Racism is one of the most striking and horrific ideologies denying human equality. From the second half of the nineteenth century until the end of World War II it was a powerful influence in European and American societies, which then ruled the world through colonial empires.
Racism was not merely an ideology of hatred of others. It claimed the inherent division of humanity into separate “races”. It was justified by sciences such as Eugenics, Race Science and Social Darwinism. In its most extreme form it culminated in the programs of racial extermination known as the Holocaust.
Like slavery and the oppression of women, though greater in scale, it imposed unimaginable human suffering.
In contrast to the former two examples, it was the very excesses of racism, in its Nazi manifestation that laid the foundations for its collapse.
A direct response to the ideology embodied in Nazism and its racist predecessors was the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the most influential documents in history.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Even after World War 2, the grip of racism remained strong and pervasive. In the United States, civil rights and the dismantling of segregation, led by figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., did not arrive until the 1960’s. In Australia, the right of indigenous Australians to vote, a basic right of citizenship, was not restored until 1967. In South Africa apartheid was not dismantled until 1994.
The denial of equality in the form of foreignness – discrimination against and exclusion of non-citizens, is closely related to racism. The nation-state, in many parts of the world, was in the past or remains today, racially-defined. Thus the ‘non-citizen’ and those of ‘different race’ are closely related. Further unlike racism, which is now recognised as a social evil to be eradicated, foreignness is still regarded as normal. Social norms, girded by law, affirm that the foreigner is not-equal. This is unavoidably a violation of the core values of human rights and results in complex denials of human rights to non-citizens.