America and the world are in a hurry to find a vaccine and a cure for the coronavirus. Recently, some reports say that there may be something by the end of the year, which we all hope comes true. If so, that will happen about the time a new president will be installed in USA. Hopefully, he will have clear plans for how to fight racism, discrimination and inequality. Unfortunately, to find a vaccine and cure for that is further away than to end corona, as we indeed have seen recently in the tragic George Floyd case in Minneapolis. As seen over time, racism, discrimination and inequality are more deadly than corona, with direct and visible effects, as well as indirect and invisible effects.

We have all come to see Apartheid, and certainly Nazism, as unacceptable, cruel ideologies and regimes. After 27 years in prison, the legendary black apartheid opponent Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) was released in 1990 and became South Africa’s first majority President from 1994-1999. (See his book ‘Long Walk to Freedom’.)

In America, the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, under the leadership of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), saved USA, with its many segregation laws and apartheid-like thinking, from becoming another unacceptable regime. Much has been done since then to produce justice and greater equality for all. Yet, the brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis a few weeks ago indicates that there is still a long way to go. Demonstrators in USA tell their leaders that it is indeed time to do more. Also, demonstrations in Europe and all corners of the world, sometimes even overstepping corona rules, are indeed heart-warming manifestations. There is some racism and discrimination, although to varying degrees in all countries. And there are deep and growing class and other inequalities in many fields, often being different sides of the same coin.

In my home country Norway, with about twenty percent immigrants, and about half of them from quite far-away countries, there is little discrimination, and the police is much less brutal than American police. Also, the police education is a three-year BA degree (while in some US states it is down to three months). The quite comprehensive Norwegian pre-service training includes many broad subjects of importance, such as psychology, peace and conflict studies, social science subjects, and more. Today, about fifty percent of trainees are women, and a good proportion comes from immigrant backgrounds. However, immigrants may also be discriminated against by the police, such as being stopped more often than people looking ethnic Norwegian. Also, people say that it can be more difficult to be called for a job interview if you are called Ali rather than Ola, or Maryam rather than Maria. On the other hand, there are thousands of immigrant lawyers, doctors, engineers, and so on. There are top politicians from immigrant backgrounds, such as Abid Raja, who is the minister of culture, and Hadia Tajik, who has held that post and is now the deputy chair of the Labour Party, the country’s largest political party.

When we talk about inequality, with direct and indirect forms of discrimination, we should remind ourselves of the duty we have to educate ourselves about social and political issues. We should learn about social and economic issues in society; we must be able to see what it is that makes some people do well and others not so well, and also being unable to climb the ladder and enjoy social mobility. Also, we must understand that there cannot be total capitalist freedom in any country; in our time, we must work for improved regulations so that structures can be developed to reach more equality.

Many black Americans, who are about 40 million in a total population of about 330 million, are economically disadvantaged at the outset, for example, not having any assets to own their own homes. Thus, they can also not get loans to buy a better home in a better neighbourhood, having to stay in challenged neighbourhoods with high crime rates, substance abuse, and other things, often caused by unemployment. This leads to reproduction of poverty and segregation. Broad government programmes for the underprivileged, indeed poor African-Americans, with loans and grants components, are required to improve the situation. Something can be done through education grants and scholarship programmes. The private sector can help, but usually such programmes only reach small groups. I wish the many rich Americans feel their calling and establish massive programmes now, not just charity and handouts and crumbles from the rich man’s table. Less inequality and better race relations will be good for all, the oppressed and the oppressors.

It is the duty of all citizens in a country to work for a fairer economic system that can benefit all citizens. We have to keep improving the system we have, reducing discrimination of all kinds, indeed racism and other ethnic discrimination. In the last couple of generations, we have realised that girls and women are at least as clever as boys at school, and usually in care giving and homemaking. People of colour and immigrants from developing countries, in America or anywhere else in the world, are as gifted as those who have less strong skin pigment and come from world capital’s West End.

But to be clever and successful are many things, some can excel in certain fields, like art, sports and dance, while others succeed in science or in money-making. In our competitive world, with education being important for good jobs and success in life, we must also not discriminate against people who do ‘ordinary jobs’, where lower formal education is needed. Education is important but there is no correlation between that and wisdom. In future, we need more common sense and kindness. We certainly need to develop more respect for people with various disorders and temporary and chronic psychological needs.

It is through truthful thinking and discussions that we will educate ourselves and create societies that are all-inclusive. We can only find the vaccine and cure for racism in our hearts, and our logical minds. I hope we find a corona medicine; indeed, I hope we find a lasting cure for racism and more.

Atle Hetland

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid. Email:

atlehetland@yahoo.com