifts in societal norms that may never be the same, we as a people need to reevaluate how we relate and interact with one another, and be fluid and dynamic morphing with the flow of this new world we have the opportunity to change.
Corning, Peter. “‘Us’ Versus ‘Them’: The Tribalism Trap.” Institute for the Study of Complex Systems, 7 Sept. 2018, complexsystems.org/335/us-versus-them-the-tribalism-trap/.
“Dunbar’s Number.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar’s_number.
“Family of 92-Year-Old Assault Victim Speaks out against Xenophobia | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 24 Apr. 2020, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/family-assault-victim-xenophobia-1.5544349.
“Xenophobia vs. Racism: Explaining the Difference.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/xenophobia-and-racism-difference.
Denis. “The Rhetorical Triangle – How to Build a Persuasive Arguement.” Expert Program Management, EPM, 25 Oct. 2017, expertprogrammanagement.com/2017/06/the-rhetorical-triangle/.