DIVISIONS

What walls say about those who build them

A good example is racism. Why is it still even a thing?

In Summary
  • Those who build walls mean to project strength and pride, perhaps even determination but what walls say about the builder; his state of mind at least, is ‘I am afraid’.
  • And when these fearful individuals don’t find walls in the real world, the physical world, they invent the walls.
Tanzania's President John Magufuli has officially inaugurated the Great Mirerani Wall, built in the north of the country to prevent the theft of tanzanite, a rare gemstone.
Tanzania's President John Magufuli has officially inaugurated the Great Mirerani Wall, built in the north of the country to prevent the theft of tanzanite, a rare gemstone.
Image: AGENCIES
A wall is fear in three dimensions
Jane Loeffler, architectural historian

I couldn’t tell you why I was thinking about walls, or why we’re about to take a look at walls in this article. I suppose, if I was to guess, I’d say it has something to do with my feeling walled in on account of coronavirus’ forced stay home, don’t congregate, and don’t meet up with friends and acquaintances.

So walls it is, and the first thing to say about walls is they’re everywhere. Wherever you look, wherever you go, you will find a wall; a rising wall, a wall already standing or the rubble remains of a wall.

Throughout human civilisation we have built walls, they are part of who we are. In the past we erected them to stop invading armies and rival nations. Today we build walls and barriers to stop terrorists and illegal immigrants, and in our homes and gated communities we put up walls and fences to keep out criminals, vandals and pestering salespeople.

 

But there’s something else about walls other than protection, another function to walls that goes unacknowledged. And that is they create divisions and distinctions, giving rise to an ‘us vs them’ that serves to maintain a separation between people.

In this way, walls are not built for those who live outside them, threatening though they may be, but for those who put them up and dwell within. In other words what a wall satisfies is not so much physical protection against armies, criminals, and salespeople but protection against anxieties and fears.

‘A wall is fear in three dimensions’ – Jane Loeffler, architectural historian.

When we erect walls, ostensibly to protect ourselves from terrible people and terrible things out there, what we manage to do instead is expose our deepest fears and anxieties. This makes walls in a certain sense not a barrier as such, but a state of mind. It makes the walls we erect not just imposing physical structures but a representation of our emotions.

Those who build walls mean to project strength and pride, perhaps even determination but what walls say about the builder; his state of mind at least, is ‘I am afraid’.

And when these fearful individuals don’t find walls in the real world, the physical world, they invent the walls.

A good example of an invented wall is racism. Recently the Chinese city of Guangzhou made the headlines with reports of black people being blamed for coronavirus and therefore harassed, targeted, refused entry into restaurants, blocked from hotels and evicted from their homes to spend their nights in the cold. I’m also thinking of racism in football, the upsurge in racially charged abuse and chants, especially at black players, all because of the colour of their skin.

 

Why is racism still even a thing, considering all the information out there, the science saying there is no such thing as a superior or inferior race? Isn’t racism just a wall meant to create divisions and distinction?

Could it even be that racists don’t believe their assertions and their false understanding of race, and that their chants, the abuse, the harassment are but the bricks needed to build this racism wall?

What is it these builders of this wall fear? I wonder.