Commentary – Hoping for modest gains in 2022

Joe McWilliams

A notable feature of English Premier League soccer games these days is the anti-racism gesture just before kickoff. The players all take a knee and the announcer says something about there being no place for racism in football.
Also notable is that about half the players on some teams are not light-skinned Englishmen. Pro sports leading the way.
So. . .things are changing. As they change, there is an inevitable range of reactions – some of them racist and very ugly indeed.
Other things that happen are probably also inevitable, given human nature. They include some people recognizing an opportunity and taking advantage of the new sensitivities to get away with certain things. There’s always someone willing to play any angle for all it is worth.
Similar efforts to the one noted above are happening in professional sports leagues here in North America, reflecting what is going on in society.
On one hand, people are fed up with stupid, racist attitudes and the behaviour that arises from them.
On the other hand, they sometimes overreact. Thus society lurches from one extreme to another. Reaction, overreaction. It makes you wonder why we can’t act more like the rational adults we like to think we are.
Rationality, though, isn’t much more than skin-deep. A lot of societal behaviour directly reflects ancient tribal instincts. It was perfectly natural, for example, in traditional societies, to fear and despise the people in the next valley. Or simply to regard them as something less than human.
Such attitudes – at least according to my imperfect understanding – are as deeply rooted in human psychology as anything.
Not that I’ve done much serious study on the subject. But in a lifetime of observing the way people behave, combined with a lifetime of reading stuff written by people who know more than I do – a certain understanding starts to emerge out of the murk.
Historically-speaking, we are just barely free of the era when slavery was considered perfectly normal. Unpleasant, maybe, but normal – because it was simply the way things had always been.
And goodness me, the economy would collapse without it!
So the thinking went. This idea of all human beings deserving freedom and dignity is quite the novelty. It has never been attempted before. We are still figuring out if it can work at all. But most of us take it for granted, most of the time, because that is also human nature.
But then something nasty happens. People take to the streets in protest and perpetrate other outrageous acts. It blows up on the news. Something must be done! Stories emerge; it turns out the peaceful, happy society we thought we grew up in had a dark side. Indian residential schools! Another dark chapter in colonial history, which was inherently racist – whether its perpetrators were aware of it or not.
Whatever the precise motives of the colonizers may have been – lust for profit was certainly one; belief that they were carrying out God’s will would have been another – it had to include the idea that the native people were inferior. Therefore, their wishes were not important.
So. . .welcome to 2022!
None of this stuff will be solved this year, but we might make some modest gains.

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