Race is a pigment of our imagination

Last week I wrote a column that raised the “race” word: to what extent were the respective races of the attacker and the attacked a factor in the George Zimmerman verdict? I almost hated to write that column. Discussing “race” is a pretension that such an objective reality exists. It does not. There is no biological evidence that humans consist of different “races”. If none exists, then all racial classifications are flawed as are policies predicated on that sole criterion. This is not to say that we ignore the results of such horrors perpetrated by such an assumption, whether it resulted in a holocaust or slavery. (Or the Trayvon Martin outcome.) Certainly, remediation is necessary based on a confluence of factors. Isn’t it a better approach, however, to work to eliminate the myth?
A starting point to eliminate a false classification is to change mentally how we see people. As John L. Hodge recently wrote in the New York Times (July 21, 2013), when we look at somebody and automatically think about that person’s “race”, we must realize that we are not seeing “race” but an arbitrary and harmful societal classification imposed on a continuum of physical differences. It’s time to move on to a post-racial era. Nature, with mixed genetic pools, is slowly solving the problem. Even that concept of “mixed pools” is flawed, though, since we are a closely related people who share certain genetic markers. Conjuring up “race” classifications is nothing but an exercise in color-based and cultural hostility.
I wish I were the author of the expression, “race is a pigment of our imagination” but alas, I cannot take credit for it. That belongs to a teacher, Reuben Rumbaut, who also wrote an insightful letter to the New York Times. He argues that use of “race” is merely meant to put people in their place. He notes that there is a pervasive bad habit in society to insist on putting people in a category as though one-size-fits-all.
The myth gets repeated as truth over and over again. The census has questions about “race”. Job questionnaires and college applications ask the same questions. It’s particularly opprobrious that institutions of higher learning reinforce the myth. It’s like asking on the application whether the potential attendee supports the tooth fairy.
What are we to do with programs that are geared to support a “race” applicant? Are there eventually problems with social programs that channel money to one or more categories of people whether they are Native Americans or some other category? Don’t these incentives at some point merely reinforce stereotypes? Are there too many leaders of certain groups that make millions of dollars in salaries for fomenting clashes between one group and another?
I am not suggesting that we all hold hands and sing, Kumbaya but this country is long past due having a serious discussion about this myth. The solution is not to redefine “race” but to get it out of the lexicon of thought and use. I hope that in my lifetime any words, including those of ethnicities and sexual preference, become obsolete descriptions and where “human” is the operative word.


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