‘Presumption of Humanity’ to End Discrimination:

Moving from a Conditional Inclusivity to
a Non-Exclusivity Model

MAY 2021

If I grew my hair out, I would grow an afro stereotypically associated with African Americans.

If I cut it short enough, I could probably pass as Peruvian or East European. I was born in Canada, I was raised in and mainly identify as being from Jordan and my ethnicity is a mixture of Circassian and Palestinian. Only maybe if I grew a beard would I be recognized as an Arab because only then would I look close enough to the stereotypical “terrorists” that CNN or Fox News show daily on their media platforms.

 

Does any of that change who I am and what I am capable of? Frankly, yes! I am not insinuating, in any way, that these made-up categories determine an individual’s worth. I am driving at the fact that society constantly comes up with labels that divide individuals based on their passports, skin colour, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation…etc. And when these divisions fail to segregate people, we come up with new subcategories that would tear us even further apart.

AUTHOR

Hamzeh Naghawi,

UofMosaic

Regional President


Cohort: 2019-2021

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Systemic Discrimination Still Very Much Alive

The unfortunate truth is that in the 21st century, only white people – and maybe those who would “pass for white” – can smoothly navigate through daily life activities. People of color, on the other hand, face prejudiced incidents almost every time they are in public – sometimes leading to as far as sustaining a permanent injury or even getting nonchalantly murdered. These daily “minor” occurrences like verbal altercations can foster frustration and enmity. Such emotions have the power to split society and bring it down to its knees. I realize that people become who they are because they grapple with society’s misconceptions. I might realize it! Maybe you do too! But does the rest of the world?

 

According to the US bureau of justice statistics (BJS), 56% of the correctional population in the USA is African American or Hispanic although they only constitute 32% of the general population.
 

A study conducted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) found that African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of Whites, and that if they had similar incarceration rates, the jail population would drop by almost 40%. Similarly, Ivan Zinger, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, concluded that Correctional Services Canada (CSC) policies discriminate against women, Indigenous, Black and racialized individuals leaving them ill-prepared to reintegrate in their communities and at a higher risk of reoffending. The 46th Annual Report released in 2019 also shows that Black and Indigenous people are significantly overrepresented in the Canadian correctional system.

History of Racism as a Sociopolitical Construct

These are just a few of the uncountable figures that shed some light on the discriminatory system that we set up for ourselves. Western States Center describes the concept of ‘race’ as a false political construction that was created by humans to give power to White people and legitimize their dominance over Non-White people. Catholics and Protestants disagreed on the humanity of Blacks and Indians and described them as ‘soulless and pagan.’

 

As people of colour started converting to Christianity, this argument was quickly replaced by pseudo-scientific theories to justify the atrocities that were committed. The extinction of some native communities around the world in the 19th century due to diseases introduced by white colonizers validated JC Prichard’s views that “these savage races could not be saved. It was the law of nature.” In his book, Savage Africa, W. Winwood Reade predicted that “Africans will probably become extinct” and proceeded to say that “it illustrates the beneficent law of nature, that the weak must be devoured by the strong.”

Robert Knox in The Races of Man: A Fragment, tried to endorse popular prejudice by wedging it into a scientific framework. His argument was that “there must be a physical and psychological inferiority in the dark races because they have been the slaves of those lighter skinned since the beginning of history.” He based this on only one man of color’s autopsy which he claimed to have revealed a normal-sized brain with “a lack of quality in it.” His work then developed into the Eugenics movement that not only segregated people according to race, but also prohibited inter-racial marriage and called for sterilizing the “genetically unfit” people of colour.

In 1916, Dr. Woods Hutchinson published a paper to assure those who “pass for white” that they can marry a white person without the need to be concerned about the colour of their children’s skin. Apart from the derogatory terms used in the paper (figure 1), it encouraged the creation of more restrictive measures on inter-racial marriages and prompted the formation of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 to introduce racial registration certificates and to formally define what being “White” means.

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This long history of racism across the globe lead to it being embedded within the fabric of our so-called tolerant society. An example would be the concept of ‘Cognitive Underclass’ introduced by Charles Murray and Richard Hernstein in their 1990s bestseller, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. The authors claimed that social inequities are an inevitable product of biology, where people of color naturally lie towards the left tail of the bell distribution. They even argued that poverty and social misconduct are dictated by the genetic inferiority of people of color and went as far as criminalizing it.

Minorities account for the majority

In a nutshell, I can only say that contemporary society has a vicious tendency to victimize anything that is considered to be even slightly foreign. A lot of times, people choose to reject a person’s identity as it is established by their own actions and good will. Instead, society deliberately champions discrimination through race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation or some other random trait. Depending on these factors, different societies alienate different groups of people. This interaction is so immense that it holds the power to nurture arrogance, or the power to plunge some groups into an abyss of isolation.

 

We might have accepted these prejudiced laws for too long because people of color are misguidedly believed to be a minority. However, according to the Center for American Progress, people of color represent 40% of the US population today and are projected to make up just over half (50.3%) of it by the year 2044. This is one of many examples on how society can be (un)intentionally misled by the way data is presented. People of color are often divided into smaller ethnic or racial groups when discussing oppression or community empowerment, in an attempt to devalue their cause. Thus, uniting these groups can have a synergistic effect on building a powerful movement against discrimination and intolerance.

An Alternative Approach to End Discrimination

To take it a step further, we have to create an even stronger movement to end discrimination and intolerance. This can only be done by getting all humans to stand behind that cause. We should foster an environment of non-exclusivity, where we need not compare every individual we meet to today’s definition of a standard human before we can include them and accept them as equal. We have to start by demolishing this idea of a “standard human,” which, for some reason, happens to be a heterosexual, cisgender, White, Christian male despite the fact that the majority of people living on earth today are not heterosexual, cisgender, White, Christian males. 

 

Today’s model for fighting discrimination follows the principle of giving whichever group that struggles hard and long enough the privilege to be considered human and grant them equal rights by law. Alternatively, adopting an approach where everyone is considered human and is granted equal rights by law without needing to struggle on behalf of the group to which they belong is the only ethical and, as a matter of fact, logical way to establish a discrimination-free world. To me, it is absurd that we need a law to decriminalize inter-racial marriages, while marriages between green-eyed and brown-eyed individuals are readily permissible by law. This further confirms that race is an arbitrary sociopolitical construct that we haphazardly invented to divide ourselves, and that these groups could have looked much more different if we had chosen another characteristic – such as language, as they did in Ancient Rome – as the basis for division.

 

In summary, this novel approach adopts ‘presumption of humanity’ as the norm by assuming that every individual is born equal and worthy of the full rights of a human being.  Every individual is entitled to their humanity by simply existing. It eradicates the idea that individuals need to prove that they are worthy of inclusion before being considered human. People will never have to convince their fellow humans of their humanity ever again. By shifting from conditional inclusivity to non-exclusivity, we essentially legalize being different and decriminalize self-expression.

 

This is why, we should refuse to give in to the norms of society and box ourselves within a never-ending list of pretend classifications that it imposes on us. We are humans who have been given the good fortune and education to account for others’ mistakes. We all make mistakes, but are we all willing to shoulder the responsibility to amend them? I would like to think that our purpose at hand is much larger: We must inspire others to do the same and advocate for the rights of those who are powerless. That statement of intent defines who we are more completely than our passports or skin color does, and maybe, the world should come to terms with that.

Humans through Thick and Thin

There is something paradoxical about our human society that unsettles me. Whenever any individual makes an achievement, we relentlessly insist on taking credit for it by aligning ourselves with that individual through another arbitrary category. However, we struggle to make peace amongst ourselves because we have not yet established what being human entails. This is why Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991. This is why the European Union failed to unite and abandoned Italy in its early fight against COVID-19. This is why the USA further tightened sanctions imposed on Iran despite seeing innocent civilians dying as a direct result of these policies.

 

The time has come for us to better grasp what being human means. Otherwise, we do not have the right to take pride in the achievements of those whom we do not call our own. ‘Humanity’ needs to become a non-exclusive term that embraces all individuals and celebrates its own diversity. It is time to refute the idea that “apples and oranges are different objects and thus could not be added” – in other words, an apple and an orange make two fruits just like you and I make two human beings. We must stand by this definition and do it justice.

 

The winds of 2020 have swept the world with change. It would be foolish of us to neglect this ripe opportunity to define who we are. Winston Churchill once said, “courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” It is time that we start listening to each other, respect each other’s needs, and respond to each other’s cries. If we cannot do that, then we have no dignity left in being human.

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Meet Hamzeh Naghawi

My name is Hamzeh Naghawi and I am a medical doctor doing a master’s in experimental surgery and surgical education at McGill University.

I joined the UofMosaic as a regional president to learn from pioneers in the field of conflict resolution and acquire the necessary skills to instill transformative changes around me. For my research paper, I outline some of the major historical events that contributed to the creation of today’s understanding of ‘race’ as a made-up sociopolitical construct.

 

The paper then delineate the systemic discrimination that is still present in North America, despite the presence of multiple laws that should protect people of color’s rights. The topic employs all the competencies adopted by the UofMosaic and highlights the themes of global citizenship, and diversity and inclusion – or rather non-exclusion, as I describe it here. I finally propose an alternative approach that could be adopted to celebrate our diversity as humans without the need to justify our differences.