Racism not part of human nature

One particular “common sense” claim I repeatedly heard in my research is that racism is “part of human nature”. This was a mantra offered to me among people in far-right racist movements and among many on the white left. I recall mingling with guests at a writers’ event when another author – a white middle class male who enjoys a successful media career – proceeded to explain to me that racism was just about people “being afraid of what they don’t know”. “Racism,” he declared, “is just human nature.”

One of the problems with this oft-cited statement is that framing racism as primordial and intrinsic to the human condition empties racism of its politics and ignores Australia’s histories and continuing logics of racial exclusion, thinking and expression. One of the things that interests me is how these racial logics and hegemonic scripts infiltrate habits of thinking, speaking and power relations in everyday life.

If racism is not “human nature”, but learned behaviour and practices arising out of institutional, social, legal and historical power relations, political scripts, government policies and media framings, then don’t we need to spend more time understanding how such behaviour is learned and, even more importantly, what it takes to resist the sheer weight of racist ideology?