Race ain’t no thang, but a thang! “Race and the classification of people by racial types have no basis in the science of genetics.” What a revelation it was to hear it said that racism is nothing more than a social construct, completely lacking in a sound scientific basis. Over the years that I have aligned myself against racism I have never once considered that the very idea of race is a social invention. With my own eyes I have seen the physical difference and the gradation in colour of people of distinct races, and have been content to reject discrimination and racism on moral grounds. It is simply wrong to mistreat people on account of the colour of their skin. Not once did it dawn on me, and not once did I think of the possibility that the very idea of race is an invention. That this point struck me so hard certainly points to the power of our internalisation of concepts of race and racism. My moral foundation for rejecting racism, perhaps a reasonable first step, is in itself a form of racism, and it is so because it accepts the validity of racial difference and rejects discrimination on its basis simple by appeal to a shared humanity.

Race is nothing more than an arbitrary division of human beings by the characteristics we choose to see. We choose to see skin colour and some feature differences over others, and yet we discount other, equally arbitrary distinctions such as hair and eyes colour, height, and so forth. Knowing that we have decided to see this difference is important. It is not, I am willing to guess, a conscious decision, but one which we inherit through our society; its ideas and its structures. Somewhere along the line we learn of to see difference, accept the validity of the difference, and so perpetuate the difference – even when we moralistically reject the power of the difference. In not agreeing to see the difference we break the meme of race-seeing. Of course this reflection is not easy, not least because it runs the risk of white-splaining, but because in choosing not to see, we all too easily wander into a refusal to see injustice. Not seeing race can become a refusal to see the realities and effects of racism. Thus we must be careful not to confuse our dismissal of race with a dismissal of racism. Race is not a thing, but racism is still very much a hot social issue, and so we must discover ways of channelling our colour blindness into an effective struggle against racism.

Jason Michael
Blog Author

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