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Cruelty, Racism, and Competition
February 17, 2016
by William P. Meyers

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Why do pockets of racism remain in America?

I was born in 1955 and was raised in the states of the former Confederacy. I have white skin, brown (okay, now its gray) hair, and blue eyes.

I never went to a school that had a black child enrolled in it until I went to college in New England. I believed that blacks were inferior to whites until I was about 14 years old. I have written elsewhere about my mother's racist activities.

I later thought racism, by the beginning of the 21st century, was dying out, to be found only in fringe groups and unreconstructed old people. I was wrong.

I do believe the extent and nature of racism today has changed since, say, 1960. Members of the human race are capable of kindness and fairness. The task that remains is getting rid of the remnants of racism. I don't believe this will be an easy task. Humans have an innate capacity for cruelty. Racism is one way to express cruelty.

I remember cruelty, and I'm guessing you remember cruelty. I particularly remember cruelty in high school. Since I went to an all-white high school, there was no racist component to cruelty there. My high school was also all-male, and fostered a competitive environment. We competed in academics, we competed in sports, and we competed for status.

Most of this high school cruelty was pretty minor, expressed with words, or in snubbing. Occasionally it was expressed in harassment or "practical jokes" or a bit of physical bullying. Mainly, though, it was a dominance game. Arriving there as an outsider in 9th grade, I was subjected to some cruelty disguised as vetting. But the bullies, if they even deserved that name, at this school were wimps compared to the bullies I had previously dealt with in Catholic schools. I made friends. I made some mistakes, and when I realized that, I did my best to correct them. I've told elsewhere of how I made anti-semitic remarks, the kind Catholics had taught me, before being informed that about one-third of my classmates were Jewish.

Also, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement were still in full swing. Cruelty was in the news every day, and at that level, where peasants were carpet bombed and people who wanted to vote were beat up, it was repulsive. I tried to never allow others to be cruel to me, or for me to be cruel to others, but sometimes found myself having alienated someone just out of old reflexes.

We were taught not to be cruel, and to be good sports. But imagine if we had been in an environment where cruelty was encouraged. I believe we could have learned to be much crueler, up to and including the kind of homicidal psychopaths that were churned out of Hitler Youth schools in Germany in the Nazi era.

In fact, while I was mostly isolated from it, the segregationists, trained in cruelty by their parents, were still fighting integration in my city. Sometimes with physical battles.

Some of today's white racists are lineal descendents of the old, overt racist families that lived in America in the 1960s.

But I think most racists today, whether teenage boys, businessmen, police, or criminals, are simply using it as an excuse to unleash their cruelty.

Cruelty is hard to get rid of. Of course there is a spectrum, but let's say 1 in 100 people develop a consistently cruel personality. Perhaps we could could say that 1 in 1000 is extremely cruel. That would mean of the present 322 million Americans, 3.2 million would be classified as cruel, and 320 thousand as extremely cruel. And many of the rest of us might be a bit cruel from time to time.

You might expect that most of these cruel people would end up in prison, but they don't. If one is from a rich family, he or she might be your boss. They can be found in all walks of life. Often they cope by being friendly with a group of similarly cruel people, who all focus their cruelty on people outside their group. I believe their are religious groups with high percentages of cruel persons. I believe they particularly congregate in the offices of prosecuting attorneys.

I believe we need to address racism in particular. But I think that addressing cruelty, if we can find a way to minimize it, will greatly decrease racism and other forms of prejudice that manifest as cruelty.

Police departments, in particular, need to screen out cruel recruits and provide training to keep police from becoming cruel under the admittedly difficult circumstances of their jobs.

Top down programs can help, but every community can work to discourage the cruel impulses of its members. Less cruelty means less crime, and a lesser need for policing to protect people from crime.

Agree? Disagree? You can comment on this post at Natural Liberation Blog at blogspot.com

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