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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why I’m Sick of the Term “Race”

To get into this discussion, I’m going to have to toss out all of my beliefs that there is no such thing as race (a belief Edward James Olmos not only agrees with, but managed to have changed in the United Nations, adding weight to the importance of science fiction in the world of today). The reason is that my disbelief in the entity of race is irrelevant: I and Edward James Olmos, and a handful of others, are a minority; as much as we might tell ourselves and others that the very concept and belief in race is ridiculous and detrimental to society, people still cling to the prospect of race and divisional lines and all those things that operate as othering mechanisms, turning one type of person into “bad” and another into “good.” That is the problem I want to talk about here.

I am sick of the term “race” because it is one of the most terrifying forms of multidirectional cultural violence currently in existence that is not only clung to by people who sit in the majority, but by people in the minority as well, in any space on the planet (yes, that means even places where White is not the dominant skin tone). Race is like an infection, and the fact that mankind has struggled so hard to maintain it and use it as a basis for everything, either (perceived) good or bad, is absurd on so many fronts that for someone who tries so hard not to think in terms of race, there is nothing but an impenetrable barbwire-covered wall spanning the great distance between reality and perception.

I am sick of the term “race” because of the reality that we cannot think about anything in society without also thinking about race, about othering others, on both sides of the spectrum. “Race” is so much like a virus that it has infected even those who have, in the West, at least, been most affected by the inception of the term. All arguments against the idea of “reverse racism” are veiled attempts to ignore a certain humanistic reality: we all harbor within us the possibility of othering. And that othering is wrong, regardless of the justification. It is no more right to assume another to be “racist” based on their skin tone than it is for another to treat someone of a historically discriminated position poorly (even horrendously) for the same reason. It matters not what reason one chooses to turn another into the other; the very act of doing so is cultural violence, it is the sacrificing of a part of our humanity for the preservation of a systemic knowledge-base that we can only combat by fighting to stop using it.

I am sick of the term “race” because the people who have pioneered it as a system, a term, and an institution, and those that followed in the near past, present, and, no doubt, the future, have infected everyone else with “race” and othering and all the terrible things that come with constantly having to think and engage with others based on the idiocy that is “race.” The fact that I have to know how to deal with African American students at a public university tells me that “race” is always waiting to indoctrinate, to feed and attach itself to you, because you cannot escape it, no matter what you do; it is always there, always ready to go.

I am sick of the term “race” because it is not only a basis for the unfair treatment of others, but also the basis for forced non-racism: the very accusation of being “racist” causes a stir in most individuals, and, regardless of whether or not one is actually “racist,” their consequential action from accusation is a desperate attempt to prove oneself non-racist, to accommodate the other. But even that, that accommodation, is exactly what is wrong with “race” in the first place, because what you are doing is acknowledging that race is important, that some races are “special” (for good or for bad) and deserve special treatment (again, for good or for bad). You are complicit in the perpetuation of “race” without even knowing it; a good deed, thus, can become yet another factor of “racist” pathology.

And I am sick of the term “race” because for all that I have spoken of here, I still have to talk in some format that accommodates the term “race,” that lets it feed like a parasite on my thoughts and on you who are reading this. No matter what we do, we are stuck with the cultural violence of “race,” and to escape that would require an astonishing amount of effort on the part of all people to abolish it from our thinking processes and our vocabularies.

In the end, “race” is stupid. It shouldn’t exist. The fact that it still does, not just in the form of “racism,” but in how we engage with other members of the same species, makes me question the value of mankind. And so long as it does exist, it will change and shape how we act with one another, not just in white vs. black, but in all combinations and cross-relationships. There’s a saying from a relatively famous Broadway musical called Avenue Q. It goes something like this: everyone’s a little bit racist, sometimes.

The question is, if that is true, where do we go from here?

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  1. Morales and values seem to be indifferent in today's society which relates to being a minority choice. It's the same with race. It's sad people are not able to look beyond the norm because of their own self-confidence. We can only hope that by being different in standing out and speaking our thoughts, it enhances other individuals to think for themselves and not place judgments on ethnicity.

  2. TruGenius: Judgments based on ethnicity only make sense to those with pre-held biases. I'm not saying that I don't have some racist thoughts in my head, and anyone who says they don't is a lying bastard, but I do my darndest not to think in terms of race, and only in terms of person. But even now...I have to talk about race in order to say this. Grr.