Sunday, January 30, 2011

Multiracial Identities

Since we've been talking about the fluidity of racial identities, and whether or not we have entered "post-racial America", take a look at this article from yesterday's New York Times on the growing prominence of multiracial identity among young Americans.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pandora's Multi-Colored Box

Johann Gottfried Herder was a prophet of his time period, whether he knew so or not. He correctly identified and attempted to correct what would soon develop into a type of Pandora’s Box, which has yet to be closed to this day. In his short essay, Herder almost pleaded with the reader not to encourage what could be viewed as racial separation. Herder’s apparent foresight was uncanny as he tried to place some type of restriction on what would later serve as a type of justification for how certain races were treated throughout history. As we discussed during class, although Herder was a student of Kant, he was not necessarily an advocate of all of his thoughts. The brief detours that Kant takes from his scientific and seemingly objective view of races ultimately helped to set the stage for an even greater division of the races that still exist even in the 21st century and centers around popular misconceptions that came from the time period in which philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, and Herder wrote on the concept of what would soon be known as race.
Being a young, Black man the concept of race is all too real and many of the different stereotypes that I have heard while growing up now have a origin. The description of Black people as being “lazy” and “aloof” but “strong” and well-suited have been descriptions that have been around for hundreds of years. The argument that I have heard in talking with some people outside of class is that regardless of who made the observations, it would only be a matter of time before the races were eventually separated, regardless of who that person ended up being. This draws off of the idea that all human beings have a natural inclination to differentiate between different people by physical appearance. I would argue that we have no way of knowing what another person had the potential to come to being and make completely different observations regarding race. As Dr. J presented in class, what kept us from being separated by height or eye color or some other physical feature? Although Kant attempts to base his explanation on race behind scientific evidence, its still hard to believe that a complex concept such as the origin of race would be left to those who, according to their writings, present both a subjective and objective view. I would like to present the question of whether or not philosophers such as Hegel and Kant and in some cases Herder should be seen as the source of the racial problems that have plagued humanity over the centuries or if humanity has developed its own sense of race since the times of early racial definition.

Is Racism Inevitable?

In 1968, the day after Martin Luther King Jr's assassination, Illinois schoolteacher Jane Elliot proposed an experiment to her third grade class. The children were separated into blue- and brown-eyed groups and were told that brown eyes were superior to blue eyes. The rate at which the children learned to discriminate was alarming; taunting and arrogance were quickly and unabashedly adopted by the brown-eyed students. What we can glean from this experiment is that hate is easily learned--particularly if there are benefits to be gained from discrimination.

Gobineau ends The Inequality of the Human Races by admitting the considerable consequences of his radical hypothesis and examination. Although his theory alone might not have impacted humanity to the extent in which he had hoped, the consequences of his forceful assertions of racial superiority were relatively immediate and long-lasting. This essay is shocking, but it is a logical jump from Hegel's philosophy of race.  While Hegel is mainly concerned with categorizing, Gobineau's goal is to explain how and why certain races are superior. Hegel made it easy to exploit his philosophy by laying out all the different races and subtly constructing a hierarchical blueprint. Neither Hegel nor Gobineau explicitly admit to the existence of a racial hierarchy, but Gobineau is seemingly determined to prove the legitimacy of his own race. It's rather obvious that one would attempt to justify his own race and downplay the historical and social importance of others; white Europeans took advantage of the fact that they were the first to acknowledge the distinction of races, constantly putting themselves on top and claiming their superiority--it is an instinctual effort to ensure survival.

Looking back we can generally agree that they really have no solid proof for their assumptions, but regardless, they were making "rational," philosophical arguments and putting them out in publications which allowed their propaganda to spread. Consequentially, all the other white Europeans who read this literature were able to easily relate and saw that they were being deemed the superior race. To me there seems to be a very prominent chain of events: race is "discovered;" race is explored; race is categorized; race is exploited;  The blue-eye/brown-eye experiment proves just how easy it is to learn and internalize the hatred of those who are different. I question whether or not racism was inevitable, or if there was some possibility that humanity could have seen race as a positive thing. 

Stereotypes: good or bad

So let's talk about stereotypes. In class we briefly touched on them, attributing Herder's writing as stereotyped. What exactly is a stereotype though? The Oxford Dictionary tells us it is "a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing," This seems to be a solid definition, but I am dissatisfied by it's lack of attention to one of the most important aspects of stereotypes: that fact that they are necessary.
Dr. Johnson actually stated this in class, but did not expound on it much beyond an observation. I feel, however, that the issue of stereotype deserves much attention since it is a huge factor in racism and discussions of racial differences. I'm sure the students in our class have experienced at one time or another the accusation that they had stereotyped some people and then attributed it in their minds to something bad. Don't fret. Stereotypes are a part of the human psyche and, despite what political correctness suggests, stereotypes are absolutely necessary to our experience in the world and therefor not a bad thing. Imagine this; you walk into a room and see thirty people you have never met before. Immediately you scan the crowd; you are looking for people's characteristics, like are they male or female, short or tall, heavy or skinny, and ethnically different from yourself. This is how every person gets a grasp on meeting new people. We look at what's visible and then from that apply a judgment call to those people. From these observances we apply stereotypes. By doing this we have taken a room of thirty people and made it less foreboding and more 'discovered' without ever talking to a single person.

Clearly, this is a seemingly negative way to approach new people. I would agree that the best way to get to know someone is to talk to them and get to know them. This is where stereotypes come into play however; they are not something we can fight or claim freedom from. Stereotypes are the way our mind deals with meeting new individuals. We can to handle the complexities of rediscovering everything from scratch about someone that we meet. Instead, we apply stereotypes and discover how that person deviates over time. Stereotypes therefor are an essential part of our mental survival. We group things, apply labels and assumptions, and ascribe stereotypes. Without doing these we would have to memorize specific characteristics about every person and thing we encounter, which is something we simply don't have the mental capacity to do.

As this applies to race, many stereotypes are, unfortunately, negative. There is a theory that stereotypes, especially negative ones, are perpetuated because it builds up positive feelings in the stereotyper. I can see this a valid especially since there is an inclination for us to improve the perception of ourselves compared to others. Among people, stereotyping attributes to the grouping inclination we have to include certain people as 'us' and others as 'them'. This is simple human nature. All we can hope to do in discovering the truths about others that conflict with our stereotypes is to reevaluate our stereotypes in a more positive light. The stereotypes themselves will never disappear. but hopefully they will become better.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hegel's History

If reading Hegel's excerpt on race is an understandably jarring experience, representing a moment in which a historical way of thinking is largely opaque to the modern reader, then much of its shock value derives from the degree to which parts of Hegel's civilizational narrative of Western History are still present in common historical interpretations. The example which is most striking to me is his brief mention of Indigenous American peoples as "a vanishing, feeble race," and rather it is people of the European race who will create civilization on this new continent. Although almost all modern historical interpretations of what is termed the "Conquest" shy away from the overt racism of Hegel's work, and many works from the second half of the 20th century, largely eschew acceptance of European civilizational myth, I would argue that the idea that the indigenous people vanished is deeply, and falsely, imbedded in the shared historical consciousness. Our own class discussion in which the notion of Native American life was perceived by some to be vanished and/or extinct indicates that Hegel and other's ideas about the encounter between European and Indigenous Americans is still active and alive in how we think about the past.

The ways in which race and assumptions of racial superiority are interwoven into how we as 21st century people think about this encounter is a topic of great interest, but as interesting is the ways in which Hegel's account dialectical account of history shape how we think about the past. Extrapolating (perhaps inaccurately) from what we talked about in class, it seems that the linear process of history is unwritten by a notion of conflict; encounters between different ideas, people, and even races initially result in a negation, and then eventually in a sort of synthesis. If as we have seen the concept of race is an invention, than my question is to what extent is the concept of racial conflict also an invention? Is Hegel's dialectical understanding history an accurate representation of the process of history? To what extent does assuming that human interactions are inherently conflictive change how we act? Does it create conflict where there isn't any?

Constraints of a "People"

Johann Gottfried von Herder said,

"For each people is a people ; it has its national culture and its language;the zone in which each of them is placed has sometimes put its stamp. sometimes only a thin veil, on each of them, but it has not destroyed the original ancestral core construction of the nation. This extends itself even into families..."

In class we discusses whether or not these divisions were good or bad, as well as whether they were useful or not. I would like to bring up another question that deals more directly with the constraints of the definition of a "people" (or volk). In the text Herder gives a loose definition of what it means to be identified as a people and then goes on to state that these divisions can continue on down into families. It would seem like families may be a far division to go to yet it does not seem implausible that the divisions of the "people" would go past what would be the most obvious division Herder may be trying to define, nationalities (i.e. people having common origins or traditions and often comprising a nation). If the divisions consists of common language, culture, and zone I would argue that this would constitute for the different lines of division that we constitute as nation-states. Examples of these peoples would include Germans, French, Japanese, Kenyans, Australians, Brazilians, Americans, Canadians, and so on. Yet, I would also argue that within these large divisions of peoples there are smaller divisions of the peoples. For example, I would argue that in America there is support for the peoples of the North and South as well as the East and West. It can be observed that there are differences in culture, language, and region between the North and South, and East and West. I would argue that this division follows the lines of Herder's argument and the evidence is supportive and observable.

I would ask if you think that this division can continue even further on than divisions like the North and South, and East and West. The example I would ask us to view is the Cajun "people" of Louisiana. There is evidence to support that the culture and language of the Cajuns is very unique and specific to their region. Would a group as small as the Cajuns constitute a "people" or "volk"? If yes, would this mean that groups such as the Amish or even more specific groups, such as a sports team or college campus population? Where do the divisions stop? Do they stop? Is there a more precise definition for a people?

A Genetically Modified World

In Galton's writings on eugenics, he made it clear that he believed civilization should be more carefully constructed to the extent where birth is dependent upon the worth of the bloodline. In this work the goal of eugenics was “to represent each class or sect by its best specimens” (80). Is it ethical to control the manner in which the average individual chooses to procreate? What would be the result of eugenics as a "religion"(83)? By equating eugenics with religion, Galton has disturbed me on a whole new level. What kind of chaos did he hope to ensue with this text? If we were to begin breeding a group of people in order to preserve or to make widespread certain qualities deemed “useful” then what will become of the section of the population considered to be unworthy? For if there are people who are deemed to be “the best” then of course there are those who failed to make the cut.

Today eugenics has a different spin on it with its central focus being to improve the health of individuals. Genetic engineering may grant us a possible respite from various genetic illnesses and stem cell research may lead us to cures to diseases like Alzheimer’s. We are all aware of the possible benefits of genetic engineering and they cannot be denied, but what of the negative consequences? If allowed to get out of hand genetic engineering has the potential to be as dangerous as it seemed in Galton’s writings (despite the fact that he was writing in favor of it). Galton also saw benefits of eugenics in relation to health, but he essentially wanted to change humanity, not simply improve the health of all individuals. Who would be left after Galton’s rampage if he had been allowed to spearhead his eugenics campaign? His aim may not have been malicious, but he used fanciful reasoning to support his ideas and held that the “useful” classes would need to contribute the seed of their success to future generations. He did not take into account the subjectivity of perfection as he made such statements. Who would define usefulness in Galton’s ideal society? What other characteristics besides health and strength would be used?

It was made clear that the privileged classes would be the primary subjects of Galton’s investigation of “good” families. The “best” offspring, in his opinion, would be the children who excelled above their peers. The upper classes would have a far better chance to produce the best offspring because they have superior resources to educate their children. Thinking about today’s society and the already significant gap between the rich and the poor, how much more severe would this problem be if the upper classes were given yet another advantage over the lower classes in this manner? This gap would only continue to become exaggerated at a more alarming rate, leaving the poor with no means to improve their social status. How would the criteria for gene replication be decided if we were to allow genetic engineering to proceed and develop freely based on Galton’s ideas? We have already seen the result of the abuses of eugenics in Germany during the early 1900s. If we began to breed humans as well, even if it began under the guise of a voluntary process, how long would it be before people were openly coerced into participating in reproducing with “genetically superior” partners? And would others who were considered to be less “useful” eventually be forced to stop having children altogether? Or is this actually a fairly safe process that should be allowed to develop at its own pace for the benefit of all mankind?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Race is a social, cultural and political tool.

The common uses of the term race rely on notions of skin color and appearance, language, religious affiliation and nationality. I do not believe that race is a consistent or substantive classification. Instead, it is a cultural, social and political concept rooted in superficiality. In order to show this, we can examine one of the most prominent contemporary scientists of the 18th century – Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy. During this century, European scientists were obsessed with deriving various ways to classify all forms of life. Carl Linnaeus’ classification system (which is still in use today) included four categories for humans, which he labeled the “varieties” of the human species. In his descriptions of the “varieties,” he includes biological as well as acquired social characteristics. Homo Europeans were light-skinned, blond, and governed by law; Homo Americans were copper and regulated by customs; Homo Asiatics were sooty and governed by opinions; Homo Africans were black and indolent, governed by impulse. This is nothing less than a thinly masked attempt at ranking the different groups simply based on ethnocentrically skewed assumptions. And the parts about how each group is “governed” would surely not have held true. Even a cursory examination of each racial group would show every variety of behavior here attributed to a given group. The system in which these descriptions were codified is still in use for the animal kingdom today, albeit without this poorly conceived attempt to classify human beings.

Kant’s attempt to classify humans into a taxonomy of sorts is different in one major aspect than Linnaeus’ – he goes about justification of the system from a “logical” perspective. However, it would seem that his argument is merely a spigot of ignorance. Kant believes that he can give explanations which have some plausible merit about the various races by describing reasons for their physical attributes. This involves observing that certain arctic peoples are of smaller build because “with a smaller build the power of the heart remains the same but blood circulation takes place in a shorter time.” This is laughable as a working explanation for the stature of a group of people, and one can imagine several scenarios in which short people live in very warm climates – pygmies, for example. Also explicit in Kant’s taxonomy is the assumption that whiteness equates to perfection of reason and minimal deviation from the root lineage of man. It is clear that this account is also saturated with the types of ethnocentric judgments which other popular intellectuals were espousing. Kant also believed that human reason was the true mark of humanity, and this classification of inferiority which he supported makes many implicit judgments about general comprehension and reasoning faculties of the races which are further from what he considered to be the lineal “root,” or white Germans.

Racist Language

Our discussion on Tuesday about whether or not Bernier was using positive or normative language in his description of the various “races” got me thinking about language in general and how the conceptions of words can change over time. For Bernier, using animalistic descriptions of human beings from East Asia may have been acceptable at the time (I’m not saying if it was accepted in his time, but that it might have been), but clearly this language is seen as racist today. What this made me realize was that if in fact Bernier’s comments were completely legitimate during his time then everyone who read this would be subject to this racist language, and whether they adopt it or not, they still may develop some sort of latent racism. This racism would come from the distinct possibility that a 17th century reader’s only image of “the other” is that which Bernier provides. Not knowing any difference to this view would cause the reader to develop incorrect understanding and associate negative language with these groups.

Now this is not to say that Bernier’s article alone would have sparked a snowball effect of people basically passing racism on to each other; however, I think that it serves as an example of how unconsciously destructive language can inadvertently transfer the same initial biases that produced that language to another individual. This relates to a topic discussed in detail in “the Sociology of Violence and Peacemaking” class, where we tried to uncover the core of violence. What we determined was that language and a lack of understanding of the other cause violence. When “the other” is not fully understood, and language is constructed about these people, then the misunderstanding is passed on to any receiver of said language.

With this idea of language as problematic and violent, there is also the question about how we are currently positioned today. Is the language that we use violent and packed with assumptions about “the other”? I feel like we often like to think that we are not racist, but most of us probably have unconscious racist tendencies or use of language simply because we were brought up in a world that has been shaped by racism for at least the past 300-400 years (if not more). So how do we uncover these tendencies? How do we better our own understanding of “the other” and recognize faults in our language? I believe part of the answer to this comes through reading, listening, and truly trying to understand “the other” and their situation. Also, by discussing our ideas with our class and talking about the “hard stuff,” the topics that people shy away from because they feel uncomfortable, we may begin to uncover biases we were unaware we had. These biases do not make us a bad person. At the same time, simply uncovering them does not make us perfect either; however, it does make us more aware, and positions us to better understand race, “the other,” and ourselves.

Origins of Race and Racism

Race did not always exist as a concept was the first of the "Ten Things to Know about Race" mentioned in class. It went from being non-existent to being the first thing that is recognized when someone of another race enters a room. After researching what the initial definition of race meant, I came to find that the original meaning was interpreted to mean "common descent," but I find Francois Bernier's account of races to be a prime example of what people still do today. By dividing the races into four categories: the Europeans, the Africans, the Asians, and the Lapps based solely on physical characteristics suggests that Bernier formed an aspect of racism. After reading "A New Division of the Earth" over, I noticed that the first species, the Europeans, received no form of critique of physical characteristics. Yet, it seemed as though the Europeans were stated as the model species. All of the other races were being compared to this "first" species. In his African explanation, Bernier says, "Their hair, which is not properly hair, but rather species of wool, which comes near the hairs of some of our dogs," was an interesting because of his word choice. He used the word "our" which indicated that he was comparing all of the other species to this first or supreme species. We came to the conclusion in class that Bernier's argument is not neutral and objective, but extremely normative in judgment. This brings me to my question of what constitutes racism? Although Bernier may have merely been commenting of what he observed, referring to a specific race as "wretched" isn't a valid observation. When does simply observing and noticing differences move toward racist beliefs? And do you think that Bernier's comments could be considered an origin of racism?

I also was interested to see how "race" was defined today. Although the definition has varied within cultures and over time, I was interested in how it compared to the original "common descent" definition. Here are the definitions below ( What do you think of these definitions? And can race really be defined?

1. A local geographic or global human population distinguished as a more or less distinct group by genetically transmitted physical characteristics.
2. A group of people united or classified together on the basis of common history, nationality, or geographic distribution:
3. A genealogical line; a lineage.
4. Humans considered as a group.
5. Biology
a. An interbreeding, usually geographically isolated population of organisms differing from other populations of the same species in the frequency of hereditary traits. A race that has been given formal taxonomic recognition is known as a subspecies.
b. A breed or strain, as of domestic animals.
6. A distinguishing or characteristic quality, such as the flavor of a wine.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Race? Racism? Myths? Kant.

The first week of class was very interesting. The day that we covered the ten race myths was the most interesting in my opinion. The myth that stood out for me was "race matters". Many times we walk around as if racial classifications are of the past and that race no longer makes a difference. Although we are striving to have a society of equality, we have yet to accomplish that. Racial discrimination is so deeply embedded into our social structure that it is almost impossible to disregard its existence. Institutional embedded discrimination is a constant reminder that race is still a factor that makes a difference.
The other myth that I thought was very interesting was the absence of a genetic marker for racial difference. Although people attempted to scientifically justify racial difference , there was never a successful finding that differentiated one race from another. In fact, there is more genetic variation among people of the same race than of different races. This further proves that race is a social construction which we have made reality in our minds. We are socialized to see similarities within races and differences among different groups even if they do not realistically exist. Rather we admit it or not, we all stereotype people, places and things prior to knowing anything factual. While we sometime fail to acknowledge this, it is considered functional in our society. We use stereotypes to try to understand that which is unfamiliar to us.

According to Immanuel Kant, we all have four racial seeds but only one is active. This is a very profound statement because we are all mixed with other races, no one is of a pure race. Although we are all mixed, onephenotype is usually dominant. This discussion alone raised many questions in my mind: How many families actually feel the need to conserve the purity of their race ? (I know this could be something that people choose not to discuss) I also wondered how people felt about the term "reverse racism" ? Do you believe that it is possible to be racist if you are part of a marginalized group or is racism only possible when it is from the group of privilege ? I have had this discussions with many people of different races and there is a wide range of stances. Although being racist in a marginalized group is less likely to affect the group of privilege , it is still possible to possess racist attitudes and follow through with racist actions.

This then brings up the question : What is racism ? What do you consider to be racist ? There is a variation of this definition according to who you ask.

Herder's "Copernican Revolution"

Johann Gottfried von Herder’s contemporary, Immanuel Kant, is famous for his “Copernican revolution”: the notion that rather than assuming that our minds must adhere to the construction of the universe in order to perceive and understand it, we should assume that the universe must conform to the construction of our minds and reason. The idea that reality is shaped by our minds and not vice versa was a revolutionary concept which allowed Kant to “save” metaphysics as a science.

Herder attended a number of Kant’s lectures as a student, and as our reading for Tuesday suggests, Herder’s ideas on race were intended as a response to the writings of his larger than life contemporary. I believe that while not as influential as Kant’s work, Herder’s short piece is a “Copernican revolution” of sorts, which deserves our attention.

Herder’s “Copernican revolution” is located in the statement: “each human being in the end becomes a world, that may have a similar appearance from the outside; but on the inside has a nature of its own that cannot be measured against any other”(24). The prevailing view of Europeans at the time was that the peoples encountered in Africa, Asia, and the New World were so physically different from themselves and Europeans as to constitute radically different races of humanity, or even different species. Most Europeans believed that the mental and emotional capacities of peoples could be generalized from their various phenotypes. Hence, Kant’s surety of the “strength of [the white] human stock in comparison to the others”(19). Herder, however, points out that the various peoples are actually overwhelmingly similar in appearance and that “one and the same species is humankind on earth”(25). In fact, it is to Herder’s great credit that he argues that the real difference between people is to be found inside, in the immensity of each persons “world.”

Still, this is a conception of humanity that could easily be as racist as any other. All it takes is for one to say something to the tune of: “admittedly, the physical differences between white Europeans and black Africans is far less that those between white Europeans and apes, but there is still a great interior difference between whites and blacks. The mental and emotional world of whites is so much deeper than blacks.”

Thankfully, Herder refutes such an argument with his emphasis on the individuality of human nature. Writing that each person “has a nature of its own that cannot be measured against any other,”(24) and that “they are each an innumerable harmony, a living self that has an effect on all the forces that surround them,”(24) Herder unequivocally argues that only significant difference between humans is that between one person and the next. This difference “cannot be measured” from our limited individual perspectives and is just as likely to be greater between Herder and Kant than it is between Herder and an African or Kant and an Asian. Surely the great Kant would admit that one cannot draw sweeping conclusions from a comparison that will every time and every where give different results.

Herder takes the prevailing assumptions about physical differences and the generalizations drawn from them and turns them on their head, much like Kant did to metaphysical assumptions. The conclusion to draw from Herder’s writing is that “overall and in the end everything is only a shade of one and the same great portrait that extends across all the spaces and times of the earth”(26).


Is Laziness a Racial Characteristic?

In the beginning of Immanuel Kant’s essay, “Of the Different Human Races,” he distinguishes between natural division and artificial division. According to Kant, “race” is a natural deviation from the original line of human descent. Based on this understanding of “race,” Kant argues that “race” is scientifically supported. However, what exactly constitutes a “race?” Is it one’s physical, cognitive, or emotional characteristics that have “deviated”? If so, how can one measure such deviations? Does one’s cultural community and religion influence one’s race, and if so, how? Kant seems to make a broad claim about “race” without defining specific characteristics used to differentiate between races.

Kant’s observations of various races are primarily physical. For example, he describes people who lived in the arctic region as having a smaller build because “with a smaller build the power of the heart remains the same but blood circulation takes place in a shorter time” (p. 15). Similarly, Kant explains, “Negros…produced a thick, turned up nose and thick, fatty lips” (p. 15). However, imbedded within the context of the essay are remarks about cognitive deviation as well, for example differences in personality. After the extensive paragraph that describes how surrounding environment influences the appearance of Negros, Kant writes, “However, because he is so amply supplied by his motherland, he is also lazy, indolent, and dawdling” (17). Like physical attributes, does Kant believe personality traits, such as “laziness,” are preserved as well? For example, would Kant argue that a “Negro” who is born and raised in a sparse environment would be “lazy, indolent, and dawdling?” Clearly, this is an absurd claim to make. Because such characteristics are not preserved throughout generations, Kant should not include such observations in his essay. Rather, Kant should maintain his definition of “race,” although poorly defined, in order to uphold the belief that “race” belongs to the category of “natural law.” Not only does Kant’s statement about Negros undermine his naturally based philosophy of race, but it also undermines the integrity of different races. Words such as “lazy, indolent, and dawdling” are charged with negative connotations. Comments such as these emphasize the political motivation for race. Kant directly criticizes other “races,” with the hopes to indirectly advance his own.

Although I now understand “ten things to know about race” after class discussion, I, myself, do not have answers to the questions I have posed. Although slightly embarrassing to admit, I do not know what “constitutes” race. I am looking forward to further investigating this question throughout the course of the semester.

Bernier's View

Francious Bernier, as we went over in Tuesday's lecture, had a much different approach is separating individuals into different races of individuals and not in terms on the environment in which they lived. I found his thoughts on skin color in regards to Egyptians and Indians interesting, because of the way he goes about stating his assumptions. On page 2, when describing the skin color of the Egyptians and Indians, he states, " For although Egyptians, for instance, and the Indians are very black, or rather copper-colored, that colour is only an accident to them, and comes because they are constantly exposed to the sun; for those individuals who take care of themselves, and who are not obliged to expose themselves so often as the lower class, are not darker than many Spaniards." Bernier has established something more in this statement when he speaks about the reasoning for the coloration of different people's skin. If one takes care of oneself, then one will not end up with this coloration. Is he insinuating that if one is smart and knows how to take care of themselves in regard to the sun, they can ultimately stay within one race of people? We spoke about in class how Bernier seems that he wants to associate physical characteristics with moral characteristics. I also thought it was interesting how he doesn't use much science, but more his opinion. Bernier was one philosopher who went out and experienced different places and people, and obviously his thoughts revolve around what was going on in the world during the 1600s, but his thoughts seem to be according to just his standards. This is shown through how he describes women that are beautiful and what is ugly. I agree with Bernier in the fact that people should be placed with where they came from, and I think that the grouping he created seems logical.

Prey to Pseudoscience

Humans desire to make sense of the world; we have appealed to different explanations with the changes of history. Today we try to explain the world by creating categories, definitions and equations. Before modern science, people appealed to magic and religion to explain phenomena. Most people are trying to find some meaning in their lives and are only satisfied in thinking that “things happen for a reason”. I find this funny because it seems to me as though the world is what it is today because of chance and random occurrences. The reason I bring this up is because in class it seemed as though we were in agreement that these authors were doing something wrong in defining race. I don’t believe they were doing anything right, however I think they were doing what humans do, the way they did it in the time of their texts. These individuals experienced phenomena (maybe for Kant it wasn’t first hand) and were driven to explain them. At the same time, one only needs to skim these texts to notice the condescending manner in which they set out to achieve their goal. They described certain people as being “wretched” or “beautiful”, which are more opinions than measures, and used the white race as the standard to which all others were compared. Today most of us immediately see that as being wrong or “racist”, especially as their writing suggests that whites are “better” in some respects. I want to take a moment to play devil’s advocate here: it could be said that the society of the Europeans was more advanced than others and was the origin of most science and technology of the time. If this is the case, the whites must have seen themselves as somewhat superior, but not based on race. These men must have seen it as their duty to explain the phenomena that surrounded these ideas or questions. My own point of view on the world leads me to discount this explanation. These texts were written in a time before the global community that we know today. Societies seldom overlapped at this time therefore they appealed to different explanations and beliefs. Instead of being superior, the Europeans had merely taken their society in a different direction. They had no real basis for believing they were superior. Everyone thinks they are superior in one way or another, but the Europeans had the resources to travel extensively and the technology to spread their thoughts through text so that their particular explanations became prominent. In my mind, the Europeans beliefs are of no greater importance or relevance than the beliefs of the people they were writing about. This brings me back to the point I opened with: humans desire to find meaning in a world where there may be none, and end up being satisfied with whatever theories they can scrape together. With this in mind, I find our recent readings, in some respects, no more offensive than any religious practices I can think of (besides, like, human sacrifice). There has been a lot of pseudoscience in the past and, on one hand, I think these writers were prey to that.

On the other hand, they were racists.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Some Things to Keep in Mind

As we have noted, if we consider the human race to be monogenesis in origin, then differences must have developed or deviated away from a common source. If this is the case, then, as is a common assumption, varying external factors will play into a “nature selection” that will produce different results that in some way correlate to these factors. However, we know now that natural selection is confined to the gene pool already present in a population. That is, excluding mutations, the variation within a population is limited to what is already contained in its collective DNA, something akin to Kant’s “seed”. When a population is separated into two gene pools (migration, catastrophe, you name it) the two pools will at first appear more or less identical. However, once the distinction has been made and the respective populations refrain from interbreeding, their evolutionary paths necessarily diverge. This may not become immediately observable, but we must keep in mind physical appearances are only accidents in this respect. A population that strays to an extreme local will undergo heavy natural pressure to adapt, its gene pool being pulled in directions more accommodating to its environment. Of course, a population that separates itself, yet remains in a comparable climate will not be inclined to deviate much from its current manifestation. Still, over time differences will naturally occur; the chances of two isolated populations maintaining identical evolutionary tracks are slim, if plausible at all. We know race is contrived and culture is imposed, but to me it seems that at least originally, we are justified in making distinctions based on divergent (in the positive sense) gene pools. Now, how many generations does it take to produce a new race? Should we base race solely on observable differences? The Korean and the Chinese were separated long enough that their gene pools disseminated into two observably different populations. Strangely enough, while I see no difference, any Asian will immediately recognize the distinction. Now, as Dr J said, we are all mixed. Globalization means that there are no more isolated populations. We may now envision, at least theoretically, the entire human population as belonging to a single gene pool. There are, of course, clusters of certain genetic frequencies here and there, and the environment still pulls a relative population one way or another. Still, excluding human social factors, the advent of globalization produces a single human gene pool that entails, for better or worse, a higher propensity for biological convergence and a lower propensity for biological divergence. That any male on earth could potentially mate with any female means that the variation between humans at this moment is already theoretically contained in a single gene pool; we are all variations of the same thing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Race and Gender

Dr. Johnson began Tuesday's class discussion with the "ten things to know about race." I often find myself juxtaposing my courses at Rhodes, not necessarily intentionally but some times things just seem to web together. As the list progressed parallels between the ten things to know about race and my gender studies courses arose. The context in which gender is discussed is similar to the way in which Dr. J introduced race.

Gender, like race, is often now studied as socially constructed. The third thing on the list for race was that there is no single genetic marker or basis for race. Gender is studied similarly by separating the terminology of biological sex and focusing on the characteristics that differentiate between male and female. These characteristics in gender can be equally offensive and stereotypical like race. Asians are good at math. Women are good at vacuuming. Right? No.

The seventh thing to know about race was that we are all mixed, there is no pure racial ancestry. This may not directly relate but the practice of anti-miscegenation laws, those that forbid people from marrying outside their race in order to maintain pure ancestry, are similar to the practice of kinship that is studied in gender courses. Kinship practices vary in different cultures but the main purpose is to control and govern who marries who. As the anti-miscegenation laws proved unsuccessful, no one is pure, so are the flaws in any kinship practice.

The eighth thing to know is ovioulsy similar. Classifications constantly change over time. The distinction between biological sex and gender as I mentioned before wasn't proposed until the 1950s and became common in literature in the 1970s. Not all biologically born "Women" associate themselves with typical female characteristics. Just as certain races do not associate with the racial categories society has created. I realize they are completely separate histories that we are studying but the oppression race and gender experience is real and often relatable.