Monday, November 14, 2005

It Ain't Just the *Human* Race...

THEM: I guess that I've always been stupid about racial issues, and I prefer to remain that way. We can all remain petty, and each of us can carry around a painter's color wheel so we can keep track of who has what color skin to what degree, even though that tells us absolutely nothing significant about a person. Or maybe we can finally accept that we all belong to the human race.

When I was in first grade, I brought home my class picture, and told my mom that there is this guy in my class who looks just like Uncle Tony, and his name is Tony, too. (My uncle Tony is half-italian, but looks extremely italian, with olive skin and dark curly hair. My mom looked at my class picture and said that she didn't see anybody who looked like Tony. So I had her start guessing, and she kept guessing all the white boys in the class, then finally gave up. I smiled and pointed at Tony, a dark-skinned kid with an afro just like my uncle Tony. I looked past the skin color and saw the exact same haircut. Like I said, I'm just stupid about race.

ME: That kinda "stupid" has its advantages and disadvantages, imo. It's nice to access that perspective sometimes, but I don't think we wanna be *stuck* on stupid.

The question asks how one draws the line between those who are considered 'white' and those who are not. You imply that such considerations are petty and that they tell "us absolutely nothing significant about a person." We might just as easily discuss what each of us considers to be "tall" or "short," without pettiness and despite the fact that such divisions provide no greater insights into Person X. So, I don't think there's anything petty about it. It's just a discussion about a (sometimes) practical matter.

There are good ways and reasons to "label" people and there are bad ways and reasons. The former isn't negated by the latter, in my opinion.

It's unfortunate that "race" is such a taboo subject. Mention ethnicity or race and you must be a racist - or you must be trying to reinforce artificial, negative, and meaningless divisions amongst members of the human race.

No. It ain't that simple.

There are very real, very practical reasons for labels. Sometimes they're a good idea and sometimes they're not. Let's decide which based upon the content of the statements, not the fact that they dare to acknowledge something that exists - whether we recognize it or not.


nikki said...

i think there is a place for labels, but i see the race issue like this: to say there are separate races is to infer there is a difference in the humanity of the folks within those races, which was the justification behind the entire slave thing and later the "separate but equal" thing.

to me, there is only one race. that said, there is not only one ethnicity or culture. ethnicity is what i think of when i see white skin vs. dark skin, thin lip vs. thick lip, etc. culture is what i think of when i hear bluegrass vs. rhythm and blues.

ultimately, i think the idea of different races does a disservice to black folks because by separating it in such a manner is to deny any connection to us in origin, intellect, and humanity, which then makes it easy for others to put that "they're inferior because they're created from a totally different animal than us" bullshit.

West said...

I guess I don't see how "there is a difference in the humanity of the folks within those races" is implicit to racial/ethnic labelling.

Labelling is a tool. That tool can be used to positive or negative effect. So, in my opinion, it's about the application, not the tool.

Btw, this response isn't to suppress different opinions - just the opposite. I like to explore these things and see where they take us. Sometimes that's interpreted differently than intended, so I just wanted to say.

nikki said...

i see it, primarily because i read about it alot when folks justify the oppression of black folks. think about it...the white race, the black race, and the human race? that doesn't even make sense to me, really. is it even possible to have a race within a race?

West said...

It's possible to have sub-cultures (within a culture). I don't see why we couldn't have other groups within groups - such as racial sub-groups.

The term "sub-culture" doesn't mean, to me, that this smaller group is better or worse than the whole or any of its parts. It just is what it is - a sub-set.

nikki said...

i'd rather keep it simple. my taking away the use of "race" as it applies to skin color and origin doesn't mean i don't see and appreciate the differences between folks of different geographical origin. i guess it comes down to the question of how far am i willing to distinguish the differences between folks. i would rather focus on the ethnical and cultural differences, as i see the race thing as unnecessary and like i said before, gives people the justification they need to oppress folks.

West said...

I guess I haven't been paying enough attention.

Ethnicity and race seem to be nearly synonymous and cultural identity is, at worst, adjacent to them. Maybe I don't really understand what one or more of these terms actually means.

At my current level of (mis?)understanding, it seems like it's okay to talk about the forest, but not the trees - or vice-versa.

Again, I acknowledge that this may be due to some lack of understanding on my part.