My last post really infuriated the “Con or Bust” bunch on Twitter and almost broke this blog’s (rather small) record for views in a day, so I think I’m on to something. Let’s push the envelope some more.
In the 1860s, slavery was abolished in the USA. In the 1960s, most laws mandating racial discrimination were struck down or repealed. By the 2060s, I hope the very idea of race will be on the trash heap of pseudoscience along with creationism and astrology. Sooner would be better.
My first encyclopedia claimed that the human species is divided into the Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid races and a bunch of sub-races. It rejected notions of racial superiority, but the biological subdivision of Homo sapiens was a scientific “fact.” Since then, scientists have found that there’s far more genetic variation within “races” than between them. The differences that supposedly define races are superficial things such as skin color and facial features.
In spite of this, many people have a deep investment in the notion of race. At most big companies, you’re expected to disclose your race, though you’re told it’s optional. When I worked at Harvard, there was an online form with a supposedly optional question about my race. I unchecked everything, and the website wouldn’t accept the form because I hadn’t answered the “optional” question. I reported this as a bug. As far as I know, it has never been fixed.
However, the form didn’t stop me from checking all the boxes, so I did that. Under the “one drop” theory of race, it’s almost certainly true that I belong to every “race” there is.
I try to avoid racial terms, though sometimes they’re an inescapable shorthand for appearance. But think about it: Have you ever seen a person whose skin is actually white or black and isn’t a corpse? Have you ever encountered anyone who isn’t a person of color? It would have to be the Invisible Man.
There are people who want to keep the idea of race alive because they think they’re the Master Race. They’re living rebuttals of their claim to intellectual and moral superiority; rebutting them is like beating a zombie horse that refuses to die. Then there are the people who push the notion of “racial identity”; they see people as representatives of their race rather than individuals and think that the most important form of diversity is diversity of looks. They manage to get a degree of intellectual respect, but it’s the same old poison in a new sugar coating. If you think you know what people are by looking at their skin, you don’t know them at all.
It takes work to break free of ways of thinking that pervade a culture. It can be hard to stop making assumptions about people based on their skin, but it allows discovering things about them that are much more interesting than their albedo.
So when they ask your race, just say “human.”