Racism explained to an alien

& Pepe Danquart's Oscar-winning 1992 short film Schwarzfahrer.

Dear alien,

first of all, it was quite a humorous experience to find out you also call us “aliens”. In English, we have come up with the name “humans” for our species. What about you, have you also chosen a random name for yourselves?

To be honest, I’m not quite sure what predisposition I should adopt towards you. Is your interest towards our species inspired by a harmless and hopefully beneficial process of a mutual acquaintance, or did you maybe have more in mind the detection of an effective way to perpetrate our imminent, brutal extermination?

In the latter case, I’m sorry to say I might ultimately decide to block you from my social media.

However, for the time being, since you took the trouble of learning one of our languages, and courteously asked how I was, I thought I might attempt a courteous answer.

I am fairly well, thank you. To be completely honest though, several things deeply trouble my mind these days. For instance one of my lifelong friends, who has just had a child with her partner, recently recounted to me and her partner a remark she and their baby had recently received in a shop from a clerk, who thought it important to evaluate the outer layer of one of their organs.

Indeed, the organ’s importance is indisputable to terrestrial creatures. But despite its life-allowing and life-saving role of simultaneously serving as a vital barrier against harmful external agents, guaranteeing hydration to cells, regulating body temperature and informing the brain of all the possible feelings conveyed by the sense of touch, the organ’s infamous stardom between humans seems to depend more on its chemical learning to accommodate different quantities of a molecule called melanin.

The amount of the molecule melanin seems to be produced in direct proportion to the organ’s ancestral exposition to the star we have called the sun, hence to what we have called solar UV radiation, and protects the organ with according intensity from UV radiation-related threats. Different amounts of the molecule melanin, which is a pigment, give the organ different tonalities, but, above all, a pretext to its beneficiaries for discriminating each other based on the random colour in which they result to human sight.

The aforementioned organ is called skin. The visible layer of the organ skin is called epidermis.

The random concentration of the molecule melanin in epidermises happens to be the surreal main character of many, many real earthly stories. Including the one recently reported to me by my friend, that features the chromatic characteristics attributed by the molecule melanin to the epidermises of a male clerk, a father, a mother, and their baby.

The amount of melanin in the male clerk’s epidermis results to human sight in a pale tonality of brown.

The amount of melanin in the father’s epidermis results to human sight in a pale tonality of pink.

The amount of melanin in the mother’s epidermis results to human sight in a rich tonality of brown.

The amount of melanin in their baby’s epidermis results to human sight in a pale tonality of pink, with an extremely subtle pigmentation of a light shade of brown.

Even before the baby was born, especially from the pale-pink-epidermis people surrounding the couple, there was much explicit or implicit speculation on what shade of colour the baby’s epidermis would inherit from the biological merging of his parents’ genes. The speculation, as I personally witnessed, continued even when, in a hospital corridor, people were waiting to welcome the baby – indeed – into this nonsensical world.

Sure enough, after the baby’s birth, the explicit or implicit speculation on his epidermis’ colour have unsurprisingly become explicit or implicit remarks on it. But it turns out that those remarks don’t only come from the pale-pink-epidermis people.

As the mother of the baby recounted, she was buying goods with the baby at a local shop, when its pale-brown-epidermis clerk nonchalantly remarked that the baby was very lucky to have acquired more of his paternal pale-pink-epidermis’ colour, rather than his maternal rich-brown-epidermis’ colour. When the mother of the child asked why he would think that, the pale-brown-epidermis clerk confidently assured her that: “The more one is white, the more one is beautiful”.

Indeed, discrimination based on colours of epidermises happens here not only between people with a very different concentration of melanin but between people with a less different concentration of melanin who discriminate those with a slightly different amount or kind of it. Many people today are even led to discriminate their own amount of melanin, and bleach their epidermises with chemical products.

The origin of discrimination based on epidermis colour seems to be deeply rooted in traumatic historical events occurred throughout this planet in the last centuries. But its blood-drenched tree nonetheless flourished to the present day, and the stench of its poisonous fruits is already being inhaled by the future, if, as it seems, a new-born baby is eligible to hear not that he is beautiful, but that the colour of his epidermis is. Not that the colour of his epidermis is beautiful per se, but that it’s more beautiful than his mother’s.

Still, it could have been even more beautiful. It could have been exactly like his father’s.

Bad, bad melanin! How dare you heartlessly ignore our ludicrous cultural biases by providing us with the exact quantity of you we need to be most protected from skin cancer after you investigated the issue for approximately 1.2 million years? Silly, naughty melanin! We know better than to wholeheartedly embrace you, you foolish, tasteless, inconsiderate molecule.

That is what, dear alien, we call a “rant” in English. Of course, one can rant in any other language too, and pretty much about everything. If you are interested in listening to a rant in the German language, and, simultaneously be given a fictional example of epidermis-colour-based discrimination – which happens pretty much everywhere on this planet, and is typically called “racism” – you might want to watch a short film called “Schwarzfahrer”.

The 12-minute short film was directed by a German filmmaker called Pepe Danquart in what was for us the year 1992, and was awarded several very important prizes, including what we call an Academy Award. Shot in Berlin, the short film, which was allegedly inspired by an anecdote, features a group of people trying to momentarily coexist in a streetcar despite their epidermis’ colour.

A streetcar is a means for public transportation. Public transportation is not free, which means that, if you want to use it, you have to have a piece of paper called “ticket”, that certifies that, in exchange for that piece of paper, you have sacrificed another piece of paper, or of metal, called “money”, by giving it to someone else who will give it up for something else, and so on.

In some places, you can get the ticket directly on public transport. In others, you have to get it beforehand, and, occasionally a ticket inspector will come by to see if you have it with you. If you don’t, he gives you a piece of paper called a “fine”, which means that you have to give up a lot more money than you would have had to if you got the ticket in the first place, and that will most likely provoke a feeling of deep bitterness inside you.

I’m explaining this so you will understand the subtleties of the short film’s title. “Schwarzfahrer” in German means two things, and in this case it is a wordplay. “Schwarzfahrer” means both “black rider” and “fare dodger”. “Black rider” is referred to the dark-epidermis character in the short film who is riding in the streetcar and who in real life is an artist called Paul Outlaw. “Fare dodger” means someone who uses public transport without having a ticket. I don’t want to spoil the brilliant ending of the short film for you, so I’ll say no more. But I hope you understand wordplays, and I hope you’ll see the short film.

That was another wordplay, because I meant two things. On one hand, I hope you’ll take the time to watch the short film. On the other, I’m not sure how your sense of sight works, and if you see the black and white colours used in the short film. Maybe you see completely different colours than humans do. If that were the case, of course epidermis-colour-based discrimination will appear an utterly gratuitous and senseless absurdity to you. But please don’t try to wrap your head around it, because, in any case, it is.

Racism explained to an alien
5 (100%) 1 vote
Categories
Films from the Bucket
Isaac K. Wilde

Isaac is an Italian soon-to-be social work student, with a targetless passion for whatever strives to bring meaning in his life and in the life of others. His previous academic studies have involved cognitive psychology and modern literature. He is currently teaching English, writing short stories, and being publicly dispossessed of his true name by an on-going feud with shyness, hence his writing on WIB with an otherwise unnecessary pseudonym such as Isaac K. Wilde.
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