Monday, February 14, 2011

Musings: Race and Racism

It seems impossible to discount the inherent nature of race and racism. Its presence is preordained, like the sun rising in the east. Concepts of race and racism exist within individual societies and nations. To deny that fact at this point in history is merely an attempt to either hide the problem in the closet or acknowledge a lack of insight into one's person. President Barack Obama, in his famous speech in Philadelphia, re-awakened this topic, one that America has tried to place back in the closet over the past several decades.

Race exists mainly because the colors of our skin are different (there are obviously other, less pronounced or identifiable physical differences between the races). Someday in the far future that distinction may not continue, but that day cannot be foreseen at present. Why is the color of our skin important? Skin color is one of the most easily identifiable traits of the human race that allows us to divide people into groups. Since it seems to be an inevitable human trait to judge people, it follows that our judgments become more efficient if we can group people. Thus, a second musing is that racism, or the judging of people as one might define racism, developed because it was easy to use the physical trait of skin color (race) to group people.

Once people are grouped, in this consideration by the color of their skin, and judgments assigned to the group based on individual observations, then stereotypes follow. The essence of racism is judgment and the application of stereotypes. If i know person X (regardless of his/her skin color) and make observations about his/her intelligence, athletic ability, etc. that is not racism. Racism enters into the equation when those observations are stereotyped to the race or skin color. A third musing centers on stereotyping of the races.

One should remember that racism, as broadly defined, is not necessarily positive or negative. Once can be considered racist for thinking African-Americans have innate basketball skills that other races don't enjoy. Since we place high economic value on basketball skills in the United States, this is certainly a favorable trait, if it exists. However, is is not accurate to make these judgments or stereotypes to all African-Americans. Thus, making judgments (racism) may not always be negative, but they are almost certainly not correct when applied to races.

So, how do we avoid being racist? We obviously cannot avoid being a member of a race.

We should have comfort and be able to acknowledge and embrace our race without fear of prejudice. What we need to do is avoid judging others or placing stereotypes on them. That serves no purpose, whether it is in the context of the color of their skin or through some other arbitrary measure. We should be able to embrace the color of our skin and realize that people will be attracted to different skin color like they are to blue versus brown eyes or blond versus red hair. Throughout history people have rarely (if ever) been judged by the color of their eyes or hair. The same can certainly not be said for the color of one's skin. To know this, all one has to do is ask any African-American presently living in the United States.


  1. Cat I agree, racism arises when we attribute an individual's qualities or shortcomings, actions or habits to a racial identity, or conversely, derive judgments about an individual based on his skin color. But it seems to me that when judging or evaluating someone, we may make racial observations that are not necessarily racist. For example, if I meet a black person, does it do any good for me not to acknowledge her racial identity? Would I not gain a deeper insight into her character by thinking as best and clearly as possible about her identity as she perceives it. We cannot avoid being a member of our race--well put. It seems to me that a positive application of racism would be not judging someone based on one's own conception of his racial identity, but rather thinking about how such a constructed identity plays into his own conception of himself and his surroundings.

  2. You are very right; racism is still prevalent and is not an issue to ignore. And yes, stereotyping one based on skin color is wrong; however, this extends into stereotypes and judgements of any sort. It needs to be recognized that, as has been discussed on this blog earlier, that stereotypes help us categorize and compartmentalize our world. The danger is when these preconceived notion are regarded as the truth or are used to assign worth to individuals. Stereotypes need to be taken with a grain of salt. We need to recognize that they do exist, and sometimes may hold true, yet we also need to be open to experiences and individuals who challenge these views.

  3. I think you hit the nail on the head by using the term judgment. That's exactly what happens, a group is basically given a judgment as to who and what they are, and then what ensues is merely a recursive association of racist notions. The irony is that, without the pervasiveness of racism, many people will not admit to these judgments. In effect, there is a vicious cycle of silence and non-disclosure that has prevented an open dialogue on the subject.

  4. Colin, I agree with you here, and I'd have to say that I believe that elminitivism has at least part of the answer to the problem. Eliminitivism allows for the open dialogue about the problems surrounding the concept of race while simultaneously disproving the idea of different races. Those judgments made by individuals are unfounded, but still have an impact on our society.


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