“Race” in the Race
With Barack Obama and John McCain both running for president in a color-aroused country, it is inevitable that we will discuss skin color quite a bit over the next six months, and more. Can’t we ever stop arguing about it?
No. The belief that human beings can be divided up into skin color groups who have different characteristics as a result of their skin color is inherently controversial. If the theory was announced today as a new scientific “discovery”, it would be the hottest, most debated idea since the idea that life (and the right to life) began at conception.
And so, we ask, “When will we finally be able to talk calmly and reasonably about the fact that human beings have different abilities, capacities and rights based on their skin color?” That’s like asking, “When can we talk calmly and unemotionally about the night when your mother, your wife and your sister sucked my penis in a Burger King bathroom?” My definition of the topic itself assumes some underlying facts that are inherently controversial. The only way to avoid this controversy is to reexamine its underlying premises and, perhaps, stop making assertions that are inherently controversial.
Bob Marley sang:
Until the philosophy which hold[s] one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war. Terra.Com
In fact, “race” is the name of the philosophy about which the war is being waged. The assertion that “race” exists is inherently controversial. We argue constantly about it. We argue that we should stop arguing about it, and yet the very unproven premises of the argument gaurantee that the argument will continue endlessly until we begin to think “out-of-the-box” about our dilemma, because the box is our personal and societal investment in the paradigm and existence of “race” itself.
Where is the evidence that skin color innately means anything more than the color of our skin? So, why are we so attached to the word “race” to describe what admittedly is no more than skin color? When you insist on using the word “race” instead of the phrase “skin-color”, you are insisting that there is a genetic je ne se quoi that separates us, and it’s that idea is inherently controversial.”
Although the word has been presented to America as a theory about science, it was always an inherently controversial theory, from the moment that people were enslaved based on their “racial” designation. As soon as rights were distributed according to skin color, even in the U.S. Constitution, “race” became inherently controversial.
We had hoped, perhaps, that we would argue less about skin color now that our formal laws no longer distribute rights explicitly according to skin color, for the most part. However, we continue to believe that human beings are inherently, innately part of competing groups based on skin color. And we call this competition “race”. And yet the very competition that we decry is buttressed daily by the ubiquitous use of the word “race” itself, whose very definition is premised on what is believed to be an inherent difference, competition and strife based on skin color.
When we see two toddlers, one with brown skin and one with pink skin, playing in a play ground, we say that they are of different “races”. So, before they can talk or name colors of the spectrum, we have imposed upon them participation in an ongoing color-based controversy, viewing their playful interaction through a prism that they couldn’t possibly understand. It is that prism that is faulty, and that prism is called “race”. For so long as we view all interactions through the prism of “race” will will continue to fight the “race” battle. And for so long as we insist that skin color inherently and innately means “race”, then we will continue to fight between ourselves just as surely as fighters pummel each other when the bell is sounded. The bell of “race.”
Will it ever be possible to use the word and concept of “race” ubiquitously in America without arguing about “race” ubiquitously? I really don’t think so.
Eventually, as we come to a greater acceptance of the premise that “skin color is just skin color” and doesn’t mean anything about the innate genetic characteristics of our fellow Americans, we will not use the word “race” so often. But, the term “race” represents a paradigm in which people fight for and assign rights, privileges and responsibilities based on skin color. Whenever we talk about a person’s “race”, we are inherently making references and assumptions about the person and his role in that fight, as defined by his skin color. The fight will not end for so long as the ubiquitous use of the word persists, nor can we eliminate the struggle by eliminating the word.
The author is the editor of the Truth About McCain blog and the American Journal of Color Arousal (AMJCA).