Alain Locke attempts to bring readers during his time away from the idea that natural race produces culture towards the thought that culture produces race. I see this as true when we operate under the assumption that race is more of a “volk” or way of acting as a people. If this is the case, then the fact that as members of a civilization we function as products of society would also hold true. Some people may believe that they are solely responsible for their actions, but in all reality, our decisions have been informed through our cultural interaction and socialization since day one.
Another piece of support which I turn to in response to Locke’s point is that race was created as a way to categorize. The explicit desire to categorize and “understand” everything in the world through labeling it was a strong cultural value in Europe during the age of reasoning. Thus culture prescribed the feeling of a need to “invent” race in the 1600’s. The reason I put emphasis on “invent” is that varied pigment in our skin has been around as long as we are concerned; however, we see the push to attempt to “ontologically” define these color differences. In all reality, these color differences do not seem to have some intrinsically basic, ontological meaning, yet meaning became associated with the color of one’s skin.
As products of society we have all been socialized in one way or another to share this bias. Some of us may say that we are beyond this, which is great. One can recognize the stereotypes and attempt to make a conscious effort fight the current of our racist socialization. Those who are brought up in more progressive, open families/settings/societies have had more of an opportunity to be socialized different, but if you really think about it there is at least one facet of your life or understanding of the world that has a racially based bend to it. Whether it lies in an issue with comfortably to date outside of one’s race, stereotypes, or even simply an unconscious limitation from our language (a facet of culture!), we have all been socialized in some manner that could be considered racist.
I think that it is naïve of us to claim that we are not racist in at least some fashion simply because we are products of a racist world. We may believe that our world is becoming ever more cognizant of race and more accepting, but the fact still holds true that we have been affected by the continuing presence of history. I do not write this post to call anyone out, or to put myself up on a pedestal; but rather to say that it is okay to accept the fact that we are all a little racist. Another cultural value that I at least feel pressure to abide by is the idea to always seem open-minded and not racist. If you do not agree just take a second to think about how you or others take time to craft responses in a compromising situation to avoid “seeming racist.”
Obviously being racist is bad, but we need to simply accept that we are products of a racist society (in some way or another) and they use this understanding to inform our own participation in society. Being conscious of the possibility of being racist rather than denying it provides us the opportunity to call ourselves out when we do/say/think something racist and then make a change. Our foregrounding has set us up for “failure” in the sense that our language, beliefs, spatial separations, etc. have been shaped by a racist past; however, we also have the potential to engage reflexively with our world. We can recognize the limitations of our language and word associations with racial categories (for example “thug” or “nerd”) and attempt to find counter examples to these to change our assumptions. Even easier than that is to just being aware of our limitations and put our egos aside, recognize our positioning, and then strive to create a change by eliminating those tendencies which we become aware of as “racist.”