Can you ever rid a society of racism?

The furore over a video showing the racist treatment of black university campus workers in South Africa refuses to die down.

 The video, which came to light last week, shows white students at the University of Free State allegedly forcing black employees to eat food that had been urinated on.

The footage is thought to have been recorded in September, and was made by students angered by a new integration policy at the campus in Bloemfontein. The policy would make black and white students share university accommodation..

There’s a lot of soul searching in South Africa right now.But is it an isolated incident, or is this the real South Africa? Billyboy Ramahlele, the university’s director of diversity, fears the latter.

In a country anxious to shed it’s divisive past, is this just another example that society can never really be totally rid of racism?

25 Responses to “Can you ever rid a society of racism?”

  1. March 7, 2008 at 13:28

    I think we can rid society of racism. Its just an attitude that we possess amidst our minds that one race is better than the other. If we are to change that attitude in our miinds, then we can change the world and look at each other as brothers and sisters other than one race being better than the other.

  2. 2 steve
    March 7, 2008 at 13:43

    No, and you can’t get rid of all other “isms” either. Humans will look for any and all reasons to hate each other. There has never been a moment of peace on earth since humans have existed. We hate each other over race, ethnicity, religion, social class etc, and we always will until we likely kill each other off. Notice why countries are breaking apart? Iraq will break apart, The UK will break apart, Canada will break apart, the Soviet Union broke apart. Why? because different people don’t get alone, they never have, they never will. That’s life, accept it, and maybe we can limit the damage that can be caused from it.

  3. 3 Andrew
    March 7, 2008 at 14:08

    I believe that this is simply impossible. It is in our nature as humans, hard wired into our brains if you will, to have this type of discrimination within us. Some of us are better equipped to handle this in modern society and some are not. But it is a part of being human and we have evolved through tens of thousands of years to be wary even hostile to other groups for basic reasons of food, safety and resources. This is now expressed through racism and exists everywhere. Even groups that are discriminated on in one country or another and who deplore their own treatment will often have their own biases towards others concurrently. It is how we accept our biases and handle them that is the telling point of our own behaviour. It is something that can be legislated against, something that can be deplored, but not something that will ever disappear. It is a part of us and all we can do is to be aware of it and if it is unacceptable then we need to work towards limiting its affects upon others but it can never be eliminated completely.

  4. 4 Justin from Iowa
    March 7, 2008 at 14:11

    In my very humble opinion, yes society (and society is an awfully big word, do you mean the world, your country, your community?) can be free of racism someday. What is racism? The fear and hatred of people who are different and unfamiliar to you? It just takes time, and the right conditions. I think the US is a good example of how racism is far from gone, but the conditions are there so that, on a grand time scale, someday racism will be gone. Integration of differing peoples into the same area, long association, common interests, and a democratic equally representative system can all pull a society out of racism if the right circumstances occur.

    But racism can grow, too, just as easily. Racism against Islam and muslims is, I think, growing in the United States, and this is a saddening occurance.

  5. 5 steve
    March 7, 2008 at 14:35


    “But racism can grow, too, just as easily. Racism against Islam and muslims is, I think, growing in the United States, and this is a saddening occurance.”

    Islam isn’t a race, and in most cases of “islamophobia” is is manufactured by the media, not genuine anti muslim attacks.
    This is a classic example. They got a couple actors, one to dress in islamic garb, and another to be a store employee harassing her because she’s muslim. It was acting, and they based the “islamophobia” off the reactions of the customers in the store, despite the “hate crime” being fake, it wasn’t real, yet all americans are horrible people becaues of staged hateful acts. Please, give me a break. Fine me some genuine anti Muslim activities within the past year or two. The US is vastly more tolerant than Europe is. We dont’ have laws banning headscarves or islamic dress. We don’t have politicians releasing movies about how horrible the koran is.


  6. 6 Virginia Davis
    March 7, 2008 at 14:36

    Racism is a particular type of meaness. And today, sadly, I believe many people are mean. If not to a race, then to a gender. If not to a gender, then to an age. On and on. I am sorry Lubna, that your friend Ali has been murdered. Virginia in Oregon

  7. 7 Arnaud ntirenganya Emmanuel
    March 7, 2008 at 14:46

    Racism is not only when color is concerned…we refugees experiment racism in every day’s life even on our continent…where you are hated, discriminated, simply because you are in their country

  8. 8 VictorK
    March 7, 2008 at 14:55

    No, there’ll always be racism. Racism is not always wrong and is not the worst thing that can happen in a society. And that’s why I think that a society is entitled to challenge and even ban some aspects of racism, but not all manifestations of it.

    What the state can do, and is entitled to act on, is racism in the public sector and in those private sector organisations that trade with the general public (e.g. a business should not be allowed to bar customers because of their race). Beyond that, racism is no concern of the state’s. Private clubs and corporations should never be subjected to laws seeking to regulate their conduct re any matter of discrimination. How they act over issues relating race, religion, gender and sexuality is nobody’s concern but theirs. Where an organisation has customers then it is for those patrons to cease buying its products if they dislike its line on discrimination. Where it doesn’t have customers its senior officers may be socially ostracised or the organisation subjected to public protest. To take any other view is to abolish liberty, and hand despotic powers to the state. Freedom and limited government are both far more valuable than compulsory non-discrimination.

    And though it is a political blasphemy against the liberal creed, there are undoubtedly some groups whose character and conduct justifies discriminatory perceptions and even practices.

  9. 9 Arnaud ntirenganya Emmanuel
    March 7, 2008 at 14:58

    Simply because I look small, fair in complexion, tall, funny accent, in addition to all a foreigner, etc. I am wondered about, all the time, everywhere I find myself, and it makes me feel discriminated

  10. 10 Ros Atkins
    March 7, 2008 at 15:03

    Dear bbc,
    I do think that women should be given the chance to showcase their God-given capabilities in all respects of life.They are gentler and full of possitive mindedeness than most men who tend to be hard and unrepentant,yes women need to be heard.
    Midok Fakhan

  11. 11 John in Germany
    March 7, 2008 at 15:04


    It was planted in us at the beginning of mankind, and we ahve not bettered mise of economical advantages. And most don’t give a damn for the the situation over all those years.

    A in born mistrust of those that are different, if we all came from the same copy book and all looked alike, lived in the same location, and thought the same Etc, we might get on.

    Gone are the days when i thought racism was Black/White, that was to easy. Now its different shades of pale, and more complicated. A help might be if we require that incoming peoples to learn the language of the guest land, to require that the newcomers learn about the hosts way of life, and whilst in the host land, abide by these rules. The truth of the matter is that most immigrants legal or illegal have moved because of the economical advantages, and don’t give a damn about the hosts way of life, as long as the money is enough. (please note i said most-which means not all). And experience tells, most people get on the best in thier country of origin.

    A lot of ex-pats are where they are because of love, yes love, met a girl and stayed. Its easier to adapt when one partner is a member of the host land.
    If the family is all one nation, Ghettos are formed, areas develop a one nation enviourement. and the chances of integration are down to NIL.

    Regards to all
    John in Germany

  12. 12 Sajeev
    March 7, 2008 at 15:16

    Hi Ros, this looks like your favourite topic, as had a couple of debates on this in the past.

    Racism appears to be one for the obvious elements of “discrimination” which humans exhibit within communities, nations, etc. So racism might disappear- but the root- discrimination, will be long lasting. When the racism declines , the forms of discrimination and a form of superiority/inferiority feeling may be based on dialect, language, region , rural, uran, tribe, class, etc can persit and remain as a factor in the way of social assimilation and creating a just society. There are other obvious examples in Africa- where certain tribes claim to be superior than others, as in the case of castes in the Indian Sub-continent.

    I also hope that this discussion would not be limited to the common nomenclature of Whites/Pinks/Browns discriminating black people- but there could be example of reverse racial discrimination exhibited by majority blacks against whites/browns, may be in Zimbabwe, and in other countries.

    Anyway, I fully agree that it is bad to practice racialism irrespective of who practices it. Further, one should also think that can reverse racial discrimination an answer for what went wrong in South Africa/Africa in the past under colonial/Aparthid rule? One could often hear political rhetoric of that sort especially in the context Zimbabwe, etc instead of correcting the past mistakes by previous generation.

  13. 13 carlos King
    March 7, 2008 at 15:16

    Hi Ros and All

    Thanks for bringing this most urgent and important discuss to the front-burner.

    Can we ever rid a society of racism? The answer is a resounding yes!! But not when people like Van Zyl of South Africa are given prominence in media. Racism will not go away until society agree that somethings are wrong (not cultural preference) and some things are right because we were all created equal and the floor is level at the foot of the cross and at the throne of Heaven.

    I find it hard to believe that people who harbour racist sentiments plan to go to heaven, are they aware that people of all races will be there occupying the same place? But then again if you’re a racist you can’t be a Christian like Jesus. He despite dracism and treated it with utter contempt ( remember his discourse with the Samaritan woman at the well, this was unheard of back them. Not only to talk to a Samaritan but a woman as well) and his healing of the Samarian Leper?). Jesus while on earth demonstrated what he thought of racial differences – nothing! And we are to follow his example.

    Sciencist can be very helpful in this regard if they want to. Genetically/Scientifically there is hardly any dicernable difference between the races. Remember we all have red blood.

    Eradication of racism calls for forgiveness on the part of the oppressed and the oppressor. It also calls for education because it is the height of ignorance to believe that you’re superior or inferior merely based on the veneer of the skin or upper epidermis. This is evidence of gross ignorance.

    Thanks again Ros for opening the dialogue, I would be honoured to share my thoughts live.

    God bless you and the WHYS team for your marvelous contribution to humanity.

  14. March 7, 2008 at 15:56

    Am not being a racist but it is part of life some times you need to be a racist.

  15. March 7, 2008 at 16:09

    anybody that thinks racism or any ‘ISM’ will ever end does not understand human nature AND human history.

    that is not to say we shouldn’t continue the effort to resist our dark side…we should. but we must manage our expectations – I think.

    I won’t got thru the illustrative littany of man’s inhumanity to man…Thoughtful, informed people understand this – if they stop to think about it.

    we must always focus MOST on what we can MOST control…That is in the mirror.

    Governments, institutions and individuals must stand for justice….but we must understand ourselves too.

  16. 16 Justin from Iowa
    March 7, 2008 at 16:10


    Racism/hatemongering is about more than official or overt reactions. Its as much about how people talk about other people and peoples in their homes and with their friends, and how they think. I know that people around me make more hate remarks about muslims and islam since 9/11 and this war started. Whether you classify that as racism or not, I can only report on what I see first hand.

    Aspiring to a world without racism is, I think, one of humanity’s great dreams. Whether really attainable or not, striving to achieve it can only be a good thing.

  17. 17 VictorK
    March 7, 2008 at 16:25

    I agree with Sajeev’s comment about how this topic might be handled.

    Have guests who will discuss this in regard to some of the worst places in the world for racism. This would automatically exclude Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Then we could have a truly original programme.

    Let’s talk about the virulent ethnic racism in sub-Saharan Africa that has claimed millions of lives post-independence. Perhaps someone could talk about the ethnic rapes recently reported in the Kenyan turmoil. Another guest could talk about racism in the Arab world, from Sudan and its ancient policy of exterminating Africans, to the Gulf States with their ruthless exploitation of foreign labour. There is a significant problem of racism in Russia and the attitudes of East Europeans generally are far more racist than anything to be found in the West. A former Japanese President once openly boasted that his country would always be America’s economic superior (this was before Japan suffered years of recession and became America’s undoubted economic inferior) because the US was full of such groups as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Blacks. Let’s have – probably for the first time – an examination of the racial attitudes of Japanese and other South East Asians (note: many Western countries take in thousands of African refugees each year as part of a UN programme – how much would anyone like to bet that no South East Asian country, not even the Africa-loving Chinese, permits settlement under this programme by Africans?). India’s caste system seems to run parallel to a division between dark-skinned lower castes and light-skinned higher castes. This is unsurprising since one of the indigenous names for the caste system is ‘varna’: it means ‘colour’. More people have their lives blighted by this intricate system of discrimination in India than is the case anywhere else on the planet: surely that’s worth taking up in any discussion?

    How about it? The worst racism occurs in Africa and Asia. But all discussions I’ve heard about racism on the BBC have focused on Western Europe, Australia and North America, which happen to be the only parts of the world where racism is taken seriously and attempts are made to combat it.

  18. 18 ki
    March 7, 2008 at 17:46

    I think we can. As a black African in England who has experienced her (un)fair share of injustices, I believe that ultimately, it comes down to loving ourselves. Secure people do not need to be unkind to others in order to feel positive towrds themselves. Hate is an illness which eventually destroys the person who caries it. I know. I used to be racist. It leads nowhere, trust me.

  19. 19 George USA
    March 7, 2008 at 19:51

    The video sounds like sadism rather than racism.

    Treat the perpetrators as sex offenders.

    It does not matter what race the victims were.

  20. 20 Tony Hale
    March 7, 2008 at 21:26

    Can you ever rid a society of racism?

    Is this not the wrong question? We don’t ask if we can eliminate greed, when we enact fair business laws, or trade agreements. We don’t pretend that we can eliminate hate, even when we go to great efforts to install rules and laws that create order and restraint in our society.

    The challenge of racism is no different; but we set ourselves up for failure, when we set the bar at elimination. Society must continue to manage the failures of mankind, for there is no greater call for eternal vigilance than in facing our own base nature. Alone, each of us can fall victim to our own personal weaknesses and excesses, but together we can prevent the wider disasters of mob rule and vigilantism.

    It’s no wonder that the worst abuses of racism can be found in broken or strained societies. When the rules of society break down, and the stresses of limited opportunities and poverty wear away the habit of civility, we find the worst examples of human abuse. Even in prosperous environments, where one group feels and exercises superiority over another subgroup, we find a society that is not serving all its members. Even in those rich places, we can find the most awful examples of human behavior.

    Our goal should be to raise society, and together build a culture and social infrastructure that promotes a better nature that can only be achieved by society as a whole.

    For example,

    Almost anyone us, would want to kill a person who kills one of our loved ones. That is a natural reaction from anyone, but society steps in and tells us that we should not take the law into our own hands. In this way society raises our collective nature for the better.

    Tony Hale
    Redondo Beach, California, USA

  21. 21 Will Rhodes
    March 7, 2008 at 23:52

    Those are two entries from my blog – are they racist or are they personal opinions?

    I had mail from people through the contact section who said I was racist toward the French and because I do believe in patriotism to ones nation – odd how people think.

    If you want to be rid of such things as racism you must open up a real debate on it and let people speak, that way you will get to the bottom of its cause.

    Collying that we shouldn’t do this is not a way forward – yes, racism is bad and indeed wrong, but I know why I think that, but do I know why you do? Until this can be brough into a full and general discussion then it is here to stay.

    A program that did well in this and other matters was “Devil’s Advocate” hosted by Darcus Howe – it was excellent programming.



  22. 22 Syed Hasan Turab
    March 8, 2008 at 20:26

    Infact Democracy is mother of disrimination, racism & double standard of law. The theory of majority rule always abuse the minorities physically & emotionally, all Democratic abuses introduce a theory of “A” & “B” class citizens living in same culrure, society & country.
    In prevailing Democracies of the world Discrimination & double standard of law is appearing as hump in spinal cord of Democrcy.
    No doubt Democracy is a most difficult system of Government & problems can be fixed by way of upgrading the standard otherwise ballet power will turn against ballet because of never ending list of crimes against humanity under Democratic flag.

  23. 23 bida
    March 9, 2008 at 11:47

    only if man will put aside his idenitity. For as long as we identify ourselves as who we are, it will be in society. it only is natural

  24. 24 Ros Atkins
    March 10, 2008 at 11:16

    I think that individuals can work on eliminating racism within themselves. I don’t think that “society” can get rid of racism. There’s just too much riding on the benefits that some derive from promoting racism to see it disappear on the social level.
    Scott in the States

  25. March 12, 2008 at 03:37

    I guess that some people just like in George Orwells ‘Animal Farm’ honestly believe they r better than others, i know of chat sites on the internet where u find a person saying on their profile something like ‘Africans and Asians dont bother inboxing me coz i won’t reply’ en i vividly remember one day while in college we went 2 do some research with a white lady from South Africa, i’m Kenyan and never knew the magnitude of racism in South Africa, in a vehicle seat for 3 back passengers, the good lady huddled herself near the car door creating for herself so large a gap that our bodies never touched despite the bumpy ride. She was a university professor…and again there are wonderful people, simple children of God who never mind interacting freely with whoever they meet en whenever they do. Like in India, colour segregation is the most common but it can easily be overcome as long as the moral fabric of society is raised to give people the right conscience en attitude 2 each other despite our differences

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