One of the greatest tragedies of the modern world is just as the very concept of race is finally losing its standing in scientific circles, it is gaining ground in the social sciences, politics and popular culture.
It took science hundreds of years to come to the conclusion that there is but one race of man – Homo sapien sapien and color is merely skin deep.
While biologists and physical anthropologists understand what genetics and DNA can teach us about groups, critical race theorists have weighed in to create a confusing and ultimately contradictory defintion of race.
The latter view race as a social construct established by Europeans. Race is something established to differentiate one group from another and formalize a power structure. Race comes with it a whole set of assumptions about the moral and intellectual characteristics about the holder.
In this way slavery, colonialism, imperialism were all justified on the basis of race.
But in the view of theorists and activists, race, too, becomes a way of redressing all the ills of the past – both real and perceived.
“As long as race is something applied only to non-white peoples, as long as white people are not racially seen and named, they/we function as a human norm. Other people are raced, we are just people….The point of seeing the racing of whites is to dislodge them/us from the position of power, with all the inequities, oppression, privileges and sufferings in its train, dislodging them/us by undercutting the authority with which they/we speak and act in and on the world,” writes Richard Dyer.
Thus whites are race just as blacks, browns, reds and yellows are races.
Race is not just in the eye of the beholder; it is also in the heart of holder.
This is how may have come to hold the view that we can have racism without there being racists.
Opra Winfrey, for example, recounts the story of how she was trying to get into a jewelry shop which had just closed, but still had staff outside the doors. She was politely told the store was closed. Winfrey complained to the store’s owners about the perceived racism.
We are seeing a good deal of this now when extremely successful and wealthy black individuals from the business world and politics proclaim there is “systemic” racism in every institution.
To a man and woman, none see the irony in that statement, given the fact they succeeded despite “systemic” racism.
The debate has reached the point that a society or institution can be considered racist because it does NOT consider race and racist if it considers race in the WRONG way.
It’s not enough for anyone or anything to be color blind in the allocation of resources or application of laws. Race has to be considered in everything we do and marginalized races must be treated equitably, not equally.
The dangers inherent in that approach ought to be evident to all right thinking people. It is an approach that fails to recognize the divisions within racial groups and the fact that activists within racial groups seek to exploit their position to the detriment of others.
Not all blacks, after all, see themselves as Black. There is existing many who wish to be judged on the basis of their character and skills and not the color of their skin.
Then, too, the racializing of Whites is also problematic. Most whites do not wake up thinking they are white. They are simply people. Once they start seeing themselves as Whites, a few may be consumed by self-loathing, as holding privilege, but many more will reject the notion they are privileged.
The ultimate danger, of course, is that we are forced to see all the ills of modern society – inequality, wealth disparity, lack of opportunity – through the prism of race to the point that we will not be able to effect the changes that will lift everyone out of poverty.
We have the means to better the lives of people, but they will remain forever beyond our reach if we are mired in rancorous racial debates.
Science says race does not exist. It’s time we listened.