If anyone took the demise of Jim Crow and the election of a black president to mean that racism was dead, reports of the Justice Department on Ferguson and Philadelphia are sobering reminders that racism lives.
Racism is proving as stubbornly hard to eradicate as the mythical Hydra which sprouted two new heads for every one that was cut off. Until, that is, Hercules found and severed the beast’s immortal head.
What is racism’s immortal head? Why does racism persist?
Color differences are not the cause of racism, rather they are excuses for debasing one group to another group’s advantage. Racism persists because the degradation in which it trades serves the purpose of predation.
The wellspring that sustains racism lies in the practice of preying on the weak, with the added twist of first systematically handicapping potential targets so as to reduce the risk to predators.
To end racism we must identify and sever the immortal head that keeps the beast alive. Racism’s immortal head is rankism.
- degrading (or self-aggrandizing) assertions of rank
- abuse, discrimination, or exploitation based on the power inherent in rank
- presuming superiority, imputing inferiority
- subjecting others to indignity
Rankism is what people who take themselves to be SOMEBODIES do to people they mistake for nobodies. In interpersonal relationships, rankism becomes derision and disdain. Between groups, it’s persecution, injustice, and disenfranchisement.
Rank itself is not necessarily a problem. It can attest to experience; it can be a useful management tool. But rankism—demoting, denigrating, and disadvantaging people so as to set them up for exploitation—is the sustaining source of racism.
Rankism is also the immortal head of the other ignoble isms. It’s because we tolerate rankism, that racism and the other isms persist—despite the progress we’ve made against them. To render them extinct, we must cut off their common immortal head—rankism.