Posted by: JDM..... | July 2, 2015

RACE ~ is irrelevant.….

…it’s also a contest, a water channel, and probably a sandwich somewhere….

I don’t recall the moment or the setting, but at some point in the distant past I became curious about what was meant by the word “race”, because some would talk about the “human race” and others would speak of “race” as being distinct divisions within our species. My first encounter with someone who seemed to know what he was talking about on the subject took place in an Anthropology class I took at college during the sixties. The professor, whose specialty was physical anthropology, essentially told us to file the concept of “race” with Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny, or to simply leave it out on the desk with no label so folks could use it in whatever manner happened to float their boat.

Personal observations during the years since seem to bear out that assessment. Thus, if someone would call me a “racist” today, I’d be more inclined to respond “So are you. What’s your point?” It just seems to be one of those English language words that are heavily used but don’t provide specific information about the topic at hand. Like “whatever,” which can communicate that the speaker is unsure or that the speaker thinks the listener is an idiot and should just go away, references to “race” can be intended to present an image of academic abundance, it can be used to level pejorative judgment, and more. In other words, it’s a quibbler’s delight.

The English language has an amusing and relatively unique tendency to play Musical Definitions with selected words over time. Therefore, when such terminology happens to be the focus of a debate that spans decades, resolution can become progressively elusive, sometimes inviting the use of force.

***

Generations of scientists have hovered over and around the concept of “race”, attempting to identify anatomical characteristics and features that would either support or belie the popular separation of humanity into specific groups. So far, both conclusions have been found credible, which means there is no conclusion. Historically, “race” has been used as a convenient tool with which to classify populations on the basis of far more than skin color and a few other selected observable characteristics, most often referring to geographical and cultural factors. During the nineteenth century, the four million or so emigrants who fled the problems of Ireland for the opportunities of the United States became known as the “Irish race”, a designation that had little or nothing to do with anatomical or genetic features. For many reasons, including such things as speech, cultural, and religious characteristics, the Irish were perceived as being “different” than the neighbors and co-workers with whom established populations were accustomed, and the sheer number arriving in a relatively short time span made a significant impact on the society.

People tend to describe each other in terms that reflect the first things they notice about each other. When surnames began to come into use, which happened at different times in different parts of the world, names might have been derived from a number of reference points to make one individual distinguishable from others. Physical characteristics, occupation, geographic origin or place of residence, and father’s name became common surname roots. Persons of royal and noble rank often used titles or terms referring to great deeds or just boasting to identify and preserve their place in the pecking order.

As with names, “race” has evolved into a flexible family of references by which people have identified themselves and their groups, in order to differentiate themselves from other individuals and groups.

Thus, in the present context, race tends to reflect ethnicity, heritage, and culture, with physical characteristics such as skin color being less relevant. There are people who identify themselves as “black” or African American who actually look more Mediterranean than African in heritage. Some people identifying as “Native American”, meaning descent from Asian ancestors who migrated from Russia to Alaska ten to fifteen thousand years ago, are visually indistinguishable from the average European. “Pure blood” continues to become less so with each generation, rendering any genetic differences, of which there were few to begin with, less significant or irrelevant. Many believe them to have been irrelevant all along.

***

Race then, is most easily explained as being a system of categorizing groups of people. The criteria used in the sorting process varies.

It is largely for this reason that I strongly believe the Tar Baby that holds us all so immovably will not release anyone just because he hits it harder or more artfully. The only way out for us all as a society is to ease off and slowly but deliberately extract ourselves from the trap. Film star Morgan Freeman offered probably the most intelligent and insightful method to eliminate “racism” when he said “Stop talking about it.” He went on to say, during an interview with Mike Wallace, “I’m going to stop calling you a white man, and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.”

Brilliant. It won’t eliminate ignorance on either side of the issue, but it may put the “issue” into perspective and provide an opportunity for some of us to move forward. Expecting all of us to move forward is more of that Santa Clause bit again. All of us won’t, and I don’t believe all of us can. We are human beings. Perfection is not an option, improvement is. Perfection is like race; the definition of each is “it depends. Where are we and what day is it?

 

~-~* * *~-~

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories