The View From Her: The politics of hate

Volodymyr Kish.

I am currently spending some time in the U.S. and thanks to my daughter and son-in-law who are both professors and academics, I am getting educated in one of the most controversial and polarizing issues that is afflicting American society, namely Critical Race Theory. Depending on which side of the political spectrum you are on, it is either a much needed analysis of the systemic nature of racism in the “land of the free and home of the brave”, or it is political incorrectness gone wild. Whatever the case, it is once again bringing into sharp focus the fact that some 150 years after the Civil War, people of colour in the U.S. still do not enjoy the same rights, freedoms and opportunities that their white brethren do.

I have read much on American history and am well aware of the fact that though slavery was abolished in the U.S. after the Civil War, many Americans, not only in the South but the North as well, never accepted or came to terms with idea that skin colour has no bearing on a person’s worth, intelligence, abilities or entitlement to all the rights and freedoms enshrined in the American Constitution. Through the manipulation of legal, political and economic tools, most African Americans have been disproportionately relegated to a state of poverty, powerlessness, substandard education and disenfranchisement. When their frustrations erupt into protests that occasionally turn violent, their persecutors use this as justification for further repression and reactionary measures.

Slavery has been called America’s original sin, one that many Americans have never acknowledged. This has fostered what best-selling American author Carol Anderson has characterized as “White Rage” in her book by that same name. As she states in her book – “The trigger for white rage, inevitably is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem; rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship.”

A significant minority of white Americans have developed a visceral resentment against black people who demand equal treatment and equal rights. After having abused, oppressed and exploited black people during centuries of slavery, followed by legal and institutional apartheid well into the twentieth century, ushering in real equality would be admission of culpability for the gross immorality of this history. It is an admission that they are unable to accept or atone for. It is the perverse emotional hate of the persecutors for their victims because it exposes their moral failure.

All this resonated deeply with me as a Ukrainian, because of the strong parallels to our relationship with our Russian “big brothers”. For many centuries, Russia has subjugated, oppressed and exploited Ukrainians. Serfdom under Russian masters was analogous to the system of slavery under white plantation owners. After centuries of colonial exploitation, many Russians developed a form of racist disdain for Ukrainians, considering them inferior beings, incapable of civilized aspirations or behaviour and therefore in need of Russian rule. When during the past century Ukrainians made serious efforts to attain their independence and break free from the Russian yoke, this racist disdain turned into the same kind of visceral hate and violence shown by white supremacists in the United States.

Russians cannot countenance that Ukrainians are their equals and deserving of independence or being masters of their own future. To do so would be to acknowledge their own immoral “original sin.” The tragedy of all this is that this is not limited to just Ukrainians. Most Russians have been conditioned to bear this same resentment and hate for all of the ethnic nations that they have conquered and oppressed over the course of history. That is why they continue to pursue their politics of hate against all the neighbours that they have colonized throughout their history.

The history of imperialism is rife with variations of this same theme. Those that opt to conquer and oppress invariably discount the humanity and equality of their victims. The Nazis viewed the Jews as sub-human and the Slavs as “Untermenschen.” The British and Spanish colonizers of North and South America considered the natives they encountered as heathens and inferior human beings. The various European powers that colonized Africa viewed the native populations as fit for nothing else but to be slaves.

Universal equality and human rights are fairly recent concepts in our civilization’s evolution, and it is fairly obvious that it will take many more generations, and likely centuries before they become fully established on this planet. We need to understand that racism is a creation of society and not biology, and until that sinks in, we cannot truly consider ourselves as civilized.