November 10, 2009

One Blood

To say that race is big in our country is to say that Godzilla is a mild blemish on the Tokyo skyline.  Racial issues dominate the workplace, elections, legislation, and many people's entire worldviews.  Here are a couple of notable quotes to illustrate my point:

"In the 21st century, white America got a wake-up call after 9/11/01. White America and the western world came to realize that people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just ‘disappeared’ as the Great White West kept on its merry way of ignoring black concerns."
-Rev. Jeremiah Wright

"If O.J. had been accused of killing his black wife, you would not have seen the same passion stirred up."
-Rev. Al Sharpton

"An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man."
-Jimmy Carter

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life."
-Sonya Sotomayor

"I love being famous.  It's almost like being white."
-Chris Rock

 All of which begs the question: what is race?  Though most have contemplated racial issues, I doubt very much they have taken the time to exactly define race.  Is it skin colour?  Eye shape?  Ancestral region?  Cuisine?

Most definitions I've seen pivot around a central theme: hereditary differences in appearance, mainly skin tone combined with distinct facial features.  This idea was popularised in the nineteenth century mainly by the works and followers of Darwin, with the main racial groups being Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid.  We know them today as White, Black, and Asian.  I would submit that, adding Latino, these would be the major, accepted races in the minds of most Americans (others, of course, exist; I'm being very general, here).

Are these classifications correct?  Rather than posit a long, drawn-out comparison of cultural and political perspectives ranging from the ancient Mayans to the modern Slovakians, let's get objective.  Let's talk about DNA as it relates to race.

Genetically, the average difference between any two humans is 0.2%.  This is the same whether the people being compared are both black, one white and one latino, or any other combination you can think of.  At the same time, the makeup of the human genome as it relates to race (skin colour, hair colour, facial features, etc.) is only about 0.012% of the total genome.  Therefore, biologically, there is no such thing as race.  We must conclude that it is purely a social construct.

"But wait," you say, "there are proven differences in the races!  What about IQ scores, or cancer rates, or the racial makeup of athletes?"

That's a good point.  If no real differences exist in the so-called races, why the statistical differences?  Well, you know the old saying: statistics don't lie, but you're stupid (to paraphrase).  Let me explain:

Suppose you have four people being tracked for a case study on colon cancer.  One is an affluent white, two are impoverished blacks, and one is an impoverished white.  Each gets colon cancer.  The affluent white, after leading a generally healthy life full of groceries from Whole Foods (or, as we po' folk like to call it, "Whole Paycheck") and getting the best medical assistance available, beats the disease.  The three others, after living a life mainly subsiding on Top Ramen and Spam and getting medical assistance from WebMD and an inner-city hospital staffed by "doctors" with associates degrees in finger-painting, succumb to the illness.  Statistically, 50% of whites (in our hypothetical study) beat colon cancer while 0% of blacks do.

The problem is, statistics are separated from the entirety of the subject's experience.  When we try to boil people down to "black" or "white" or whatever else, we fail to take into context cultural issues; like environment, customs, eating habits, access to medical facilities, upbringing, and a myriad of other facets.  We fail to see the whole person for their vast litany of experiences and the social structure surrounding them and we attribute everything to the paltry 0.012% of their genome that we can see at a glance.

This is not to say that there are no attributes of merit that may be attributed to race (such as a higher predilection towards a certain infirmity, or other such thing), but even this is not as cut and dried as it first appears.  The main culprit for this phenomenon is people grouping together who share a common ancestor; not the innate differences of a "race."  If heart disease runs in your family (as it does mine), you're more likely to get heart disease.  If your family happens to be asian, that doesn't equate to all asians having a predilection to heart disease.  It may not even be that your family carries the gene; it may be that your family loves to eat country fried steak covered in Crisco three times a day and that's been a family tradition for a hundred years.

We like things to be neat and calculable.  We want one flow chart that has a cool, 3D pie graph of everything we need to know about society.  Since race is tracked like no other facet of our lives (I can't remember ever being asked to list my height or BMI or favourite colour on a job application), it is easy to classify people based on this trait alone.  Before you do, though, let's look at one other thing: the definition of racism.

While there are a lot of definitions out there for this term, I propose a new one.  My definition is unique in that it has no political origin, nor does it contain a positive or negative connotation.  In that, I find it far more accurate and applicable (as objective things normally are).  So, without further ado, Skipper's definition of racism:
racism  ˈrāˌsizəm (noun)
-The classification of a person based solely on their race.
racist noun and adjective
Jesse Jackson racist and idiot

That wasn't so hard, was it?  Now you'll be able to tell, beyond politics and personal opinion, if a statement is truly racist or not.  Let's have some examples!

Answer whether the following statements and organisations are racist or not.  No cheating, talking, or open books.  This will go towards your final grade.
She is a typical white person.  Racist or not?
African-Americans watch the same news at night that ordinary Americans do.  Racist or not?
The Congressional Black Caucus  Racist or not?
Aryan Nation  Racist or not?

Pencils up!  Answers?  They're all racist; thanks for playing.

If it classifies by race, it is racist.  A study on race as it relates to prison recidivism is racist.  Hiring based on skin colour is racist.  Political and charitable organisations which have a racial prerequisite for admittance or a goal of promoting people based on their ethnicity (NAACP, KKK, Black Panthers, UNCF, MEChA, etc.) are racist.

Now, I know this may sound harsh to some, but remember that the definition is strictly factual; what you connote with it is your own.  The United Negro College Fund exists to promote black students going to college.  Its purpose is to promote individuals based solely on their race, and is, therefore, definitively racist.  Whether you agree with their aim or not has nothing to do with the fact that they practise their charity based solely on race.

The problem is, there are a lot of people in this country (particularly in politics) who think it's bad to be a racist, but still classify people based on their race.  I would rather they just come out and be honest and say that they favour one race over another.  If you're ashamed of the logical label for your actions, maybe you ought not be doing them.

So, are you a racist?


  1. "There is but one race, the human race."

    Skipper, I think you're officially 1% hippie. Congratulations.

  2. Maybe it's just that hippies are 1% right! Even a broken clock is right twice a day (though I personally think hippies are probably right less than twice a day).

  3. Hippies rot and I have always said there is but one race, the human race, but to add to that, the differences are cultural. We are one race with many cultures.