Recently, a county official from one of the U.S. states, when responding to an African-American woman who questioned him for the reasons behind the rejection of her application for a contract, admonished her by stating that she should not argue with him because, he is from the master race – implying that he is White.  The official’s response was blatantly insensitive and demeaning.  And, it also raises a more philosophical question, what is a master race or a superior caste or the world’s greatest religion and what qualifications justify such a recognition?

In the real world, one is recognized as a mater because he/she earned such recognition.  For example, one who graduated with a post-baccalaureate degree or a musician who is recognized by his peers as a master musician or a scientist who had contributed significantly to the advancement of his field of research.  In other words, master recognition is something that one must earn, not self-proclaim.  On the contrary, if the claim to superiority is based solely on skin color, caste affiliation, or religious belief, then, a Buddha or a Jesus Christ would not qualify as ‘superior’ beings or be revered the world over. Buddha was the son of the least known king from Kosala and Jesus was the son of a carpenter.

Therefore, when one claims to be from a master race or a superior being, not based on any great qualifications but on attributes such as birth, caste, or belief, the individual would appear both unjustified and foolish in making such a claim. Such a claim would be akin to one who had never earned a high school diploma claiming to be a Cardiologist because his mother was a renowned Cardiologist.  If he also demands that he be recognized as a Cardiologist and be allowed to perform heart surgery, he will be laughed at, or worse, locked up in a mental asylum. 

At this juncture, I must state that the purpose of this write-up is not to focus on the ills of race, caste, or social biases.  Such ills do exist.  Experts in sociology and related fields have written extensively on these issues.  This write-up, keeping up with the tenor of other metaphysical discussions on this blog, will share a few thoughts on why one makes such supercilious claims and what gives rise to such prejudices and biases. Unwarranted claims to superiority and biases and prejudices about others arise from our minds.  The negative thoughts and feelings that emanate from our minds, in turn, influence our negative reactions. Sadly, most times, we are not even aware of our negative reactions.  It just sprouts out of our subconscious minds.

Let me share a personal experience. Once, I was sharing a ride with my friend and colleague, a distinguished academic scholar of Indian ethnicity.  As we were driving through our sub-division, we noticed an Asian woman driving before us very slowly. Since the road was narrow, it was difficult to go past her. My friend, annoyed, commented, “All these Asian women; on weekends they are all looking for a garage sale, driving slowly and causing a nuisance.” A few minutes later, when we were on the main street, an African-American gentleman, drove past a stop sign, without stopping.   Again, my friend snapped, “None of these folks obey the rules.”  Soon, we were on the highway. Before us, on our lane, an Indian gentleman was shuffling between one lane and another and appearing confused.   My friend yelled, “These Indian guys are always confused.  Don’t even know where they are going.”  I burst out laughing.  “What is so funny?” my friend asked. “Kris!  You are swearing at everyone. But, I appreciate you are an equal opportunity racist.  You have expressed prejudiced views about individuals from every race, including an individual from your own ethnicity.  The simple episode illustrates that bigotry affects almost all of us. And, such bigotry, transcends our race, caste,  nationality, and even educational attainments. Is this because bigotry is a genetic trait, and we cannot easily discard?  Before we answer this question, let me share another experience.

I visit a daycare center every day to pick up my grand-kid from the center. The kids attending this center are of different ethnic origins – White, African-Americans, Asians, and others.  Each day, when the kids from my grandchild’s class see me, they will greet me, “Hi Grandpa.”  Why would they call me grandpa? After all, I look different from their parents. Or, is it because, to these young kids with pure hearts and minds, the only thing that matters is that I show the same love and affection that I show to my own grandchild, Maya. And, that is all that matter; the physical features are irrelevant.

My brief interaction with the kids from the daycare proves that each of us was born with a perfectly working ‘moral compass.’  Feelings of superiority, biases, and prejudices are not part of this moral compass. Obviously, this moral compass must have been damaged as we grew up. Why? Because of exposure to negative feelings and opinions expressed about others by people close to us – our parents and relatives. And, such feelings and opinions being reinforced by our communities and society.   With time, these perceptions solidify, and our views about ourselves and others begin to change.

How do we go back in time, to our childhood, and rid ourselves of these entrenched negative perceptions?  By inquiring into our own minds and by guiding them in the right direction.  Our minds are the repository of our positive and negative emotions.  As Swami Vivekananda, an Indian sage, said, “The infinite library of the universe is one’s own mind.”  The Bible also reinforces this view. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”  However, training our minds is not easy.  But if we persevere, it will eventually respond.  And, as the mind begins to change in the right direction, it no longer rushes to judge others based on extraneous and irrelevant attributes such as color or creed. Over time, we begin to free ourselves of our illogical biases and prejudices and restrain ourselves from reacting to every negative thought and emotion.  Eventually, when negativity leaves the mind, the space vacated gets occupied by kindness and compassion.  We start showing compassion and consideration even to strangers.  For example, I wish the Asian lady finds a good garage sale.  I hope the Indian gentleman reaches his destination safely. 

Once we take charge of our minds, we would no longer claim false recognition and call ourselves, ‘I am from a master race.’ Your conduct will make others recognize you as a ‘master’ being.

In a future blog, we will discuss how to train one’s mind.

Dr. Ram S. Sriram