The Race Thing

My wife won’t even begin to discuss topics related to race, racism, prejudice, or discrimination. Not only does she dislike my penchant for argument, but she knows how thoroughly frustrated I am with the mainstream abuse of the topic. This post is as much me venting (which I don’t like to admit) as it is the attempt to convey any type of message, moral or otherwise. I won’t delve into racial nomenclature; however let me say that the hyphenated-American thing drives me nuts.

There are two huge mistakes made by those dealing with issues surrounding race. The first error is that the vast majority misuse the terminology. So, I have below the actual definitions for terms often used in the discussion of race.

racism ( Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 30 Dec. 2009. )
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

prejudice ( Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 30 Dec. 2009. )
1. an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.

discrimination ( Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 30 Dec. 2009. )
1. an act or instance of discriminating.

So very simply, racism is the ideology that a race is in part or in whole inherently (genetically?) superior or inferior, prejudice is a negative feeling about a particular race of people, and discrimination is the act of treating a person differently due to race or any number of other criteria. Now, instead of focusing on the misuse, I would like to practice the correct usage. So let’s try using these definitions. I’ll provide an example, and you can decide whether it is racism, prejudice, and/or discrimination. I’ll make the first one easy. (highlight blanks below the statements to view the answers)

--Hitler decides to murder millions of Jews along with other groups in order cleanse Europe and create an Aryan super race.

If you said all three you would be correct. He believed the Aryan race was superior, felt hatred towards other races, and acted on those thoughts and feelings by murdering millions of people.

--Michael Richards (Kramer from Seinfeld) goes on a tirade onstage in a comedy club directed toward a heckler repeatedly calling him a “nigger” and if I remember correctly even making a reference to lynching. Think carefully now.

After much consideration (at least 10 seconds), I’m going to say he is only guilty of prejudice. The comments revealed the malice he felt, but I do not know that he would have discriminated by attacking a person of a different race less vehemently in the same circumstances. He also showed no evidence of supporting the superiority of one race over another.

--Examine the statement: “White folks was in caves while we was building empires.... We taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it.” – Al Sharpton speaking at Kean College

None of the above. Mr. Sharpton was stating a historical narrative. The term “homo” may have a negative connotation in that context, but I won’t go so far as to say it demonstrates a prejudice.

--Black men run faster than white men.

This is racist. It is a general statement about an inherent trait. No statement of personal feeling about the fact is made, and there is no indication of any action being taken. The problem is that you all know it is true. If you attempt to deny this do two things: 1) Hit yourself in the head with a hammer for being so naïve, and 2) Take a quick look at the Olympic medalists in the 100m for the past 20 years.

By now you should be admitting to yourself that you are a racist. I mean look up the pictures of the runners listed on the link. They are from different countries, cultures, and environments, but across the board they are what most people would call "black". I know where I’m going with this, and even I am beginning feel uncomfortable. Let’s take a look at the definition for the term “race” which this post centers around, and see if I can bail us out.

Race (
1. a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.

Usage Note: The notion of race is nearly as problematic from a scientific point of view as it is from a social one. European physical anthropologists of the 17th and 18th centuries proposed various systems of racial classifications based on such observable characteristics as skin color, hair type, body proportions, and skull measurements, essentially codifying the perceived differences among broad geographic populations of humans. The traditional terms for these populations—Caucasoid (or Caucasian), Mongoloid, Negroid, and in some systems Australoid—are now controversial in both technical and nontechnical usage, and in some cases they may well be considered offensive. (Caucasian does retain a certain currency in American English, but it is used almost exclusively to mean "white" or "European" rather than "belonging to the Caucasian race," a group that includes a variety of peoples generally categorized as nonwhite.) The biological aspect of race is described today not in observable physical features but rather in such genetic characteristics as blood groups and metabolic processes, and the groupings indicated by these factors seldom coincide very neatly with those put forward by earlier physical anthropologists. Citing this and other points—such as the fact that a person who is considered black in one society might be nonblack in another—many cultural anthropologists now consider race to be more a social or mental construct than an objective biological fact. (emphasis added)

Since we all have a common heredity/descent, the definition contradicts division of humanity (at least biologically) by race. I base this on the Biblical account of creation, but if that doesn’t satisfy please consider “mitochondrial eve” Either way our common ancestry isn't in question. So, biologically race is a non-issue which makes actual racism an impossibility.

If not race then...? It is said that “nature abhors a vacuum.” So, if race is discarded as illusory, some other way to classify groups of people will arise, but my hope is that they will be recognized as subjective. There is no doubt that people will continue to hold prejudices for many reasons, and discrimination even without race will always exist. However, eliminating race as a possibility frees people to better understand who they are, and even be who they want to be. It bashes the remnants of racial supremacy in any form which most would agree is a blessing for the human race, and besides there many more interesting and valid reasons to dislike people than the imaginary construct of “race”.

Note: This is a simplicifcation of a complex topic.


Josh said...

Thanks. Good info. Can we throw "stereotype" into the mix? I'll debate your commentary regarding black men running faster than white men on two accounts: One, I tend to think that what you are calling "running" could more accurately be characterized as sprinting, because if you look at middle distance runners, you'll find that myth fairly busted. Two, I have a semantics issue with that statement. If you can find one white man who can run faster than one black man, that statement is busted (unless we're relying on the usefulness of stereotypes).

Brandon said...

I thought "stereotype" wasn't closely associated enough with just race.

You are right about the sprinter thing, but I thought by saying "run as fast" I was implying something close to sustained top speed, and was looking to the most official race that best tested that. I was just trying to keep it simple.

You are also right about the falisfication of the argument if you can find one exception. The wording should have read something like "The fastest group of black men can run faster than the fastest group of white men." Been reading Karl Popper lately

Josh said...

I was just in a "being difficult" kind of mood...aka my normal mood. My mother always told me stop being so technical (For that, I am sorry to you and to all persons great or small). On that note, sustained top speed is relative to the distance being run. The shorter the distance, the higher the top speed than one can sustain.