A Race by Any Other Name…

by david on August 8, 2010

A race by any other name…

If we don’t know what it is we simply name it and believe by doing so we have also defined it, a process called Nominalism. We even invent names for what we think should exist in order to help us feel more in control of our lives. Some examples would be beginning, end, space and time. Each of these words has a definition; which is purely arbitrary. Race is an excellent example of a hollow and arbitrary differentiation.

There is no way to divide “humans” into distinct racial groups unless you use only a single characteristic to do so. You can use, for example, hair texture or nose shape or skin color as long as you use only one of them. Once you combine any two characteristics you will find the lines of demarcation quickly dissolve. Once you decide on which characteristic you will use you create a different problem.

You must then figure out what to do when your selected characteristics overlap. For instance, if you have a man with white skin with kinky hair and a very wide nose, to which racial group do you assign him?  What about a brown skinned woman with naturally straight hair and a Roman nose?  What race then? Once you combine two or more characteristics racial identity falls apart.

Even when you decide on which characteristic you will use, you immediately create another problem. You must then arbitrarily define the parameters of your identifier. What do you mean by white, black or yellow. You can get a color meter to make the call only once you enter the parameters you have arbitrarily selected.

Every group in power establishes artificial boundaries between themselves and the so called lesser among them. Race has been perhaps the most widely used, but nationality, ethnicity and birthright among others have also been prominent. Of course the one that concerns us losers the most is wealth. I don’t think the rich would mind sharing their wealth with us except for the fact that would make us more like them; which is totally unacceptable.

A curious example of this phenomena is tanning. Tanning has long been used as a means of differentiating one’s group from another. The nineteenth century wealthy lived their lives of leisure indoors away from the stench and sight of the field workers. Those of means remained in the shade while laborers worked the fields and became very dark tanned. Then along comes the industrial revolution and workers are herded into factories.

Voila, there go their tans. Now with a fresh set of clothes made affordable by their new found income the middle class looks just like the upper class. Not for long. Soon those with money begin vacationing in warmer climbs and in a few years the wealthy once again have the tans that differentiate. That’s where the word posh (P.O.S.H.) comes from. If you were of the British aristocracy taking a leisurely cruise across the Mediterranean  and had enough money you would take the sun both ways; Portside Out, Starboard Home. Racial identity in itself might not be a bad thing when it empowers groups to excel.

In the majority of cases racial identity instead brings about discriminations that then must be scientifically justified. We have been trying to prove scientifically such discriminations exist for hundreds of years. Since no scientific evidence exists to justify such divisions, self-serving, anecdotal nonsense has been substituted. Over the centuries some of our most widely respected scholars such as Paul Broca, and Francis Gall have put forth the most shoddy research in an attempt to establish the racial superiority of their group.

The really sad part in all of this is social science continues to accept the same shoddy methods of investigation such as the wide spread use of qualitative research. All too often social scientists, unwittingly, start with a conclusion and work their way backward to confirm their hypothesis. As the saying goes, “Tell me what you’re looking for and I’ll tell you what you’ll find.”

But don’t get me started on research. That will be a topic for another day. It is sufficient to state here, as silly is it sounds, race is a major problem for us primarily because it does not exist.

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