Saturday, February 19, 2011

Race is not real, but should we eliminate it?

DuBois’ argues that race is defined by a group of people who share a “common history” and a “common striving.” However, Appiah critically notes that such commonalities are a product of a group, not the establishment of a group. Thus, Dubois is committed to the biological/anthropological construction of race, especially when discussing the message that African Americans must convey. The reader is left to ponder, “what constitutes the African American race?” and “Who belongs to the common history of African Americans if biology is not a factor?” Such questions reveal the illogical nature of DuBois’ proposal.

Considering there is no scientific basis for race, Appiah is a proponent for the “eliminativist” argument. Essentially, Appiah believes that race should be eliminated because race is not real. I find this perspective to be frustrating, even borderline offensive. I admittedly am not tied to the sciences; I have neither taken nor desire to take courses in physics, molecular biology, organic chemistry and so forth. Therefore, perhaps I do not fully appreciate what is scientifically proven/disproven to be “real,” “true,” or “a priori.” With that said, I do not understand why something should be suppressed simply because it is not “real.” What eliminativists seem to wrongly negate are the consequences of race—the deeply engrained and enduring oppression that particular groups of people have had to face. Moreover, the idea of race is largely intertwined with cultural communities that people positively identify with. I believe that people who are not well informed about the philosophy of race would be opposed to eliminating their race, considering it influences their traditions, values, speech, etc. Although there is no biological and/or genetic component for race, our history has been greatly influenced by the pseudoscientific definition of race. If we want to learn from our history, then we must acknowledge race rather than eliminate it. In acknowledging “race,” we are responsible for clarifying the misconceptions and preserving the benefits.

I am hoping that we will further investigate the “eliminativist” perspective during the next few classes. I cannot wrap my head around how one would begin to eliminate race. Would such an active push for assimilation begin in early childhood education? Although I disagree with eliminating race, I want to know how eliminativists would realistically encourage people to do so. Or, is the eliminativist argument an ideal concept with no realistic intent? Answers to these questions may sway my perspective, but for now I believe one should conserve race.


  1. I think you outline some of the fundamental practical problems with the eliminitavist frame, especially in trying to distinguish between the social reality of race and its lack of scientific reality. One think that I have been struggling with in class is how to deal with scientific reality; sometimes it feels as though we accept scientific proof, or scientific reasoning as if it were the end-all-be-all of human truth. Without sliding into denial of certain scientific realities, I am wondering how we can question science in a critical and meaningful way. I suppose at the heart of this is the question of what knowledge and truth are and whether there can exist different frameworks of knowledge beyond scientifically verifiable truths? So yeah, basically, that is a long-winded way of saying that the elimination of race has a lot of far-reaching implications which are really hard to conceptualize. Ughh...

  2. First, I think it is important to point out that biological science NEVER aims to "prove" anything in the true sense of the word. Only mathematics and formal logic can actually "prove" anything. Biological sciences propose theories (hypotheses) which they test in the real word. These real world results (i.e. the absences of a set of genes that determines race as we perceive it) are then said to be validated or unvalidated. That is, all of the evidence we see so far falls in line with our hypothesis. This of course leaves open the possibility for future evidence to invalidate our past hypothesis.

    Sorry for the science rant, but it's kind of my favorite thing to discuss.

    Anyway, what this means for race and our concept of it from an elimintivist perspective is that it does not exist in a scientific manner. In other words, the arguments about race that try to base themselves in science are wrong. Nothing meaningful can be said about different groups of people. What elimintivists do not say is that one cannot make meaningful statements about how people who do believe in race act. People who believe that race is, in fact, something meaningful can have an impact on the world and they indeed do. Similarly, those that don't believe in evolution can have an impact on the world, but that does not mean that evolution is not a scientifically validated theory.

  3. Yeah, I agree that this is a really convoluted topic to try to grasp. I don't know. I kind of agree with Ferrell. Within any realm of science, there is no empirical proof. There is only the experimentation. I think that since it cannot be "proven" that race is not founded in biology, then it still very well may be founded in biology. Also, I agree with you when you talk about how culture and traditions are huge aspects of different races. Yet, some races share some of the same cultures and traditions, so would this allow them to consolidate with another "race group" that is similar? Even if eliminativists do believe that there is no such thing as race at all, I feel like they still have to accept the fact that when they step outside of the "fake world in which race exists" that the real world is still very much run by social inequality, political hierarchy, supposed religious "superiorities," and ultimately how all of these tie into race relations...that is, how the color of someone's skin affects where they lie on these continuums. So, yeah...I don't know...

  4. I can't imagine what a world without race would look like. I have no clue how we would begin to eliminate it. What I have seen is the elimination of racism. I've seen a documentary about ex-members of the Aryan Brotherhood. They talk about their time in the gang and their extreme racism which in and of itself is rather frightening. The amount of hatred in these people is overwhelming. However, one of the most amazing things I've ever heard was the explanation of the moment when one member realized the repercussion of his actions. The moment came when his 2 year old daughter saw an African American on TV and called him a "dirty n****r." The gang member realized how he had brainwashed his child into hating an entire group of people that had done nothing to either him or his family.

    I don't think that the concept of race will ever be eliminated from society- it's too engrained in our nature. I think that the most we can hope for is the elimination of racism...and that is already a slow and tedious process.


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