Is racism the highest level of “otherness”?
Musings from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview on Oprah
On 7 – 8 March 2021, depending on which part of the world you live in, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were interviewed by Oprah on a tell-it-all episode televised on CBS.
Meghan revealed how there were concerns of how dark the skin of her child would be and what that might look like for the Royal Family. This sent outrage across the world on how racist the Royal Family and “The Firm” were. Now, as an African, my first instinct was to be as outraged and shocked as Oprah herself was during the interview.
But, having been bullied almost all my life even in the workplace, it got me thinking if racism is really the highest level of otherness. Human beings generally want social acceptance. In fact a study found that loneliness and hunger activate the same part of the brain – substantia nigra pars compacta and ventral tegmental area (SN/VTA) – (thank you BigThink.com for simplifying that finding for me). So essentially, food and social acceptance are the same thing to human beings. And of course, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tells that after physiological needs such as food and shelter, and safety needs such as good health – our next level of needs are in the love and belonging category. We need connection, affection, and a sense that we matter to people.
So, when people are shamed for looking different in any way – that according to science – hurts. In my view, the need for love and belonging have a way of growing and damaging societies at the same time. Feeling loved and like you belong somewhere is great for our emotions and the brain. But when you are rejected, the damage to the brain is intense and can even equate to physical pain. And so, to maximise pleasure, human beings will tend to minimise those things that make them feel like outsiders. To maximise the chance of acceptance, human beings either fall in line and go with the flow of what is generally accepted or call out something that looks different from the norm. Love and belonging can therefore grow societies as they provide a safety net, but they can also damage societies because humans will do almost anything to fit in.
Kids who are teased are often the victims of those who want love and belonging and are therefore being called out for looking or acting differently. We also see this with teenagers who start smoking because they think everyone else is doing it. Fast-forward into adulthood – the need for love and belonging can be both a blessing and a curse. It is now about which political party makes me feel like it is nurturing my need to feel loved and belong more. It is about what level of success have I attained to make those who I care about love and accept me.
So how does this relate to racism? Well, we are quickly outraged the moment we see what seems to be in black and white an act of racism – and we should be, given our history as a human species. But I wonder how much light that starts to shine on who or what we have classified as furthering our need to feel loved and belong or threatening it as individuals. When we are quick to dismiss something or someone, are we conscious of the exact elements of that interaction that instinctively bring acid up to our throats? When we are quick to embrace something or someone, are we conscious of what space that interaction fills in our quest to be loved and accepted?
We easily dismiss and accept people, things, and situations every day without necessarily applying this level of consciousness. That is why we have movements that fight for gay rights, gender equality, and so on. But, before we even start movements with many followers who speak to our need to be loved and belong, can we please activate our cerebrum – the part of our brain that is responsible for consciousness and processing of information – at an individual level? The world would be better twice over. Of course, even as we all make a commitment to be more conscious, there will be instances of hurt and misunderstanding because, we are all different – that is part of the human experience. But at least, we will be conscious of how we impact each other daily. I suppose that is what emotional intelligence is about. Yes, let us combat those that want to take away the freedom of others – because without individual freedoms, we would have no space to be conscious. But, let it not end there – let us bring it closer to home, back to ourselves and how our views impact those immediately around us and examine if we are not perpetuating our view of “otherness” in various situations.
For entrepreneurs, (finally sticking to the topic of what I write about most) this is even more crucial – that is why we have the Wellness for Entrepreneurs Podcast. 😊 – www.wellness4entrepeneurs.com