Racism, A Conditioned Reflex


racisimThere was a time when I travelled extensively in Europe. Naturally my trombone was always with me and I took every opportunity to play with local bands and to visit jazz clubs. In Zurich, Switzerland, at that time there was a very notable venue called 'The Widder Bar'. It was in actuality a restaurant, the owner a dedicated jazz lover, presented jazz in the evenings. Not just anyone, top international names.

One one particular evening I visited 'The Widder Bar' with a business associate, someone who travelled with fairly often. He, a really amiable individual, an American who lived in one of the more up market northern states, but from his marked accent originally from one of the states in the deep south.

The band included Thad Jones and Jerome Richardson and several other luminaries. Small audience, no more than thirty people, an intimate and agreeable ambience. A great evening of jazz from jazz greats. When the gig was over the band clustered along the bar and I went over and had a long conversation with the pianist. My travelling companion remained as far distant in the room as he was able. It puzzled me at the time. Here an opportunity to talk with some jazz greats? We left and only later did I realized the reason for his keeping as distant as possible was the fact that the band were all African-American.

Three days later we were in Hamburg and went to 'Dennis's Swing Club'. I played with the band. The singer was African-American but living in Switzerland. In this instance my American friend was all over the singer to a degree that began to border on the embarrassing.

Why are people racist? I could understand my friends reaction, he being a son of the southern states, it was almost inevitable.

In evolutionary terms it was and remains a means of ensuring group loyalty and cohesion. In the ancient and modern world a very easy and effective card for the demagogue to play. Dehumanize whole groups, nationalities, it renders exploiting and abusing them a guilt free option.

I can well understand that in the case of some American states poor whites could comfort themselves with an outlook that said "at least we are better than them". The problem arises when people, of colour, who had been regarded as stupid and worthless start to become doctors, lawyers, professionals, and highly educated.

I will never forget the two appalling women whose exchanged emails abused Michelle Obama. It was obvious that they would never were and never would be her equal. I am sure it provided them with some measure of perverse self-satisfaction.

South Africa, and other African countries, had a significant population of not particularly competent white immigrants who the days of apartheid could live a lifestyle that would have been totally impossible elsewhere. Much the same could be seen in most colonies The British Empire and other counties colonial possessions. Viewing the indigenous population at best, as childlike, and at worst stupid, justified what was an unearned lifestyle.

Discrimination, racial, social, and economic has always been with us. Some advances have been made. But in essence it is, and remains, an integral part of the psyche of a high percentage of a given population. This does not in any way excuse it. Only by awareness can we take measures to rectify a problem. 

* The Conditioned Reflex. The elicitation of the conditional response by the conditional stimulus is termed a conditional reflex, the occurrence of which is reinforced by the presentation of the unconditional stimulus.