Recently, a county official from one of the U.S. states, while responding to an African-American woman asking him for the reasons behind the rejection of her application for a government 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 attributes justify such a recognition?

In the real world, one is given a master title because he/she earned such recognition.  For example, one who graduated with a post-baccalaureate degree or an artist 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 should earn, not self-proclaim.  On the contrary, if our claim to greatness is based solely on our skin color, caste affiliation, or religious belief, the world would not have been blessed with a Buddha or a Jesus Christ.  Buddha was the son of, a least known king from Kosala and Jesus was the son of a
carpenter; yet, these two great souls are revered all over the world.  

Therefore, claiming superiority, not based on one’s qualifications but on extraneous factors such as birth, caste, or belief is not only illogical but also, foolish. It is akin to an individual who had never earned a high school diploma claiming to be a Cardiologist because his mother is a renowned Cardiologist.  If he demands that he be recognized as a Cardiologist and be allowed to perform heart surgery, he will not only be laughed at but also locked up in a mental asylum. 

At this juncture, I must state that the purpose of this writeup is not to focus on the ills of racism, casteism or social discriminations per se.  Such ills do exist.  However, over the years, experts on sociology and related fields have written extensively on these issues.  Therefore, in line with the tenor of other metaphysical discussions on this blog, I will share a few thoughts on why our mind is behind our prejudices and biases and why we must take charge of the minds and guide them in the right direction. 

Our prejudices and negative opinions about others arise from our minds.  And, our thoughts and opinions, in turn, influence our negative reactions, often expressed through hurting words and actions.  Sadly, most times, we are not even conscious of our reactions.  It just sprouts out of our subconscious minds. Let me share an example. Once, I was driving with my friend, a distinguished academic scholar of Indian ethnicity.  First, we noticed an Asian lady driving before us very slowly. My friend, annoyed, commented, “All these Asian women; on weekends they are looking for a garage sale.”  Soon, an African-American gentleman, passed through a stop sign, slowing but not stopping.  Again, my friend snapped, “None of these obey the rules.”  Soon, we noticed an Indian gentleman moving back and forth from one lane to another – perhaps trying to figure which exit to take.  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 a negative view of every race, including your own.  The episode shows that bigotry affects a majority of us – regardless of our race, caste,  nationality, or education. Could this be because bigotry is a genetic trait and it is not easy to discard them?  Before we so conclude, let me share another experience.

I visit a daycare center every day to pick up my grandkid from the center. The class consists of kids from many ethnic origins – White, African-Americans, and others.  Each day, when the kids see me, they will greet me, “Hi Grandpa.”  Why did they call me grandpa? Perhaps, in their view, If I am a grandpa to their friend Maya, I am a grandpa to them too.  To these kids – with their pure hearts and uncorrupted minds – my physical features were irrelevant; only the love and affection I showed them was relevant.  Like these kids, each of us was born with a perfectly working ‘moral compass’.  We appear to have damaged it as were growing up.  How?  Because of being exposed to negative opinions expressed about others by parents and, over the years, reinforced by our communities and society.   Slowly, our perceptions about ourselves and others began to change.

What should we do to rid ourselves of these entrenched perceptions?  By inquiring into our own minds and guiding them in the right direction.  Our minds are the repository of both 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 respond eventually.  And, as the mind changes in the right direction, it would no longer rush to judge others based on extraneous and irrelevant attributes such as color and creed, attributes. Eventually, we free ourselves from our illogical biases and prejudices and learn not to react to every negative thought and emotion.  When negativity leaves the mind, the space vacated will be occupied by kindness and compassion.  We will start showing compassion and consideration even to strangers.  I hope the Asian lady finds a good garage sale.  Hope the Indian gentleman reaches his destination safely. 

Until we take the reins of our minds and rid it of the negativity residing within it, we will continue to be flawed in our conduct and character.  Worse, if we also claim that ‘I am from a master race’, it would be a shabby attempt at hiding our the weaknesses in our conduct and character.

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

Dr. Ram S. Sriram
Vidyarthifoundation@gmail.com