How do we talk about race?
Red and yellow, black and white, They are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.Was this a song from your youth too? I remember thinking at the time, that’s just like hair color. White, black, red, yellow, and all those shades in between, just like skin color! Yet, from my perspective as a 10- to 12-year old in the very early ’60s, people in the news seemed to be making more fuss over skin color than they did over the other differences.
How the scientific community categorizes race has evolved.
In the beginning there were three: Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid.Actually, you go back far enough and in the beginning there was one and she was black. Be sure to shake your cousin’s hand next time you stand behind a black woman at the grocery store. I digress.
- By 1962, there were four: Caucasian, Mongoloid (asian), Negroid (black), and Australoid.
- And, according the US Census Bureau, by 1997 there were five: White, Black, American Indian (or Alaska Native), Asian, and Pacific Islander. They also state, “People who identify as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race.”
Still, the question persists, Why do we subdivide our own species?To collect my thoughts on this series, my first stop (never my last), was Wikipedia’s entry on Race:
First used to refer to speakers of a common language and then to denote national affiliations, by the 17th century the term race began to refer to physical (phenotypical) traits. Modern scholarship regards race as a social construct, that is, a symbolic identity created to establish some cultural meaning. While partially based on physical similarities within groups, race is not an inherent physical or biological quality.Actually Wiki does not go back quite far enough. Let’s revisit the Spanish inquisition. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz said at ‘The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness’ at University of California, Berkeley (11-13 April 1997):
What we are witnessing in late fifteenth and early sixteenth century Spain is the first instance of class leveling based on imagined biological racial differences, indeed the origin of ‘white’ supremacy, which I argue was a necessary ideology to support the rationalization of colonial projects in America and Africa.Remember your taxonomy classes? Me neither. But thanks to Google, I had a quick review. Yes, every visual I found ended with Species, which brought me to an article in Psychology Today online, by one of my favorite authors, Eric Maisel (author of my favorite writer’s guide, The Art of the Book Proposal) entitled Should We Divide Homo Sapiens Into Subspecies? that I wanted to share with you. Although Maisel’s words raise important questions, none focus on race. So, I leave you to enjoy his article on your own and get back to my post on Talking About Race. (Really, Maisel offers important food for thought; I’m tempted to steal his ideas and do another blog. Someday.)
Race didn’t begin to take on its modern meanings until the mid-16th century, and the terms and meanings that we now give to race in the U.S. weren’t concretized until the early 20th century. ANJANA CRUZ, Timeline from Medium Europeans invented the concept of race as we know itHere’s a Ted Talk on the topic, The problem with race-based medicine, from sociologist Dorothy Roberts that I trust will put this biological notion of “race” to rest once and for all.
So, might the conversation on race that we need to have actually be about “racism”? We’ll look at that when my series “Talking About Race” returns in November.How about you? How do you talk about race?