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Racism and Newton’s Third Law of Motion

“Finish Him!”

This is an instruction from a violent but popular video game called “Mortal Kombat.” Players are enthusiastically encouraged to commit a final violent blow that ends the life of their opponent.

One big, luminous lesson we can learn from research on human morality is that acts of immorality including violence and injustice affects not only the victim but also the perpetrator. It is as if Newton’s third law of motion applies also to issues of morality and human behavior. Acts of violence dehumanizes victims but dehumanizes the perpetrators even more. Acts of immorality, violence or any other form of injustice affect the perpetrator’s self-concept and image in a decidedly negative way.

Take the case of “Mortal Kimbat”. One research conclusively showed that players who engaged in the video games suffered in terms of self-perceptions of their own human qualities. In short, violent video game play diminishes our own humanity. Of course when other players are the targets of this violence it reduces our perceptions of their own humanity also. In short, there is no neutral action.

The psychological effects of colonialism were best espoused by the inimitable Franz Fanon. What Fanon prophesied was that African leaders in post-colonial Africa would be inclined to fashion leadership in the very image of White Colonial Africa. Black leaders would treat their fellow Africans the way Europeans had treated the Africans. They would go to the extent of being as violent and as ruthless as their white predecessors. They would be exploitative and extractive as well. This is would be the psychological scar and legacy of colonialism. It would be the sure result unless of course the Black leaders intentionally educated themselves and decolonized their minds. It is unfortunate that much of Fanon’s prophecy has come to pass. In Zimbabwe, the ruthlessness of Mnangagwa has echoes of that of Mugabe. In turn, the ruthlessness of Mugabe has echoes of that that of Cecil Rhodes. In Zaire, the plunder of Mobutu has echoes of that of Leopold. Leaders like Julius Nyerere and Sekou Toure acted differently due to the effect of a robust, self-education that decolonized their minds.

White America and Europe thought that imperialism took place outside their hallowed and sacrosanct borders. They thought that they were removed from the field of action. While it is true that the Gold Coast and the Cape of Good Hope were miles away from Europe, yet the sentiment of racial superiority, that enabled and justified colonialism, was planted and growing in the heart of European soil. This racial attitude would harm both Africa and the European perpetrators.

In philosophy, there is a compelling thesis that doing good has its own personal reward to the doer. The reward is the good act itself. John Henry Newman wrote that “virtue is its own reward, and brings with it the truest and highest pleasure; but if we cultivate it only for pleasure’s sake, we are selfish, not religious, and will never gain the pleasure, because we can never have the virtue”. On the flip-side, performing acts of injustice cannot fail to impact us negatively even if for a moment we may appear untouched and unscathed. In other words, badness is its own punishment.

This is what is called the boomerang effect. And so, when Europe was advancing the doctrine of racial superiority with glee, these attitudes were to boomerang on them decades later.

Hannah Arendt, a German-American philosopher and political theorist in her seminal work, “Origins of Totalitarianism”, argued that racism and territorial expansion — two practices advanced by Imperial Europe — laid the foundations for European fascism and the Nazi gas chambers.

Indeed, there is a seductive thesis that Hitler’s Weimer Republic was affected by Europe’s own attitude towards Africans. The problem this time was that the victims were fellow Europeans. Once Europeans had imbibed the notion that one class of human beings was inferior, it was easier to change the object of dehumanization than to birth the idea of dehumanization.

It was Abraham Lincoln who warned his countrymen of this slippery slope. He said that if today blacks are inferior because they are darker and they are eliminated or persecuted, Whites would later focus on themselves based on the degree of whiteness. Those deemed less-white would be treated just as blacks had been treated.

When Whites shouted “Finish them” at hapless Blacks minding their own business, that violence reacted on their character and degraded them. They could now easily assimilate the Fuhrer’s ideologies and effortlessly execute his inhuman edicts. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

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