The Root of Racism

Origin and Solution

Matt Joo
16 min readSep 22, 2021


Many might dismiss racism as human nature, but the history of racism only spans centuries. There are no historical records, nor evidence found for the proof that racism existed in other cultures than the west before the modern era. But you don’t need historical evidence to prove that the root of racism stems from western individualism.

There is one country that is infamous for racism, not only in today’s media, but historically since its inception, and to no one’s surprise, it is America. It really is challenging to avoid the topic of racism while living in America, especially as a minority. I am a Korean American, and perhaps being an East Asian is the easiest way to be objective about it, considering that many East Asian countries practiced isolationism until the modern era. In layman’s terms, isolationism is the reason why East Asians weren’t “in the race war” until now.

For the sake of length, this writing will mainly focus on American racism, specifically the racism against African Americans, and dissecting the cultural DNA. This writing will identify the root cause of racism, and also the solution. But even if we assume that the solution is humanly possible, should racism be solved? And at what cost?

Brief Origins of African American Identity

African Americans were brought to America as slaves mostly from West Africa. Through slavery, they entirely lost their identity and culture, including the “Nigerian-variant” of linguistic features, cuisine, traditions, and etc. For example, African American Vernacular English, and West African languages like Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, etc, do not show any similarity: not in grammar, not in intonation, not in expression.

Also, soul food and cajun cuisine do not show any hint of overlap with staple West African dishes like jollof rice, egusi, or fufu. You may argue this is because of the geographical ingredient differences, and it might be partially true, but in reality, as slaves, they had to cook western food for their white masters, and eat the leftovers. As such, the only culture that remained for African Americans was a western individualistic culture of being slaves, uneducated and poor. And as culture and wealth, or the lack thereof, flowed generation by generation, this culture stayed.

Western Individualistic Culture vs World’s Collectivistic Culture

If you or your family are from Asia, anywhere from the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, many parts of Africa, or every region that did not completely collapse to extensive culture-deleting Western colonialism, you come from a collectivistic culture. Common traits amongst the collectivist cultures are its long historical origins and the sheer complexity in its rules and traditions. This complexity is not present in an individualistic culture.

An analogy I’d like to draw is, 0 is a number that notates the lack of number. Comparing collectivism to individualism is like comparing 1 to 0. They are both numbers, meaning they are both cultures, but one has centralized, universal sets of rules to follow, and the other does not. Every cultural characteristic you see in individualism exists purely through individuals and their ideas, whereas in collectivism, there is an omnipresent, yet intangible energy that defines how you should live, act, love, eat, etc.

The west very often uses these cultural differences as they see it to morally judge other cultures with the excuse of human rights. To mention a couple of examples, strict parenting, arranged marriages, religious intolerance, and etc. Also, the west very often refers to itself as the “free world”. This perspective of the “free” vs “not-free” is extremely dangerous, and it is what democratically justified western colonialism and racism. The topic of colonialism will not be discussed in this writing, however, the reason why collectivistic cultures are not exactly “not-free” will be addressed later.

There are exceptions though, especially in European nations adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea, where there were a lot of trades, influences, and/or annexations from Middle Eastern and Muslim cultures, i.e Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Carthage, Andalusian Spain, Umayyad Caliphate, etc. Their culture, while still mostly individualistic, has been diluted with collectivist traits. This is the reason why Greek and Italian cultures, for example, are similarly family-oriented as their middle eastern neighbors. Again, for the sake of length, and because of the complexity behind European vs American cultures, the “west” will mostly refer to America.

This is also the case the other way, as in, many earlier middle eastern settlements might have shown traits of individualism due to Hellenic and Roman influences, though still collectivistic at the root. Additionally, modern-day westernization that is happening across Asia did indeed dilute the distinct collectivist and individualistic cultures, especially for Asians living in the west.

The DNA of African American Culture

In the case of African Americans, their history only started from slavery, as anything prior was wiped out. This is in contrast to the European settlers in America, who knew where they came from, and the languages, cuisines, and traditions their background is based on.

Because of this, African Americans were not granted the same time to define their identity like literally all other ethnicities on earth did, nor a chance to fully define their identity and culture outside of the framework of slavery and the struggle.

Indeed, similar could be said about pre-Columbian American natives, but unlike British settlements, Spanish settlements intermixed with the natives more, resulting in some survival of the indigenous culture and identity, often grouped as Amerindians. Also, African slaves that were brought to Latin America still show some African characteristics today.

This isn’t to dismiss the cultural identity African Americans created. Soul music, rap music, jazz, African American social dynamics, cuisines, and so many more are things that African Americans are rightfully proud of and impacted the entire world with, particularly through popular culture. They were able to create this culture despite the oppression. It is created through their sheer will for survival and persistent fight against racism.

But because it was still created under the premise of slavery and being in poverty, many aspects of African American culture tend to be related to music, dancing, social interactions, and sports. All of which that only requires a group of people and not a single monetary structure.

This is the reason why some African Americans oppose other races using and consuming the culture they created, for example, non-African American rap artists. Some call this “reverse racism”, thus racism, and condemn it. However, this is not racism, but a reactionary defense mechanism against one. Some African Americans often want to measure the severity of racism received, and dismiss racism received by other races, but this is also the same defense mechanism.

Additionally, just with the reason of skin color, African Americans often want to group themselves with Africans from Africa, or other blacks of different regions, like Afro-Latinos, etc, despite the immense cultural differences. This is also the same reactionary mechanism.

If you were to be technically isolative, you may label this as racism, however, that is because African American culture at its root is western individualism. And also note that this does not only apply to African people but all races, if contacted by individualism.

All cultures have their strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses of a culture that stemmed from slavery are unfortunately predictable. Even considering the factual systemic oppression, mass incarceration of blacks for modern-day slavery, and lack of economic funding across multiple African American communities around the country, there isn’t an internal cultural structure within African American communities to lift each other up in a permanent and sustainable way, in terms of emphasis on education, family, and more.

Can we then use the weaknesses of their culture to fault the African Americans for not staying in school, resorting to violence, and having broken family problems? No, we should really fault the root instead, which is the culture that originated from slavery.

Though African American culture at its root is western individualism, because of the overarching premise of slavery based on race, they have developed collectivistic traits within their culture. Some of them are: to speak like a white person in front of non-black people in order to be taken seriously, to speak like a black person in front of black people in order to be taken seriously, to not reach for your pocket when the police pull you over, to question police’s actions before justifying it as law, and so on.

Looking at these cultural traits, there is an anarchic, rebellious nature and an instinct to disobey the law within African American culture. But, when the laws were made to enslave them and oppress them, can we blame them? If slavery was the law made against your kind, wouldn’t you grow to be rebellious together with your kind too? Was it right or was it wrong to disobey and break the law of slavery?

To put it bluntly, any race, any ethnicity, any species under the same circumstances would’ve grown the same “flaws” in the culture they create. Meaning faulting specifically the blacks for their cultural flaws stemming from slavery itself is racist.

The Root Cause of Racism

Making a change in law takes a second. Making a change in culture can take up to infinity. The responsibility of America’s past wrongdoings goes to the current government. But the lack of systemic support to reeducate and lift up the black communities across America is factual. So why isn’t the government doing the right thing? Is it really as simple as invisible White Supremacist groups/individuals having control or having a significant impact on the government? Or is there perhaps a responsibility in the entire race of White Americans, commonly phrased as “white guilt”? Are all these even done on purpose?

The problem is, western individualism just doesn’t allow for a collectivist perspective. Racism is a problem of an entire racial group(s), not individuals. To even recognize the existence of this problem, we need to be able to talk about race from a big picture, not individuals to individuals.

White Americans do not recognize the problems of their own culture, because they think it is just those individuals being racist and has nothing to do with them at all. But as we compared, 0 is also a number. A culture that allows for “high individual variance” is at fault if it allows racist acts to go unbothered, and unpressured. In other words, the “that’s none of my business” and “I don’t judge you, why do you judge me” mindset enables ideas like racism to survive and spread through generation by generation.

This “minding his/her own business” mindset keeps people in their own comfort zone. The most important idea of the west is doing what you want to do and enjoying your own choices, preferences, and “freedom”. The majority of White Americans don’t need to know or care about things that don’t affect them. As a result, they are ignorant of other cultures, others’ perspectives, history, and ethnic/racial issues. This is also replicated in Western history books. “World History” really only deals with the history that affected Europe and North America, either directly, or indirectly. History that did not contribute to the Western identity is omitted and treated as niche history. It goes without saying that this is also replicated in western news, media, pop culture, politics, international relations, and etc.

Also, when a white person with western individualism encounters numerous African Americans and sees a cultural pattern, including its flaws, they associate these cultural traits with the race, and not with the culture, because again, individualism does not allow such perspective. This type of viewpoint is only possible with individualism, meaning racism can only be created and maintained by individualism.

Now you might want to say something like “racism existed in other cultures too.” Hate is hate, and are all equally bad, but every culture has different hate. Africa had hate based on tribes/family/ethnic identity, the Middle East had religion (and race later on, due to Hellenic and Roman Influences), South Asian cultures had ethnocentrism, classism, and religion, race later on its history from Arab invasions and British colonialism, East Asia had ethnocentrism /nationalism and classism. And we don’t know what Native Americans, pacific islanders, Maori, etc really had, because of the culture-deleting western colonialism.

The culture of Europe/West is individualistic without a universally omnipresent cultural structure, so the hate is based on an individual’s face value, i.e. what we are born with, like skin color, race, sex, ethnic-tied physical/facial features. In contrast, hate in collectivist cultures is based on the omnipresent cultural structure that is a step above what we are directly born with, i.e. hate based on social hierarchy like the perception of wealth, caste system, religious identity, gender roles of the overall society, and so on. All equally bad, but different nonetheless.

Racism might exist in other parts of the world today due to westernization, but at its root, racism enacted by a white person and a non-white person is fundamentally different. White people’s racism is purely racial, whereas others’ racism is mixed with culture, religion, the perception of wealth, ethnic identity, nationality, premature stereotypes, historic animosity, etc. Again, all are equally bad, but the root can be traced. No other time in history nowhere else was there a unification of a race to conquer another race, as it happened in Europe against Africa.

The flaws of Individualism

Note that what I am saying isn’t about what culture is “better”. While it is true that collectivist culture can be at least a temporary solution to a lot of Western social problems, like racism, sexism, gun control/mass shootings, terrorism, etc, the opposite is true for collectivist cultures. A lot of social problems in a collectivist culture are related to having too many rules and cultural structures, which results in decreased individual happiness, and even in some countries, like South Korea, leads to high suicide rates.

So ironically, the solution for the collectivist culture comes from the individualistic culture, and vice versa. To address these issues, and through Westernization, many Asian countries are already adopting individualistic cultural traits to at least be proactive in their solutions, even if it won’t be permanent. Why isn’t the west doing the same?

Individualistic culture excels at bringing constant change, while collectivist culture naturally seeks balance. In other words, Individualistic culture is incapable of achieving balance, and is in need of constant solutions, like racism vs diversity, sexism vs feminism, unhealthy cuisine vs western medicine, data privacy vs AI machine-learning, poverty vs free-market economy, left-wing vs right-wing, and so on. Though in many ways this is a bad thing, in its unbalanced process, innovations occur.

Through western colonialism, ideologies, and pop culture, individualistic culture has successfully unbalanced the collectivist cultures, demanding change. The further westernization of collectivist cultures today is the result of that unbalance, to balance itself out again. Isn’t it about time individualistic culture seeks balance as well?

Undoubtedly, individualistic culture deserves credit for modern innovations and scientific advancements. Because the individuals are self-focused, it enables for high self-confidence and happiness. These are great and highly desirable cultural traits, and it’s one of the reasons why countries like Sweden are thriving with happiness. But because America is not a homogenous society, and thus multiracial and multicultural, and because of the preexisting race issue, this culture of ‘happiness at the expense of self-justified ignorance’ unfortunately cannot stay, as this might be the root of the phrase “white privilege”.

Accordingly, the only other solution while maintaining pure individualistic culture is to get rid of racial differences entirely, meaning to become homogeneous. Obviously, that solution isn’t acceptable for the modern world, and it is a specific philosophical path as to how individualistic culture reached racism to begin with. As we know, this specific path of logic to reach racial purity, or racial homogeneousness, has been practiced relatively recently in our history.

Everything has a reason, and so did Nazism. If in theory Hitler was successful in his mission, and massacred every other race except for the European Aryan, and deleting all collectivist cultures with it, racism really would have been eliminated. And knowing the isolative nature of individualistic culture, Hitler would have been credited for eliminating racism and creating an individualistic utopia, which are all facts, and would go down as a hero in history.

As such, the rhetoric of “all lives matter”, “the one human race”, “equality”, “I see no color”, and any other ideas to ignore the factual differences, while sounds beautiful in idea, is horrific in practice, and further encourages the ignorance of different cultures and racial/identity issues.

The Solution

As one of the most diverse nations on earth, there is a need for the modern-day western culture in America to accept collectivism, for the sake of minorities and to get rid of the immediate race problems in America, especially for African Americans, who never had the chance to define themselves outside of the framework of slavery and the struggle.

One tangible implementation of this solution is to introduce a universal social code of conduct that must be followed by all individuals to be interested in differences, so it naturally drives curiosity of different races and cultures and normalizes the differences. The ‘all individuals must’ part will initially sound like a big red flag to the west. But if followed through, it will become the norm over time. Once it becomes the norm, it will no longer be a conscious decision, and that is exactly how collectivist culture works. As you can see, you are not exactly “not-free” or “less-free”, you are just differently free.

Admittedly, this is both idealistic and unrealistic, as changing a culture not only takes money and power to control the media over a long period of time but also, isn’t completely controllable. But thankfully, it is slowly happening, because minorities with collectivist cultures are making an impact in all fields and aspects of the country. This is the reason why there is a sense of progress in inclusion. Individualism alone is incapable of it. Diversity is the answer, not so much racial, but cultural diversity. Racial diversity, if focused on the race part, will only fuel racism.

The above is just one severely simplified example implementation of introducing collectivist traits to individualistic culture. There can be infinitely more ways, and they can be infinitely stacked with each other. But the implementations that will not work would be things like “all individuals shouldn’t be racist” or “all individuals should learn black history”, because these rules themselves acknowledge the existence of racism, and thus it won’t disappear. Just like when the Bible explicitly says not to do certain exact things, because we are aware of the exact things not to do, we end up doing it, as we saw in European history.

Then you might think, introducing more of these rules would address so many social problems in the west, and that is correct. However, we can learn from other currently existing collectivist cultures that there is a point where the rules become “too much”.

The more “rules” a culture has, even if they were to be “perfect rules”, the less individualism it allows, and the resulting self-dissatisfaction that comes from it. Since the modern world, as I mentioned above, is already interconnected and the distinct individualistic and collectivist cultures are already diluted, individualism is already in the consciousness of those who are in collectivist cultures.

Because they are aware of the possibility of individualism, the temptation of wanting it won’t go away. And thus, the breaking point of when these cultural rules become “too much” comes relatively quickly. In the end, as many Eastern Philosophers say, it’s all about balance.

Concluding Thoughts

This perspective, the identification of the root cause, and the solution does not solve all human problems. It is specific to eliminating racism, at the expense of introducing different social problems. For example, just to give a simple tangible social problem that might be introduced, if the implementation was ‘all must be interested in differences’, the problem might be having some individuals dislike themselves.

All hate is equal, but I’d like to argue that hate based on the complex human constructs, like religion, or wealth class, is at least better than hate based on race, simply because hate based on human construct can at least, in theory, be changed by human choices, while one’s race should never even be considered for change.

Truth is, very little in this world is a result of what we are directly born with, like skin color, race, sex, but it has everything to do with the human-constructed framework around it, like culture, religion, nationality, colorism, racism, and sexism. We are all just products of culture(s). No human existence can escape it. Culture is the blueprint and formula in which we are produced out of. The variance in individuals is determined by the blueprint and the formula. High variance, like with the case of the individualistic culture, allows individuals for innovations, great arts, etc, but also allows for terrible things, like colonialism, and racism. What do we value more?

Too Long Didn’t Read

The root of racism is Western individualistic culture and the solution is to dilute its individualistic nature with collectivism. A realistic implementation of this solution is to promote cultural diversity, but not focused on racial diversity. Note: Dilution is very different from replacement.

TLDR for engineers and computer nerds (encompasses all logic in the whole writing): Individualistic culture provides high human variance, and no universal ruleset, as a result, the anomaly in the equation is very close to the root, i.e. hate based on what we are born with, like race, sex, skin color. collectivist culture provides low human variance, and a lot of universal rule sets, as a result, anomalies in the equation are within the rule sets, like hate based on religion, perception of class, etc. If the scope of the objective is to eliminate racism, and specifically focus on racism, we need to introduce rulesets to the equation of Individualistic culture to lessen the variance in humans and create anomalies that are more complex than anomalies from the root, so that hate is no longer purely racial. In more literal terms, if the software does not utilize APIs, libraries, and frameworks, the errors come from the handwritten code or more fundamental things like compiler errors. If the software heavily relies on the use of APIs, libraries, and frameworks, then the errors come from either those frameworks themselves or its implementation. For other solutions, change the scope of the objective, then run the brain again. If the scope is too big, null will be returned. All solutions will introduce new anomalies.

Parting Thoughts

For the purpose of length, a lot of topics in this writing are severely simplified. There are a lot of “rules” in individualistic culture too, such as closing one’s mouth while chewing. Though there are differences between rules in individualistic and collectivistic cultures.

Also, I could not properly get into the differences between American vs Europe’s individualistic cultures, because yes indeed, modern cultures in Europe and America are very different.

Lastly, I frequently referred to individualistic culture having “high variance in humans” to simplify the logic, but in reality, people will be different no matter the culture, just like there are the same amount of numbers between 0 to 100, and 0 to 1.

Discussion and Feedback

I am open to discussion on any of the points made in this writing. Please leave your thoughts below, or email me at

I shared this writing with my friends, seeking feedback and discussions. Here are their reactions. But they are my lovely friends. I am looking for brutality. Please challenge my thoughts and make my perspective better! Also, I am not a writer, and my writings are not succinct enough, so suggestions there would also be greatly appreciated. Thank you for reading.

Feedback of the writing from my friends