Yet again in an Anthropology class, this time discussing race: The history of race segregation and eugenics and the quest to scientifically explain other races as inferior (particularly here in the U.S.). The current understanding of genetics showing that biologically, race really doesn't exist. It's all a social construct. We might as well segregate by eye color, or blondes/brunettes/redheads, or those who can curl their tongue versus those who can't. 


The trend I'm seeing, particularly from whites, is the progression: "Race doesn't exist, therefore Racism doesn't exist." From some, this ends up being a turning of a blind eye to issues of racism. One classmate (white), notorious for chest-beating and propping himself up as the exception to every rule ergo the rule is defunct, countered the discussion with the tried and true, "I am totally non-racist. I don't see color. I grew up in a multi-ethnic environment where everyone got along. Racism doesn't exist."


Well, that's great for him. But I countered back saying that I guarantee there have been dozens or hundreds of moments in his little life where he got a job, the bank loan, the apartment, not pulled over by the cop, whatever because he was white. We all get it, even when we're blissfully unaware of it. It sucks, it makes me feel dirty somehow, but it's a fact of the country we live in.


The other problem I see with this otherwise noble mindset of eliminating racism by refusing to acknowledge it is that the cause of socio-economic inequity goes back on some perceived character flaw of the individual. I recently saw this in a Facebook conversation with someone saying Native Americans get all sorts of tax and welfare benefits, and since race and social inequity between Reservation/Non-Reservation is an illusion, they have no one to blame but themselves for poverty or the Navajo reservation not being a thriving metropolis like Phoenix. It's incredible to watch someone claim that race/racism doesn't exist, and in the same sentence classify "them" as inherently lazy or inept or corrupt. 


This all culminated in a debate over governmental data collection. The race checkbox on the census form, or the college application, or the federal jobs I apply for. Most (all white) in the class decried these questionaries as perpetuating the segregation by race. On the one hand, yes. It's hard to make America "raceless" while still asking on a census form what race you identify as. On the other hand, the issue of racism remains real. Data collection remains important to recognizing and addressing those issues. That guy on FB doesn't get to claim racial inequity doesn't exist when we have the hard data to show that it does. If Big Ass Corporation X is conspicuously firing a disproportional number of non-whites without cause, we need to know that so we can address it. Because sad to say, it still happens.


So is there an easy answer? How does a society simultaneously address problems of racism while promoting the idea that race itself is an illusion? I always go back to education, education, education. I even see this as one more reason evolution must be taught thoroughly and early. Drive it into the kids early just how little genetic variation there is between you, me, and some random guy on the other side of the world; how tiny and petty is the genetic variation for how much melanin we each have in our skin. From there, perhaps we can ultimately reach a point where asking one's skin color on a census form is just as silly as asking whether or not you can curl your tongue. 


But we aren't there yet.

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Replies to This Discussion

Jo Jerome,


I say keep fighting the good fight.


I keep struggling with whether "race" exists, and whether "race" is a meaningful concept.   I think "ethnicity" and "culture" may be better and more sophisticated.


I have absolutely no doubt that "racism" exists.  There is historic proof, in our and other cultures throughout history, that "racism" is and was real, is a historic force for exploitation and personal profit, a force to excuse conquest, rape, slavery, land theft, war, discrimination, and other sins....  not just white over black and brown, but among many categories.  Take the Japanese rape of China, for example, or the Chinese.... ummmmm....  assimilation....  of Tibet.  Or the Hutu/Tutsi dichotomy, or the Aztec conquest of surrounding cultures and (from what I've read) "harvest" of nonAztec soldiers for human sacrifice.


"Racism-deniers" are elther deluded or smugly disingenuous, or just not very thoughtful.  It's like holocaust deniers - it happened, it's a historic fact, it's part of the formation of history and society, past and present.  They should get over it and think about what it means and how to deal with it.


"Race" is much harder, even if there is "racism" it does not prove to me that "race" exists.  That's your point as well.  There is definitely "ethnicity", there are biologic, genetic markers for ethnicity in some cases, and there are biological differences or trends in different groups.  Examples - there are differences in body frame among different groups.  Chinese are metabolically overweight at a lower weight, for height, than, say, Germans.  African Americans respond to the blood pressure pill, hydrochlorothiazide, better than Caucasian Americans.  Ashkenazi Jews have a high rate of a number of metabolic / genetic diseases.  Diabetes is more common among  Hispanics, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans, African Americans, and Pacific Islander Americans more than it affects any other ethnic group - although some of this liklihood might be cultural.    


It can only take one gene, among what, hundreds of thousands? - to result in a devastating illness like Tay-Sachs.  So the argument that a few markers different among races is not proof that "race" doesn't exist, isn't convincing to me.  That's with the knowledge that our definition of "race" is crude, claiming that there are only a few  - I suspect there are many, and with mixing, the lines are too blurred to be meaningful.  Plus, individuals may be more different within a group, than one group is from another.  So even if there are "races", what use is the term?


Just my random thoughts.  I was taught in Baptist bible school that there are 3 races, all descended from the 3 sons of Noah, and the bible is never wrong.  Maybe that's where western moderns got the idea of race? 


Biologically, ethnicity does have some meaning.  I think culturally it must as well. 


I agree with you that racism-deniers are either just lying,clueless, or haven't put much thought into their argument. As for the idea of race, I tend to state that it is a social construct. But I also acknowledge that there are things that I am thought of/given to/denied because I list as African-American female. There are sterotypes of everyone out there, so it is annoying to be told how "well-spoken, well-behaved, and intelligent" I am, as if it is a shock. I thought at one time that if I could just be white and have the privilages thereof, I would not be such an anomoly.

It took me a while to realize that I'm fine as I am, and other folks have the problem. That and race is too much of a simple term for all the different ethnicities out there. I mean, if we really sat down and mapped every ethicinity in our family trees....some might note the similarities while others would still find something to complain about. I guess they want something to feel superior about since either they do not have the ability to make a positive affect on the world(they do, they just don't see it), much rather coast on the tails of someone who made a difference, or think that their race literally identifies everything about them, a type of mental prison if you will. So it would take more than education to get folks out of that mode of thinking. It would also take exposure: to different cultures, people, places and things. But I guess that falls under education too so I might be just restating the obvious(sorry!).

One thing I really don't get is the whole white pride/black pride thing. Can't we be proud of ourselves and not really get into hive thinking? Maybe I'm just too young to get it.

Thanks Monica -


I get "black (American) pride" or "hispanic pride" or "insert minority group here pride." As a group becomes a marginalized minority, there is great cause to say "Hang on; why be ashamed of my culture and my past? Why should I be made to feel un-beautiful because of my ethnic background?"


But "white pride?" There's really no "white" culture, in the U.S. or anywhere else I can think of. Irish, yes. German, yes. But collectively "white?" That just ends up feeling icky and supremacist-y. That, and the majority group in power rarely needs further ego-boosting.




On the expectations based on race ... in a film we watched on the subject, the focus was on a group of college students participating in a DNA study. What they found was that in many cases, the white guy and the black girl were more genetically similar than white-white, or black-black, or hispanic-hispanic pairings. But in talking about how we perceive race, they noted that although one of the girls in the class is both a track star and class valedictorian, being black she is more likely to be rewarded and judged by society based on her athletic ability, whereas a white student in the same situation would likely be thought of for her intellect first.


Interesting observation, and unfortunately still true. Ergo; my quest to both promote the fact that 'race' is a social construct (I happen to be in the race of those-who-can-curl-their-tongue, or the brown-eyed race, or ... how are we classifying and segregating ourselves again?), but also to not let folks off the hook by saying that racism therefore does not exist.

I think the "ickiness" beyond realizing white people have wielded their majority like a club in the past lies in the fact that collectively white is such a big group.  Being part of a big group is nice because it lets me blend in.  But it's not specific enough to feel like much of an identity.  Living the privilege, being white isn't really much of a factor.  It's more fun to be thought of as a Virginian or an atheist or something more specific.

Greetings Biped!


The comparison between racism-deniers and holocaust-deniers is actually pretty spot on I think. It comes out as almost a way that whites don't have to face the ongoing issues of racism, or even the past. One person in the class indeed went so far as to suggest that just learning about it somehow plants the idea in our mind so we should stop teaching race-related history. That, to me, is a damn dangerous path.


On the biology of 'race,' the differences you mention are actually independent of each other, which is part of the whole "Race is an illusion" concept. E.g.; the genetic markers passed down that govern the amount of melanin in one's skin pigment (skin color), are separate from those that make one respond well to the blood pressure medicine. But because most of us socialize, marry, and have children within our own "race," those traits are usually passed down together.


Looking at it another way, there's a type of dwarfism that is common among the Amish. It has nothing to do however with these individuals being Amish, or white, or Pennsylvania-Dutch. It has everything to do with Amish usually marrying and having children within their own ingroup, which keeps the trait prevalent in that group and not as prevalent in others.


Same thing with skeletal structure. A skull can often be identified as Caucasian, Asian, Native American, Australian Aboriginal, or African. But what we're learning is that these too have nothing inherently to do with skin color. It just so happens that an overwhelming number of people from geographical area X happen to have both the genes for whatever skin color and those particular skull features.

It's true. Same thing with blood type. I have a blood type which is rare among African Americans, yet Asians and Caucasians have it in spades(but if you look at my family tree it should be no surprise lol). So you are def right about that Jo. What bothers me is that I had "friends" growing up who said that blacks had something in their legs and feet which made them better in sports. 

I would then ask "What about me? I am horrible at sports, can't run, and the last time I attempted to play basketball I almost twisted my ankle." 


One guy told me "I'm not racist, but I wouldn't date a black girl because they taste different."


WTF? Seriously? What do we taste like? Chicken? Mac and Cheese? Because if a person tastes like a food or something like that, let's use them for science. I understand that each person has a different smell and taste, but to say whites taste like this..blacks taste like insulting. But living in the south one would have to be used to it -_-. 


I remember hearing that blacks are more likely to develop diabetes, but most diabetics I met were white, which proves what Jo was saying yet again. I really think that we are all a large mix of ethnicities and such. Some folks may not want to hear it, but that is their problem... 

An educated world is a better world. The more we know, then hopefully we can dispel these ridiculous myths that have plagued the worlds history. We are all the same, genetically and race is a socila construct in order to promote one class and keep another down.

Monica S writes:


One guy told me "I'm not racist, but I wouldn't date a black girl because they taste different."


Well, I do find that racist white guys taste like bullshit. 

More like self-loathing and pabst blue ribbon.
actually, he was correct, women do taste diffrent. i love how black women taste  and white women too, the problem with that white guy is a common "white" guy problem;  the things that are different about black folks  they automatically deem inferior

I did some internet research on how people taste and did not find anything useful.  It's not something I can talk to most people about either.  My personal experience is you are right. 


No reason people shouldn't taste different - it's going to be a mixture of their biology and what they eat, among other things.  For example, effects of garlic, cabbage, onions - all noticable in someone's sweat as well as their breath.  I've noticed when my partner ate hot peppers.  Asparagus is very noticable in the urine.  But I think even eating the same foods, you can taste the difference between races unless that difference is overpowered by diet, perfumes, or other factors.


They say you can tell grain-fed beef from grass-fed beef.  When my chickens eat weeds in the spring, their eggs have darker yolks and taste more "eggy", and when they eat more grain in the winter their eggs are more bland.  Different varieties of tomato are very different.  My yellow raspberries taste sweeter, but much blander, than my red raspberries.  I have yellow and black plums, and the same is true.  No surprise that people should vary in flavor.  We are animals that occur in different varieties.


Probably nothing wrong with prefering one flavor to another - it's gotta be a combination of culture and biology.  Whoever I've been with, that's the taste that I loved at the moment.  Black, white, or chinese, in my case, it's part of who they are.  What I did find for myself is being with someone different from myself made me less interested in / less attracted to my own race - not sure why that is.

Your classmate may have been cribbing from Stephen Colbert.  The sequence should be "Race doesn't exist, so racism doesn't make sense.



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