The end of the last decade began a move to the right of politics. In the last decade, the rise of U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonario has ushered in a period of xenophobia and racism. Members of the society are asking whether the racism and bigotry of the last few years are part of our DNA or learned behaviors? Throughout history, humans have been cooperative animals intent on creating a civilization like none seen before. The question becomes, why is racism and bigotry on the rise in western societies.
To start our discussion, we must explore what we mean by nations and nationalism. Benedict Anderson explored these themes in his book, Imagined Communities in 1983. The feeling of being tied to a tribe of social grouping has been present for humans throughout our history. Borders between nations are classed by Anderson as imagined because they do not physically exist. The idea of belonging to a nation or nationalist group is difficult to define, with nationalism a term that has been hijacked by right-wing groups.
Why is racism on the rise?
Several factors have come together to create a perfect storm of racism and bigotry in modern society. The first is the rise of right-wing political figures, such as British political leader Nigel Farage and U.S. President Donald Trump. Farage led the Brexit group that preyed on fears of immigration and foreign interference in U.K. life. Across the Atlantic, the Presidency of Donald Trump came to a close with a spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans and people of color.
Several issues have recently come to the fore that are helping to drive racism and bigotry throughout society. Some experts have pointed to the development of the internet as providing enough anonymity for people to express their deep-rooted bigotry. In the U.K., several Premier League soccer players have been the subject of online racist abuse. The anonymity of posting messages to social media platforms adds to the feeling that free speech should be encouraged regardless of the cost.
Nationalism’s many forms
Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities provides an interesting take on nationalism and the negative associations the word has gained. The dictionary term, nationalism, means to have pride in your nation. Those who feel pride in their nation have the right to do so without being derided. Taking the example of the Nazi Party of Germany, which grew out of the embers of World War I, can lead to dangerous times for the people of a nation.
The Nazi leaders encouraged their followers to feel they were part of a single group. People who were not part of the main group or seen as different were stigmatized and executed for their race, creed, or color.
A voice for irresponsible views
Social media platforms have given a voice to those who hold views opposed to decency. The onset of COVID-19 played into the hands of those pedaling xenophobic rhetoric, such as Nigel Farage and President Donald Trump.
In press conferences and through his social media accounts, the former U.S. President referred to COVID-19 as a Chinese problem. A Tweet from Nigel Farage blamed the arrival of the pandemic directly on the Chinese Government.
An imbalanced culture
The general thought regarding racism and bigotry is that it is a learned behavior. Some researchers believe an imbalance in culture can lead to the society it produces becoming unbalanced. In the U.S., the unwillingness of some to address the issue of climate change is driving anti-American feelings. As the gap between those affected by climate change continues to grow, it will become one of the economic and social drivers of racist and bigoted attitudes.