(This post is part of a weekly series for Know Thyself 2019, a 365 day journal project. Start here!)
This week’s topic: Race & Race Skepticism
This week’s topic is contentious and avoided in polite conversation. However, the topic arises in political and social dimensions of life. For example, affirmative action is sometimes a legal requirement in the United States with respect to promotions or admissions criteria. In Canada, race is sometimes a requirement for prospective adoptive parents or for access to social programs.
Despite the frequent appearance of the concept of race in politics and society, most people avoid speaking plainly and openly about it for fear of offending someone. Definitions are left to academics who nurture their thoughts while hidden in the safety of ivory towers. And since the rest of us are not openly speaking about it, there is little motivation to think deeply about it. If (quite shockingly) the topic arises, it’s polite to say, “I don’t have an opinion.” But that’s not honest with yourself, nor is it conducive to thinking clearly about your own identity. It’s time to think about race.
Moreover, people are increasingly involved in mixed-race parenting, so both parents and children have to deal with their own identities and those of their family members. For example, an Asian parent might find that his children more strongly resemble the Caucasian mother, or vice versa. Some might question family cohesiveness when adopted children do not look like the parent.
Definitions of race vary, but it is usually defined with one of the following criteria:
- People sharing a common ancestry
- A subset of human beings with common features in a combination that is distinct to that group
- Division based on phenotype (e.g., skin color, eye shape, hair texture, bone structure, mental traits)
- People sharing the same culture, history, language (in synonymous usage with ethnicity)
- A major division of humankind, based on distinctiveness of features (whether physical, behavioral)
Try reflecting on the image of the Aylmer twins with these definitions in mind!
Views About Race
Racial Naturalism: The belief is that races are true biological divisions of humankind. A belief that biology (inheritable and relying on genes) indicates that some groups have qualities that others do not have.
Racial Purism: Sometimes racial naturalism is also moralistic or hierarchical, attributing more worth to certain “races” based on perceived desirable traits. There is a desire to preserve the distinctive groups.
Race Skepticism: The view that since human biology is shared among all members, racial naturalism is a false view. The only true race is the human race. Race is not real and the term does not refer to any true distinctiveness among human beings. The concept of race is a social construct. Examples of evidence in favor of race skepticism: skin tones are gradual, not distinct (as are hair texture, eye shape, height, and any other feature pointed to as evidence of natural race)
What is Mixed-race Identity?
In communities of people who specifically identify themselves by race or who form communities based on common physical features and appearance, discussions arise about what it means to be “mixed-race”. Examples:
- Keanu Reeves is a half-Asian Hollywood celebrity. He appears to many people more Caucasian. Does this community consider him to be an Asian or a Caucasian?
- Use of terms such as “banana”, “coconut”, or “egg”
- Is Obama considered a black president, or a white president, taking into consideration his appearance, and then taking into consideration his upbringing?
Race is a difficult topic to think and talk about. It requires deep introspection, emotional maturity, and reflection on circumstances that exist for other people. I hope you enjoy the questions!
- Many forms ask us to identify ourselves by race. On these forms, how do you identify yourself?
- Are there times when you identify yourself differently than on one of those forms?
- Do you think there are real biological-behavioral race distinctions?
- What is the source of apparent differences between race? (In other words, do the differences come from biology, or from another source such as culture, use of language, country/circumstance, education, personality/attitude?)
- Have you ever been treated differently based on your appearance (whether race-related or appearance in some other way)?
- What purposes have race distinctions served in the history of politics and society?
- Do you agree that race is a valid way to identify people and under what circumstances? (Or, is race identity dangerous and should we stop using racial terms as much as possible?)
How to get the most out of Know Thyself 2019
Don’t rush through the questions. Try to do only one question every morning, leaving space to add thoughts that might come up later during the day. The journal is designed to help you develop a consistent, daily practice of self-reflection.
If you liked this week’s post, please like or comment! I appreciate the feedback and use it to choose future topics. If you want to see more posts like this one, let me know!