The Psychological Roots of Racial Tensions

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The Psychological Roots of Racial Tensions

“Racism is man's gravest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” -- Abraham J. Heschel

Various racial tensions have recurred throughout history and psychologically influenced ways in which racial majorities and minorities think, act, and evolve. By analyzing specific events in history and the resulting evolutionary thought processes of those involved in these said events, a pattern of typical mental insecurities reveals itself. Catastrophic tensions and events sparked by racial prejudices have continuously recurred ever since the human mind understood competition. In the absence of competition, a being has no opportunity to individualize or question their opinions and categorize oneself in relation to another. Without competition and all of its psychological subsidiaries, racism could not exist.

At some point in history, competition inevitably overtook the human race as a result of insecurity. As demonstrated by Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the typical human is genetically prone to live life with ultimate consideration for their physiological comfort. Because the typical human experiences discomfort, the typical human will consequentially live their life to prevent discomfort in generally the most efficient ways possible, often resulting in a projection of said discomfort on other humans. In accordance to Maslow’s hierarchy, this conflict is inevitable. Only slightly below physiological comfort, a sense of belonging ranks within the hierarchy. This need for belonging draws humans together and encourages interaction. From these interactions, individuals will, by human nature, judge their contemporaries and create memories. An analysis and retention of these memories will bud stereotypes that will consequentially expand to prejudice and often racism.

In short, racism and prejudice shouldn’t be considered usual human traits. They emerge in the absence of typical morality, when an individual is entirely consumed by their insecurities pertaining to the defense of their needs.

In the early 16th century, the transatlantic slave trade began. During this time, African rulers agreed to sell their citizens to the Portuguese, British, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Northern Americans who shipped those native Africans to the “New World” colonies for slave labor. It is popularly argued that a majority of these Africans didn’t understand the circumstances under which they were being relocated, and were disinclined as individuals to acquiesce to the demands of those regulating the slave trade. However because their rulers had consented to their relocation they would have been ridiculed for resisting, and whatever resistance they were to muster, would have been easily belittled by the slave trade’s firepower.

All of the aforementioned psychological traits pertaining to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs were demonstrated in the history of the transatlantic slave trade. When the “New World” was discovered, vast multitudes of resources were made freely available to the new European settlers. To take full advantage of these resources, the settlers concluded that they would require more labor than currently available, and from this motive, they set aside considerations for ethics and morality to satiate their need and desire for those resources.

Given the African’s first and only interaction with Caucasians resulted in them being chained, whipped, and stripped of their comforts, one could confidently assume that the typical African would generally stereotype most to all Caucasians as irrational and dangerous. During the early eras of slavery, many slaves acted out violently in rebellion against their situations. From this violent resistance, the Europeans were likely to have stereotyped the Africans as “barbaric” and “uncivilized”.

From this attempt to stimulate comfort and satiate needs, the human race became dramatically divided by racism....
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