Saturday, December 31, 2016

Race and Racism

Lord Ganesha getting his groove on
Happy New Year!
Time to ring it in by discussing something we can't agree on. In fact, something we can't even seem to agree to disagree on. The white elephant in the room (I know, why does it have to be 'white'?): Race

Of which I will provide the following personal definition:

"The widely held, persistent, self-propagating, socially constructed delusion of significant and meaningful physiological differences in human beings that is the proper object of rational scrutiny and categorization."

Stated in simpler terms: Race = Delusion

What Exactly are we Talking About?

There are many ways that people choose to differentiate themselves that lie outside of physiological classification. Religious or political belief, nationality, language, and culture are but some examples. Gender differences are of course physiological although not considered racial by most. Nevertheless, perceived commonalities and differences of family, blood, heredity, physiology, etc. seem to be the key to the concept of race.

As applied to physiological commonalities among people, 'race' enters the English lexicon rather recently (16th century), being derived from the Italian 'razza', holding related meanings such as 'common stock, lineage, breed, family, etc.' Familial correspondence, commonality: sounds harmless enough, downright warm and friendly even. For example I look like mom and dad, no denying me! (Although they may wish to after this latest post)

Of course many of the concepts that the word 'race' seems to frequently elicit, extend much further back in time and are hardly limited to Italy and England. An extreme interpretation would be the early 20th century German 'Herrenrasse' or 'Master Race' campaign that prompted the coining of 'racism' in our own English vocabulary to aptly describe the Nazi ideology of purported Aryan and Nordic commonality and brotherhood which in reality exercised a far greater and violent emphasis on human physiological differentiation.

Don't Deny Difference!

There are people who have dark skin, there are people with light skin. There are people with straight hair, there are others with curly hair. On and on it goes. Sure, even children pick up on these types of superficial differences pretty soon even without prompting.  So how can I deny these and others as real, physiological differences?

Short answer: I don't

In fact, I would put forward that individual human differences are quite real and extend far beyond the limited concept of race with its broad categorizations. Upon a moment's reflection it becomes quite apparent that we are all different from each other; every one of us is physiologically particular. Furthermore, internally every one of us, our literal bodies are in a state of constant physiological change. We are quite literally not the same person we have been. Therefore, continual change and difference is applicable to every one and every when. This dynamism is really at the heart of what life is all about.

I suppose I could contrast this with the myriad of meaningful commonalities healthy humans all share. Two arms, two legs, dexterity, ability to reason, love of donuts, innate perception of space and time, blah, blah, blah. I don't have time, it's practically endless. You can reflect on it though. It's one of our shared abilities.

Doubling Down on our Delusions

Ah yes, speaking of shared abilities...delusion. A couple of examples from an especially American fixation:

Black Lives Matter
What does it mean to be black?

White Silence is Violence
What does it mean to be white?

I'm yet to hear a rational explanation for either. Not that folks haven't tried. After all, race is a matter of skin color, as simple as black and white, right?

Wrong it would seem. Apparently, it is much 'deeper' than that. Such as the music I listen to, the clothes I wear, the way I talk, yada yada ad infinitum.

So if I exhibit those and other behaviours I will be black or white? Or if I don't exhibit those behaviours I can't be black or white? Is grey an option? How about just Patrick Webb, is that an option? What happens if you call me Peter by mistake?

Any deep consideration of 'race' reveals the utter absurdity of the concept. Yet, folks will contend that racism and its corollary racial discrimination are real. Yes, they are. However, not as an ontologically objective reality in the world, that is to say there is no physical thing you can touch or point to. Racism is 'real' as a social pathology, a psychosis out of harmony with physiological realities. The continuance of this collective mental illness requires massive, voluntary participation from almost everyone. Not just individuals either. Churches, social movements, educational institutions and governments by their rhetoric and policies perpetuate racial difference; all affirming a nebulous absurdity that defies definition. One pathetic example from the federal government:

This amounts to a circular problem, a snake eating its own tail. By acknowledging racial differences so you can combat racism, you affirm the fallacy that is the root of the discrimination in the first place. Better to diagnose it as the pathology it is and get treatment. So, why do we do this to ourselves?

I'm not entirely sure but I have some thoughts. For an individual to deny their own particularity, to essentially annihilate part of themselves to conform to an arbitrary group seems odd, yet we do it all the time. It may be at least partly attributable to a coping mechanism for having to operate socially in a world larger than we're comfortable with. It is impossible to truly know or be known by the many, many people we inevitably come into contact with in a city e.g. If humans have existed as familial groups in small tribes or in villages for millennia, how are we to now cope with the thousands of interactions pressed upon us annually in the civilised world? How do we assess the potential threats that arise from unfamiliarity and present an image of ourselves that others can quickly identify? Perhaps by willfully placing ourselves in artificial categories, so-called 'race' prominent among them.

At bottom, I think we might be terribly afraid to truly be ourselves, how lonely that might really be.

Contributed by Patrick Webb

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