Have you ever been asked one of those mind-boggling riddles that make you think outside of the box? Questions like, "What word becomes shorter when you add "er" to it?" The answer is "short." These types of questions cause you to think long and hard for the answer. These are the types of questions that we need to ask concerning "race." While I've been convinced for many years now that we must do away with the use of the word and the concept of "race" as a means to define people of varying regional, ethnic or skin-color groups, I now believe that I know how to make it happen. We simply have to "begin without race."
Most all discussions in our country concerning "race" begin with a premise that "race" is real and that, I believe, is why we have not solved our "race" problem. Let's take a look at how we got here.
Carl Linnaeus was a Swedish scientist, who performed pioneering work in taxonomies, the science of identifying, naming and classifying organisms.
In 1757, he presented to the scientific community classification of human varieties, along with some very subjective descriptions of the people groups. Not surprisingly, his particular people group received a favorable description and other groups, much less favorable.
Until the contemporary anthropologists of the 40's, such as Ashley Montague, the taxonomy of races had been taken as authoritative. In other words, we believed without questioning, that "race" identified significant biologically different groups of people.
Finally, during the tumultuous civil rights struggles of the 60's, the one-"race" view of humanity began to take hold. No doubt aided by the eloquent articulation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, even given the historical support for its illegitimacy, "race," as a concept and social construct has survived. Amazingly,
it has morphed into a simplistic color scale, which defines people based on their skin tones. We have been socialized so deeply to see people by the color of their skin that "race" has become synonymous with ethnicity. This is wrong.
Race was never designed to be about skin color and now there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of books about "skin-color race" and we now call people "black" and "white" and require that they state it on forms and applications for hiring and for participation in organizations and institutions. Skin-color "race" is an illusion and today we need to challenge this illusory concept. For those who cannot imagine living without this concept, think of how the Greek citizens felt in 500 B.C. when Pythagoras proposed that the earth was round instead of flat. Welcome to the real world and skin-color "race" should not be in it.
Think about it. If we continue to start every conversation or discussion with the idea of "race" and that skin color is meaningful skin color will indeed continue to be meaningful. It will not become meaningless until we start making it so. And if you are a person who thinks skin color should matter, you must ask yourself, "isn't that what 'racists' believe?"
Hopefully one day in the not too distant future we will be able to look back at a time when we used to think of people in terms of their skin color and realize how primitive we were in thought. We now understand how we got here, but now that we know better, we must do better. We didn't get it right from the outset in this country, but every day is another day to begin without "race" and this we must do urgently.
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