10 October 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Is racism natural or cultural?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Is racism natural or cultural?

Just when we thought it was safe to go to a hospital we have the scary
state of affairs in Spain of a potential ebola epidemic in the making.
Despite the seriousness of having this virus in a densely populated city
like Madrid, we must admire virus like ebola if only because they don't
discriminate nor are they racists.

They neither discriminate against people who belong to a particular
race, nor do they only discriminate against imbecile politicians. Ebola
knows one thing, "you make one mistake with me and that's going to be

However, we human beings do not have these very simple rules; we
discriminate against people simply because they have a different skin
colour and we still fall in love and elect imbecile politicians even
though they want to disadvantage everyone else.

In my short essay I argue that to answer our question we need to first
be able to distinguish between excluding other and discriminating
against others.

In the meantime Ruel has kindly sent us the link to his essay:
Hello Lawrence,
I managed to write a short essay on the topic "Racism" for Sunday's
PhiloMadrid and here's the link to it:

Hope to see you on Sunday.

And for those who missed the news on Facebook, Miguel has sent us a link
to a YouTUbe video on the impressive singing capabilities of Anna:

polyphonic overtone singing - Anna-Maria Hefele

Is racism natural or cultural?

Although the key feature of racism is discrimination on the basis of
one's race we must distinguish between discriminating to disadvantage
and simply excluding others.

Indeed, by having our meetings in English we are excluding a large
number of people who do not speak English. But of course, this is not
excluding to disadvantage those who do not speak English but what we are
rather doing is to include those who want to discuss philosophy in
English. I wouldn't think that Plato spoke Greek to racially
discriminate against me who does not speak Greek!

However, racism is precisely using race to disadvantage others;
disadvantage beyond excluding. The list of how and why we can
disadvantage others is long and wide but I will use hypothetical
examples to tease out this important difference: to exclude vs to
disadvantage. What is important for us is to be able to recognise when
we are excluded because of the way the world works or being excluded
because of our race (or background) and hence to be disadvantaged.

Thus, a restaurant in the city centre might not have a copy of their
menu in my language (i.e. English) but there is nothing racist about
this. However, there is no doubt in my mind that this would easily be a
case of racism if they over charge me simply because I am a tourist who
speaks a different language. But what if we take the same example and
add a little twist to it and ask the question: would it be racism if I
do not go to restaurants where they have menus in my language (i.e.
English) on the grounds that they might cheat me for being a foreign

Would I be simply excluding a category of restaurants in my travels or
would I simply be discriminating against restaurants in a different
country because I do not trust restaurant owners in other countries?
This might not be a good example on the grounds that we do all sorts of
things when we travel based on our experiences.

Hence, we can go a step further and indeed introduce language in our
test. The first question is whether language (our natural language) is
an instrument of racism or simply a cultural practice that excludes many

The second question is maybe too specific and maybe only language
teachers are sensitive about and paranoid about to make an issue of it,
precisely: is a language accent a racist instrument or simply one of
those things we come across in life? For example, and apart from the
ridiculousness of the question, if someone was to offer English classes
teaching British accent (there are many) or American accent (there are
many) would this be an act of racism? Of course, for a professional
English teacher this makes no sense, but for a prospective student, who
by definition have very little idea about English, they might invest in
classes thinking that a British accent might be a unique advantage and
therefore superior English.

My point is that an accent is both a natural phenomenon and a cultural
peculiarity and very easily used as a criterion to racially discriminate
against people. However, I would that race is a natural phenomenon, and
although being able to speak a language is a natural characteristic,
speaking a particular natural language (Spanish, Greek, Swahili etc) is
a cultural event.

To exclude others is very tribal and even very natural, but to
intentionally disadvantage others simply because of their race is
definitely racism. And my conclusion is based on the ground that one's
race, in and of itself, is neither a threat nor a danger to others.
Being bigoted and malicious is a threat and a danger to others and these
are precisely excellent qualities that make a racist.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com <mailto:philomadrid@gmail.com>
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Is racism natural
or cultural?

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