Actually, I do not like the term "race" because we are all members of the human race. The word "race" in our society really refers to pigment of the skin. Which takes me into a discussion of two of the origins of racism, or prejudice based on skin color. Freud gives us one of these and Martin Luther King Jr. the second.
Sigmund Freud coined the term "narcissism of small differences." What he meant is that small differences between people seem to cause the greatest conflict between nations, communities and individuals. In his lifetime, he saw bitter conflicts between northern and southern Germans. Freud felt that communities were built up by bonds of love, plus a shared hostility for another nearby community or nation.
Skin color is a small difference between human beings as compared to what unites us, our common humanity. Religion, education and where one lives are much greater differences, but these do not divide us as much as skin color. Muslims, many of whom have darker skin than European descendants, have become in our country relatively recent targets of prejudice. How Muslims look and dress is a big factor in these hostilities.
Islam, Judaism and Christianity are sister religions, but throughout history often have been at each other's throats. Yet all three religions worship or claim to worship the same God. ("Allah" is the Arabic word for God, by the way.) Freud would argue that the narcissism of small difference creates these hostilities, especially when skin color and how people dress become two of these small differences.
So, the color of one's skin is one of the origins of prejudice. President Obama is called "black" even though he is half-white. In the South, especially before the Civil War, if a person was even a quarter black, he or she was considered black by the white population. Do we need more proof than this of how the narcissism of small differences has been a factor in racism? We bond with those who look just like we do, and those bonds are fueled by hostility toward those who look different.
The second origin of racism is this observation by Martin Luther King Jr.: On Sept. 7, 1957, King said in a speech: "Men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don't know each other. They don't know each other because they can't communicate with each other. They can't communicate with each other because they are separated from each other."
As a pastor, I have worked in a number of churches in West Michigan, and the congregations were all white or nearly so. I exercise at the local YMCA and sometimes I work out alongside people of different skin pigment than mine, but this is fairly rare.
King was right — people with different skin pigments do not know each other, do not talk to each other nearly enough, and in West Michigan we largely live separated from each other.
I watched with rapt attention the congressional hearing on Feb. 27. The difference in skin color between the Democrats and the Republicans was absolutely startling. And guess who are now the newest punching bags on Fox News? Newly elected women of color in Congress!
Aren't all these politicians and newspeople Americans? Isn't that what unifies all of us as citizens? Isn't that far more important than our differences in skin pigment?
Freud and King do not explain all of our racial hostilities, but they do point us toward two of the most important origins of the racism, which is tearing us apart in our present social, political and media worlds.
Red, brown and white eggs all look the same in the frying pan.
— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune community columnist