I believe the most perverse effect of racism is neither the dehumanization nor violence (both are in fact punishable by laws in most countries) but the collective shrinking and sometimes-complete abandonment of our self-perceived (higher than average) morality and ethics in favor of prejudice.
May 10, 2013 –Romania Libera –“ 777[Romanian] families out of 900 that received the right to adopt a child have written in their application that they do not want to adopt a Roma child”
A few disturbing facts.
The Romanian birth certificates do NOT include the ethnicity of the child.
There are no clear-cut physical differences between Roma and non-Roma in Romania besides stereotypes and prejudice.
It is very likely that some of those families (around 10%) did not want a Roma child but avoided writing it as that could have had exposed them as racist.
Statistically at least 5% of those 900 families include a Roma.
Considering the above the even more disturbing conclusion is that well over 90% of what we believe are nice and caring Romanian families that want to adopt a child are in fact racist.
It is also hard to accept that our Romanian or European society is profoundly racists and corrupted. It is even harder to accept that we are too.
The worst effect of corruption for me is similar with the end-result of racism. It is not that it affects the economy but that it leads to a collective abandonment of what should be the most basic societal morality and ethics.
Studies show without doubt that in fact we are particularly good at rationalizing and very skilled at self-deception.
I was for years surprised/annoyed by how very few of my friends will dare to speak up publicly against a racist joke or comment against Roma whenever that happened. I had girlfriends that would never disclose to their parents that they were dating a Roma. But then it was rare or exceptional when I spoke up against homophobes or confront violent, abusive sexist males. I still shut up much more than I should about corruption and the prejudices of those around me.
Many of the best people I know not only accept the systemic corruption and institutional racism as a given but they do not hesitate to use these characteristics of the system to their own advantage.
We are educated towards deceit (our history manuals are basically convenient lies) and the acceptance of authority without dissent. The fact that our brains are built to believe and accept the authority as long as whatever we are told is not stridently against our beliefs is a significant advantage for those trying to deceive.
Habits come from repetition and they are very hard to overcome. Studies show that once a habit is built in, it is a primitive part of our brain (basal ganglia) that takes over when we need to access the habit. This practically reduces to a minimum the thinking process of our brain and allows us to drive (a habit), listen to our favorite show on the radio and drink our coffee or smoke a (another habits) at the same time. It is convenient and makes our lives a lot easier.
Racism, corruption as well as self-deception I argue are some of the strongest habits not only in Romania but also in Europe. It is a habit to think Roma are sub-humans, to give bribes and to see ourselves better than we are. It is easier for our brain to work with habits and therefore much more convenient for us.
Professor Simon B Cohen of Cambridge University discovered that “the capacity to deceive is a marker that a child is actually developing typical social skills.” The fact that developing social skills means developing skills to deceive might seem troublesome enough but it is our capacity to self-deception that is plain scary.
Self- deception is the main reason why “hedonic adaptation” (a phenomenon in which people quickly become used to changes, great or terrible, in order to maintain a stable level of happiness) exists. The involvement of “normal” people in the killings during the Holocaust as well as those in Rwanda, Cambodia, ex-Yugoslavia etc is a stark proof of its existence.
An institutional or societal culture that has a high rate of conformism and discourages critical thinking it is almost impossible to change if provides enough to allow life standards that are acceptable or slightly above acceptable. Either the European Commission or the poorest local administration in Romania shares the same characteristics. In my experience so does some of the most powerful NGOs.
The fact that we abandon our sense of justice, morality and ethics whenever it is convenient for us, that we are build and educated flawed (it is very hard and sometimes impossible to change our strong beliefs and very easy to ignore overwhelming proof that goes against our beliefs) proves how good we are at self-deception and a strong argument that we are built for being racist and corrupt.
We can overcame our disgusting habits. But the basic of it is to recognize that they are bad for us. And up to this moment regardless how revolted we are about the racism, corruption and deceit of others we seem to be almost incapable to accept that we are not just victims but perpetrators of racism, corruption and deceit even in the best case when we are guilty of only avoiding to react against any of them.