Friday, January 18, 2008

What, exactly, IS "race" (or is it just race)?

If we're going to define racism, it strikes me that the next step is to define race, especially if, ultimately, what we want to do is to come up with strategies for an anti-racist praxis.

My own definition of race was influenced while I was in college by Michael Omi & Howard Winat's Racial Formation in the United States (it's going into a 3rd, post 9/11 edition). [I'm withholding my own definition entirely, this time, to hear what others have to say, although if you've read Omi & Winant you can figure out how I define race pretty easily].

So once again, I throw out this question to the blogosphere: How do you define race? Does it differ depending on context/audience? And especially for those of you in the classroom who talk about, teach about, issues of race/diversity/ethnicity/culture, how do you define race for your/with your students? What are their points of resistance/acceptance? And what strategies have you found that work best to talk about race (and racism and anti-racism)?

20 comments:

Hilaire said...

I tend to define race as a *historical* construction, a system of power relations that was intimately tied to both the scientific revolution and imperialism. I tend to identify an "origin point" of contemporary understandings of race in this Enlightenment period, but I think the other ways that race and racism exist historically make it clear that there is vast variability there.

I take this approach while I'm teaching. I think it works fairly well. I actually had students read a chapter of Londa Schiebinger's _The Sex of Nature_ (about taxonomic classifications of race and sex in the eighteenth century) in a first-year course this year. They were fascinated by it, actually. I found this worked really well to drive home the connections to empire and to power, not to mention its non-essential character.

Amber said...

The way I define race absolutely depends on context/audience. There's the "given" understanding of race--skin color. But when I'm in the classroom discussing race with students, I make sure to bring up how complicated "race" is...this past semester I showed one of my classes the Skip Gates PBS program--i think it is called African American Lives--where he takes well-known African Americans and conducts DNA testing and what not. Skip himself, and Quincy Jones, ended up being 50% white. Another person, a woman who teaches at Harvard and identifies as partially Native American, found out she had absolutely no Native American ancestry. But she said she'd continue to self identify as such. So that really undermines a typical concept of race. As someone in the documentary said, "race" should always be placed in quotes. I tend to agree with that.

baby221 said...

You know it's funny, I sat down to answer this and realised I don't really have an answer. For all that we talk about racism and race/ethnicity, we never really spend much time sitting with "race" in and of itself. I guess I would define it as a social construction based on perceived physical differences between groups of people -- things like your skin colour, the shape of your eyes, etc. -- that is then somehow used to suggest that some physical characteristics (blond hair, blue eyes) are superior to others, correlating to the ways in which the people who possess those characteristics are superior to others. It's really about setting up your networks, who's in, who's out, the kind of thing we used to do just to avoid interbreeding but we now do as a matter of course, without even thinking about it.

Usually when I teach it, we use "race" to mean the physical characteristics of a group of people and "ethnicity" to mean the cultural/social characteristics of a group of people; it's similar to the way in which we distinguish sex (the biological) from gender (the social). For the most part, because students will be students, they accept the definitions as the frames in which they need to work in order to pass the class. Sometimes they'll argue that they think race and ethnicity are more interchangeable than not, and we talk about that, but it always comes back to "well for the purposes of this class, these terms are defined as x" and they stop arguing.

I have yet to find strategies that completely "work" to talk about things like race, racism, anti-racism, colorism, etc. I really only have experience facilitating small-group (max 16 students) intergroup dialogues around racial/ethnic issues, and we use a variety of tools -- teambuilding activities, small-group break-out activities, readings, discussions, journal-writing, etc. -- to encourage students to think about and discuss the different issues surrounding race and ethnicity, including the ways in which they've been socialised as members of their own racial/ethnic group and that kind of thing. Some tools work better for some students than others (the kind of people who learn from reading will obviously get more out of the assigned literature than the ones who need hands-on experiential exercises, for example), but overall we seem to be making a small amount of headway by, ultimately, teaching students how to empathise across differences. Once they learn how to do that, they're more receptive to understanding why the -isms have got to go.

(ps. for some reason your word verification thingie is not working properly; this is the fourth time I've tried to submit this!)

Hilaire said...

I think Amber's point about always putting "race" in quotes is an important one. I've struggled with this one, wanting to do it very much but feeling as if it can operate as condescending in some contexts. So, when I've commented on here, I haven't, because you haven't, and I'd like to take my lead from you since it's your blog. It's an excellent practice, though. I know of one university press that specifies in its style guidelines for authors that "race" be put in quotation marks...I just saw this recently, and it impressed me. Maybe I'm behind the times - is this a standard guideline for uni presses?

Jennifer said...

Again, thanks for all the wonderful comments. I just wanted to check in and send my appreciations but I'm still hoping others will comment, so I'm going to just end now and wait for other voices to respond.

Genepool said...

I'm not a teacher, nor was I really ever a good student so my answer likely lacks polish, but here goes.

I think race is a crutch we use to carry us through times of self doubt and insecurity. To establish at least that much of an identity for presentation.

Race is a tool. It gives people a commonality and therefore a reason to unite in pride to accomplish great things. Sometimes terrible things. It also gives leverage to those who would manipulate racial pride.

Race is a means to an end. How often do we see so-called representatives of races pop up in times of public outrage? Do they speak for everyone who makes up what they consider their race? Well, of course not. Not that you'll ever hear about it. Strife and conflict make for good ratings, people sitting in peaceful discussion over race would barely get infomercial time slots. But thats another topic.

Lets face it, race is what you CONSIDER yourself by physical traits and ancestry, but not necessarily how you DEFINE yourself.

Personally, I think we'd be better off focusing on the latter.

CVT said...

Whoo! Okay - here goes. I was going to just sit back and read the comments on this one, feeling I didn't have anything particularly "new" to add, but I feel driven to respond to Genepool's comments.

Before I start - I'm not trying to pick a fight, but I think some things need to be addressed.

First of all - I agree that "race" is largely about identification: how a person identifies themselves AND (perhaps, more importantly) how other people identify them. Certainly we can all agree that "race" doesn't actually mean a whole lot scientifically.

However, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist or isn't important. I don't know how to say this in PC terms, so I'm just going to say it: Genepool, your response leads me to believe that you are white. That may be an incredibly stupid thing to say, and I'll probably end up feeling dumb when I'm wrong, but let me explain why I would say that.

In my experience, I have known many kind, open-minded white folks (my father included) who would like to just up and cancel this whole "race" thing. They cite all the terrible things that have come from racial identification and let us know how much better off we'd all be without it. Of course, to a certain extent, I agree with that. The next part, though, is the kicker - the argument that sticking to concepts and identity of "race" are false, "crutches," or the problem.

Up to now (and perhaps this will prove to be the first time), I have never met a person of colour who wouldn't consider "race" as part of how they DEFINE themselves. Not just "consider (themselves) by physical traits and ancestry." It's unavoidable. If you live in the world today as a person of colour, there is no choice in this matter. The world systems and structures in place constantly reinforce this definition whether we want to go with it or not. My mixed-race absolutely DEFINES me in a way that my interests and passions and activities can never do. Because I can choose those things - and change my mind - but my racial make-up (and how the world has reacted to that) has absolutely changed WHO I AM.

The only people out there (in the U.S., I would specify) that believe it is a choice and that "race" is simply a crutch are the ones who don't have to think about it because they DEFINE what "normal" is by being the dominant culture: white folks. But you know what? White folks are just as DEFINED by their "race" as any other - just not aware of it. The same way people didn't think about the "fact" that the sun revolved around the Earth back in the day - because that was just "how it is." Being white and living that culture is just "how it is" in America today, and that causes a lot of things to be missed. And misunderstood.

So be careful in your assumptions, Genepool. "Race" is inconvenient on a lot of levels, and sure, it would be great if everyone forgot it existed - but it doesn't work that way. In our current world, it DEFINES so much of how life goes, and there is no avoiding that simply by dismissing it and trying to say that those that are shaped by it are weak and lean on it as a "crutch." We are all shaped by it. Some just have less control over how rough or blatant that process of shaping is.

So, to answer the question: "race" is a matter of identification. A combination of how you identify yourself AND how the outside world identifies you. It's a construct, for sure, but so is money, and nobody would try to argue that money isn't real and doesn't make the world how it is - even those with most of it. It's a shame that it's not the same way with "race."

Jennifer said...

Once again, thanks for all the provocative and thoughtful comments. I'm going to just chime in with 2 thoughts, mostly because my own definition of race so closely matches what people have already described, esp. hilaire's point about the roots of race with the Englightenment period and the complexity of teasing out race and ethnicity that baby221 elaborated on, and of course amber's point about context.

And it's amber's point about the scare quotes around race/"race" that I wanted to address, because I've seen both and I understand the rationale for both, and I've chosen to not put scare quotes, for the most part, around race because for all my belief in its social constructedness, contingency, mutability, and fictionality, it's still very real. I like the analogy that CVT used with money. We designate the dollar to have a certain value--but the truth is, it's a piece of paper.

My own choice in writing about race is to leave out the quotes (again, this is contextual, because there are times I do use quotes to signify its instability or contested nature). And I leave out the quotes because as much as I want to say that race is a fiction, there's always my face, which is an Asian face, an East Asian face to be exact. And it's a face that most will recognize as Asian first (or perhaps even female first and then Asian) rather than my brown eyes or square jaw or the fact that I wear glasses.

And in terms of hilaire's question about a standard for university presses, I haven't found one, although by and large, most presses say to take out the scare quotes unless you are trying to make a certain point with keeping them (I recently read a history text that used them for a certain phrase and the author made the justification in the preface for why he was doing so and it made sense (sorry, can't remember what that phrase was now) and I've seen race as both "race" and race).

The second point I want to make is that I just came back from a 2-day symposium on issues of race and racism and colonialism and I can't say where and when and what it was (because it would easily give me away) but I will say that the keynote person used many similar arguments that Genepool did in terms of race--that race is a tool. That it is a crutch and a means to an end. The language that the keynote speaker (academic and author of several books) used was more theoretically grounded, but I think Genepool's points are well taken in the sense that in the circles I travel in, people assume race as a social construction and that it is part of a larger system of racism.

But in other circles, and really, academia is small, percentage wise, people have different ways of thinking about race and the keynote speaker, who has a lot of marxist/proletarian sympathies, was trying to also imagine a world without race and to show us that race has been a divisive instrument and that, as I wrote about before, that race is really in service to racism.

Now, having said that, I also agree with CVT. I've yet to meet a non-white person who believes that we can do away with race or who refuses to claim a racial identity, even the conservative ones. And the keynote speaker is also someone who is, at least identifible as a non-white person and has said that he doesn't believe race will go away just by wishing it so.

I agree with Genepool that race is a tool and a means to an end. But the problem is, the end for a lot of people is power. And while on a local level, people who affiliate with Asian pride, black pride, Latino pride, American Indian pride may seem to have power--may be able to intimidate or hurt or discriminate against those who aren't in their racial (or ethnic) category, in terms of the larger systems and institutions that govern our nation state (the United States of America), it's white supremacy that undergirds much of the power systems--and when I say white supremacy I'm not talking about white power/neo-Nazi groups (although they are clearly advocates of white superiority) I'm talking about a subtle yet persistent belief system that to be a "real" American means being a white American. An un-hyphenated American. I'm talking about historic circumstances that made this a reality--and even though Irish and Italian and Polish immigratns were outside that paradigm, they (and other European immigrants) eventually got to "melt" into a white-American category, whereas every other non-white group saw themselves hyphenated and felt themselves continually marginalized by institutions like education, judicial, legal, congressional, and corporate powers.

It is getting better. I remind myself of that--the fact that I get to teach what I teach and where I teach (lets face it, the founders of Southern U are rolling over in their graves seeing me walk across campus and hearing me talk about these issues in the classroom). But we're not on an equal playing field yet. And while I don't give up hope that we'll get there, I know that it's going to be difficult.

And for that reason, I want as many allies as I can get and I want to talk about these issues to as many people as I can, even those who I may not agree with or see eye to eye with. Because at the end of the day if we can agree that we want an end to racism, then perhaps when that day comes, we can start to dismantle racial categories and the hierarchies and privileges that go along with them, on both a global as well as local level.

Hilaire said...

I wanted to echo cvt's point about identification. People both choose to identify in particular ways, and are identified by others. These things aren't separable - bring identified by others ofte according to all sorts of egregious assumptions and stereotypes - impinges on the identifications people "choose" to make. As with relationships to so many social categories and practices, choice is much more complicated than it sometimes seems to be. The kind of "choice" genepool characterizes as a "crutch" might easily be seen as an emotional and political necessity.

And I heartily endorse both cvt's and jennifer's points that we need to balance both the knowledge of the constructedness of race, and its "reality" - that is, its concrete and measurable effects. This is the hardest thing to make clear to students, to bring it back to how we teach race and racism. I tend to find that the best way (provisionally - always still figuring out this stuff) to ensure that they understand this fine balance is to really foreground the psychic effects of racism on racialized people (without focusing exclusively on the individual, because that's another trap). For some reason, students seem to get it when I point this out - so it's a point I make again and again even as I move to the macro-level.

baby221 said...

CTV -- just wanted to throw out a quick thanks for having responded so eloquently to genepool's arguments. I couldn't find a nice way to say the things that were on my mind (most of which was spluttering indignation to the idea that race is a "crutch," which also screamed white privilege to me) so I'm glad you were willing and able to step up to the plate.

I agree with Genepool that race is a tool and a means to an end. But the problem is, the end for a lot of people is power.

I also agree in a major way with your statement here Jennifer. The social construction of race (In the US) was created to put white people in power and is still pretty much used for that purpose. Now yes, poc identify racially for pride and solidarity, but it's a way of working within the dominant frame that gives us some small measure of the power that is otherwise denied us -- and besides, whether or not we claim that identity, others (especially whites) will assume it of us and define us accordingly. CVT's right -- race is equal parts how you identify as how the world identifies YOU.

As an example: growing up in the whitebread Midwest, I identified as white; although I understood that I looked different from my peers, to me I was still "white" because I didn't do things that I stereotypically associated with being Asian. However my classmates, all but a literal handful of whom were white, were quick to throw my Asianness back in my face, with little barbs about being able to get into college on affirmative action (even though my grades kicked their grades' ass any time of day), or jokes about eating dogs, etc. It didn't matter that I thought of myself as being similar to them -- they clearly thought of me as different from them, and treated me accordingly.

In that respect yes, claiming my Pinay identity has been a tool with which to grab power, by allying myself with other qwoc and with the api community -- being able to make strides as a group that we can't make individually -- but that doesn't mean that it's a "crutch," which aside from being ableist is just plain ignorant, and it shies way too close to sounding like that ephemeral "race card" I keep hearing about.

Genepool said...

It may be that I AM ignorant, I don't deny that I have not spent even a fraction of the time you folks have in building your arguments and definitions of race and what it means.

I am the 3rd generation descendant of a Portuguese immigrant, if its important. My grandmother was the 1st generation born in this country and endured a lot racist behavior. We spoke of it at length as we did about just about everything. She was one of my best friends. She married a nice Irish fellow against his families wishes. After several generations I am a combination of who knows how many different nationalities. I am at least parts Irish, Portuguese, and Italian. I pass as white and I suppose I am identified as white.

No, I don't know what it is to fight for power in a nation of "white privilege". It honestly never occurred to me that I had ever gotten anything I have by anything other than hard work and tenacity and by making (mostly) good choices. Most of the successful people I know used the same route, despite the obstacles they faced.

As for the social construction of race... sorry, I really had no part in that. It was there before I was born. I do my little part to try and make people rethink their ideas about the stupid things they say, but its an uphill battle.

Baby221, I'm sorry you were treated that way in Whitebread America. I have traveled pretty extensively and know how it feels to be singled out. I lived in Turkey for a year and dealt with a lot of negative attention on not only a racial level, but also for my nationality and perceived religious differences. I did not, however, have to deal with it as a child. I can empathize even if I have trouble identifying. Have you ever been to the Middle East or African Continent? No white privilege there at all, let me assure you. South Africa excluded...

As for the word "crutch"! Wow, who knew it would stir up so much emotion. It seems some took it very personally, though I am not sure why. If the idea does not apply to you, then disregard it. You'll give yourselves ulcers. I was not by any means trying to imply that EVERYONE is out there limping along through life with a race badge as their only means of identification. I do believe that SOME people DO live this way, making excuses and languishing in their hatred for the people who they feel are responsible for their miserable existences without ever trying to succeed.

Its not my intent to offend. I try to treat people as individuals. I admit that I can be snobbish at times, but it usually has more to do with hygiene and misuse of the word "seen" than race.

Many of you are teachers apparently. I am a correctional officer in a maximum security prison, it stands to reason our views of the world and the races that inhabit it are going to be different. I understand what you're saying, but I also know what I see.

The Constructivist said...

Here's how I go about defining and historicizing race to my students, in several parts:

http://www.fredonia.edu/department/english/simon/ier2/cres.htm

http://www.fredonia.edu/department/english/simon/ier2/th.htm

http://www.fredonia.edu/department/english/simon/ier2/ei.htm

I never got around to finishing the last of the pages, but it would be a revision of the following essay from when I was a grad student:

http://www.fredonia.edu/department/english/simon/race.htm#Proposal

Jennifer said...

Genepool,
You are not ignorant. I can't speak for others (although I hope that the commenters will agree with what I'm about to write), but your life experiences are different from mine which means you have a different perspective on race. I think that there are certain loaded words, and "ignorant" seems like it may be one of those--because I think that while you may not know what it's like to experience life as a person of color or to experirence racism as such, it doesn't mean you are ignorant about race issues or that you haven't reflected on your own racial experiences.

That they are different from my own, probably goes without saying. As you have self-disclosed part of your heritage/background as well as your profession, I do agree that you grew up under different circumstances than mine. But I am also going to go out on a limb and say that based on what you've disclosed, it's clear that I am a certain amount of privilege over you--and I say that not in a "I'm superior and better" way but an acknowledgement that there are only a privileged few who got to college (about 25%) let alone who achieve a PhD (.5%), let alone enter into a tenure track job at a research university (I don't even have stats on that one). I start with education because I think there's this assumption we all make that those of us with multiple degrees are smarter and less ignorant than those who aren't.

I'm particularly sensitive about this because members of my family (as I've self-disclosed previously) do not have a college degree and I've never thought myself better or smarter than my family members, and certainly not about issues of race--because that's where I'm also privileged. I teach a Southern U and I get to have my voice heard and I'm surrounded by interesting and intelligent students who want to learn. I have no idea what it would be like to work at a maximum security prison.

I'm going to end there. At the same time, I think everyone else's comments are also valid and formed from their respective experiences in and out of the classroom as students/teachers as well as racialized people (and I'd again hazard a guess that a few have already self-identified as people of color and when I say racialized, I don't mean "minority" I mean people who have thought of what it means to be "raced" in America, whether that means white, black, or anything else.

All of which is to say, Genepool and everyone else, please keep sending in comments. I think that everyone is leaving comments in the spirit of generally wanting a dialogue and to hear different opinions. It's hard, sometimes, to not get emotional or feel heated up, but I think if we are all approaching each other in the spirit of generally wanting to be heard and to hear others, then this blog has accomplished the main part of why I started it--to have conversations about race with a variety of people in a safe and comfortable space (although by comfortable I suppose I should substitute secure because it's really not all that comfortable to talk about race).

Finally, I appreciate the links that you left COnstructivist--I clicked on the last one and skimmed it over and you have given me inspiration because today is MLK Jr. Holiday and I've wanted to create a new tradition and to somehow honor Dr. King's legacy in some way. But I'll save that for today's post.

CVT said...

Wow. Good times. Got some good thoughts bouncing around in here. But before it gets messy, I want to jump in and say this:

Let's be careful here not to start ganging up on people with a different point of view. Obviously, Genepool used some terms of phrase that set a few of us off, but I don't think it's necessary to throw the word "ignorant" around. That's most definitely a loaded term.

Of course, let's also keep in mind the fact that - by definition - we are all "ignorant" of any experiences that we have not had, ourselves. That's inclusive of race, but also socio-economic standing, education, gender, sexuality, where we grew up, number of parents in the household, siblings, friends' deaths, musical exposure, abuse, community, whether we ate breakfast this morning or not . . . I think you all get where I'm going with this. There are a million experiences that we are all "ignorant" of - and always will be - it's being willing to participate in a dialogue about it that takes dictionary-definition "ignorance" away from that which we like to use as an insult.

Therefore, I want to appreciate Genepool's presence in this blog. It's easy for those of us who have spent a large portion of our time thinking about this and mostly agree with Jennifer to chime in. It takes a lot more strength of character to jump in with an alternative viewpoint. I think it is important to remember this if we are to have any sort of true dialogue - and not just a series of monologues.

And so I hope that Genepool sticks around and continues to contribute.

Now to continue the conversation, Genepool - I would like to touch on a couple things and see where it lands with you.

The first thing is that I DID live in Tanzania (East Africa) for two years, and I would argue that white privilege most definitely lives there (and the rest of the continent, from conversations I have had with others who have lived in various African nations). This comes with the assumption that "white people" have money. Which is mostly true there. There are few "white people" (and I put this in quotes because I was mostly treated in that respect while there, although they called me "Chinaman") living in African nations that do not have considerably more money than the citizens. They often live in nice compounds and drive cars around and live an "industrialized" lifestyle in the midst of a Third-World nation.

This is not to say that they are necessarily treated well and don't stand out in a negative fashion at times, but they definitely hold privilege (as I most certainly did when living there). I don't know what it was like in Turkey - I imagine you were discriminated against to some degree for your background. However, I would argue that that doesn't necessarily mean that there was no "privilege." It is a very Western "privilege" to be able to travel the world and live in other countries (and this "privilege" is still part of the dominant white culture of those countries - even though that particular branch of the privilege extends to non-whites, as well).

None of that is a negative thing, necessarily, but I did feel the need to point it out.

Again - I appreciate your willingness to be a part of this blog. I read your comment about the inmate who is in jail for life for defending his daughter. And I was touched by your statement that you could no longer see him as "just an inmate." In the end, that is the key to this whole racial mess - when we can knock through our tendencies to group and assume and just cut through the crap to the fact that - no matter what - we can connect to every other human being in SOME fashion. But that takes a lot of work - and a lot of exposure. It's not enough to think of individuals as "exceptions" to a stereotypical rule. It's looking for that connection (and finding it) when we think another person IS an embodiment of our prejudices. That's when it makes a difference.

I truly believe I have a lot to learn from you, Genepool, and I'm looking forward to it. I'll see if there's anything I can do to return the favor.

Oh - and by the way - I work in an urban alternative middle school. In other words, I basically work with the youth that grow up to become the folks you work with if I can't do my job well (which I don't always do). I'm sure you've come to this realization yourself, but remember that everybody there was a scared, awkward kid once. A lot of them were put in schools where they were told they had to be a certain way - that was different from how they had been raised - and the frustration and fear of not being able to figure out those rules that so many "just knew" caused some of them to lash out in stupid ways. And that's when they passed from my hands to yours - please take care of them, because (whether it seems like it or not from their actions) they deserve it. They're still scared kids who act up out of insecurity and fear. But they all have endearing traits somewhere in there that they're too scared to know how to find. And that's something I know for an absolute fact.

Okay - this got way long and off-topic. Hope you read it all.

baby221 said...

Hmm. I started trying to respond to all this but realised that it was probably better to just write a post of my own (since it was getting rather, erm, long). But I'd like to apologise to Jennifer et. al. for having violated the spirit of discussion here: I'm sorry.

Jennifer said...

Baby221,
You did NOT violate the spirit of discussion here! I do appreciate everyone's voices. I believe what both CVT and I were trying to do was to ensure that everyone's voice gets heard, or more specifically to reassure Genepool that his voice would be heard since of the people commenting here, his appears to be the most "different" in the terms he laid out (not an academic, working in a prison environment that is probably very different from most of our working environments, not a teacher).

Anyway, I look forward to reading your post and I look forward to more comments from you in the future because I always value what you have to say (as do many others who read this blog).

And I do understand how we can all get heated from time to time over issues of language and feeling like we may be left out of the conversation or not knowing what kind of language to use. None of us are perfect--we all (me definitely included) say things that can offend people with and without meaning to.


So CVT, I really do thank you for your direct response to Genepool and for encouraging more dialogue as well as your continued pushing on issues. And Genepool, wherever you are, feel free to respond if you like. You may find yourself of a minority opinion here, but I think we all welcome the dialogue.

Genepool said...

I work in a prison, if I were so sensitive that I couldn't take a little criticism or an apposing view, I'd be certifiable by now.

ctv, I really have to respect your working where you do with the kids you do. I know after years in that sort of atmosphere it must get to the point where you can recognize the students who are just not going to make the choices they need to to stay out of trouble. It must be terribly frustrating and occasionally heartbreaking.

I am lucky to be able to talk to most of the inmates I work with and have the rapport that I have. While I doubt most people would ever consider it, given our typical Hollywood portrayals, our job is more than anything about effective communication. Relating to these guys on their level and giving them the chance to talk through an issue not only makes the job easier, it can keep sharp stuff out of your neck.

Getting off topic here, but please do not feel the need to hold back for fear of hurting my feelings. I can deal with it and its the heartfelt responses that make me reread what I have written and rethink how I might have said it to make my intentions better understood.

It is likely I am going to (unintentionally) offend and be offended here, but thats not against the law. Yet.

CVT said...

Genepool - it's funny how where you're at changes perspective. I would think that seeing my grown kids AFTER they lost their freedom (which is what you do) would be harder. In my position, there's always that slight hope that maybe it won't end that way. Of course, I often do see it coming (it's hard not to a lot of the time), but it's just one more learning opportunity to try a different tact on the next kid.

And we're not trying to "spare feelings" here. At least - I'm not. Just trying to establish that connection BEFORE we start getting into territory where real learning happens. If we start setting each other off - and allowing misunderstanding to happen - then we're just faking "dialogue." But I respect the spirit in which it was said - and I warn you that I may just take you up on your offer.

Just know that when I bring a little fire, it's about a larger system and way of the world - and not about individuals. Easy to say and "hear," I know. Much harder to absorb. But we'll see what happens.

That said, bring your fire, too, and we'll see if we can't find somewhere we can both stand. Just know that it is easy to accidentally (or otherwise) offend when we're discussing these topics, so please just be ready to see it, acknowledge it, and re-state when it happens. I'll do the same.

Also keep in mind that you are representing a side of the racial coin that has caused a lot of difficulty and frustration for many of those reading this blog (and commenting on it). Not YOU, as an individual, but you as a representative of a race. It's not your direct fault, nobody is blaming you, but - whether that is your intent or not - all that is built up and standing behind any words you use or actions you take. In the same way that my appearance and people's reactions to that are present no matter who I REALLY AM, for the purpose of this blog, your "whiteness" and all the history behind that term is a defining character of how your words will be taken.

Whether any of this is fair is beside the point. The ways people are treated because of race are never fair. But they still exist and are real, and that's where we stand. Until we work through it (which I seriously doubt can ever fully happen).

Why am I saying all this? Just so you know where I stand. Also where you might stand in the perception of some of the readers of this blog.

And it's not all about race here. I am very interested in your work and hearing more about those experiences. I think we probably could share some similar back-stories about what we do. And I hope we do.

But this is a blog called "MIxed Race America" - so we're only kidding ourselves if we pretend that - ultimately - this dialogue isn't about the races within which we identify (and are identified). I come at this as a mixed kid - mother born in China, father the white American son of a woman (my grandmother) born in Russia. You come at it as a "white" man - of European immigrants. So it's out there. Great.

Now let's keep trading views.

KimcheeBrown said...

Agree with the first post...

Race is a sociological construct, the broadest of many designed to serve the purpose of keeping groups of people with disparate interests separate.

It's a concept that has existed for centuries and is redefined periodically based on geographic boundaries, access to vital resources and population growth.

Whether the word existed as such, there was a time when Greeks and Romans would have claimed to be an entirely different race from Anglo-Saxons and the Saxons likewise from the Gauls (many in the "old country" still agree). Once they found Africa and Asia, rich with resources to plunder, there was a redrawing of the racial map.

Where the lines are drawn depends mostly on who's doing the drawing, but the fact remains that race is simply a convenient mechanism for delineating an "other" from which some group of people can be distinguished for any multitude of reasons in various contexts. But the reasons are always straightforward enough and tend to stem from the inherent desire of one group of people to conquer or defend themselves from another.

Without that, race has no meaning as applied to any particular human being. So the question to answer "What is Race" is "What do you need Race to accomplish"?

Note that in our modern context (i.e., since the White Man's been drawing the map) definitions of race have been tied almost exclusively to complexion, down to 1/16 degree. No coincidence that white skin is genetically recessive and rare in the population, therefore if not in control of the social order it would be very easily (and in fact naturally) bred out of existence. In colonial Europe this doesn't fly. The point of any dynasty, monarchy or other human legacy is to pass resources on to one's progeny. If the conquerors cannot distinguish their progeny from those they've conquered, eventually the pool of potentially legitimate heirs will become unavoidably and prohibitively large. Europeans needed to find a way to dominate world resources and to keep them within the control of a small group that had long-established customs and allegiances. They've used race to accomplish that.

That is of course the most obvious and over-arching example, but it applies to the individual as well. Me, I use race to get preferential treatment at the dry cleaners.

Our Spin On It... said...

I believe that race can be likened to colors, fabrics, shoes, flowers and any other noun you can conceive. Someone decided to classify humans based upon their/our physiology as they have for the aforementioned. I think it gave them some sense of order and for others, a way to exercise power and control. They invented ----- This ‘group’ of people has these physical and mental traits so they are this and these groups of people have those traits, so they are that.’ Race is just a word at the end of the day, a word use to classify human beings based upon whatever similar characteristics one decides to use. The word race can easily be supplemented with the word ‘group’ and you can conclude the same things. Unfortunately people conclude “the idea that there are correlations between outward physiognomy and mental capacity.” ---black angry woman, nice white woman, etc…

Lastly, I think we all strive to be so different (for whatever reason, usually personal) until we eventually shun some parts of reality and create our own hierarchy /classism /racism, etc. within the dominant culture or society that does a good job of it already. We perpetuate it in so many ways and don't even realize it.

The reality is that the African physiology IS different from the Anglo, or the Asian. The reality is that if you mix the blood lines of any being, dog, cat or human you will create a new breed, (which someone will ultimately give a name and place in a ‘suitable’ category). I don’t think it is as complicated as it may appear. It can almost be simply stated ‘please don’t identify me as _Fill in the blank; I am capable of doing that myself.’

I think when a person has a good handle on who they are as an individual, what others think of them really doesn’t affect them at all. Unfortunately, for a lot of minorities (there’s a group word again) we have accepted other people (white’s) definition of us and now stuggle with the most simple things, such as hair, weight, education and whatever eles that is used to divided us all.