Re: Abolishing the word "race"

Bjorn Conrad (bear@US.NET)
Thu, 12 Oct 1995 13:03:19 -0400

It seems that the most culturally ignorant among us identify human
ethno-cultural diversity strictly in terms of the external bio-physical
indicators most commonly characterized as "race." This can be seen in the
press, among politicians and among others in virtually all walks of life.
What the average anthropologist thinks ultimately means little. All too
often differences in appearance are the only things these people see and
think they understand. These are often the same people who directly
associate behavior differences with "race" and inheritance. To them culture
is little more than tacos and chop sticks.

Most everyone has been well conditioned about, and is quite cognizant of,
the evils and negative vestiges associated with "racism." What too many get
confused about though, and carry around some considerable guilt about, is
the poorly defined relationship between unschooled racial and ethnic
awareness and racism. This is especially the case when they are confronted
with these clear behavioral differences (cultural differences) that often
also fall along racial lines. Race as a concept for these people has little
to do with cultural identity, class or even choice. This is the type of
confusion that few of the most self-serving are above promoting and then
exploiting for their own specific socio-politial advantage. Under these
circumstances there is little chance that ignorance will wane. Too many
benefit from it. What the OJ Simpson case has clearly illuminated for
Americans of all persuasions, are the glaring and defacto cultural
differences, schisms and divisions (also experientially based) between
Americans who, for the most part, are in a fundamental sense culturally
European and those who characterize themselves as culturally African-American.

The profound changes that multiculturalism has brought tend to celebrate and
accentuate the ethno-cultural diversity that we are all rediscovering and
learning once again to cherish. Everyone has the right to preserve their
ethno-cultural heritage and its integrity. Don't we believe in the strength
in our human diversity? Straddling the fence on this serves no one. Again
our ethno-cultural roots are recognized as an indispensable part of the
human need to belong and our historic search for wisdom through reason and
long experience. Perhaps this is a good thing given the glaring deficiencies
of our catchall lowest common denominator American consumer culture that is
largely recognized to be essentially valueless. If things continue in their
present course, American ethno-cultures will clearly continue to diverge
along lines that will also be social and racial. Only a diminution of the
type of ignorance that is cross-cultural inconsiderateness, cultural
arrogance and unjustified xenophobia, will ever lessen the negative
implications of this trend.

No, the word "race" should not be abolished. It is after all, still part of
what we are. The word which, by the way, must also include the term
"racism," is but the messenger. I can not imagine a time when it alone will
serve adequately to describe who and what we ultimately are and what prompts
us to act. Race and racism are far too often used to describe the
intolerance that correctly flows from intolerable behavior. Few things are
as socially damaging. These words should be consistently exposed, therefore,
as the artificial and divisive half-truth concepts that they are, when used
by themselves without qualification. They should always be supplemented or
improved upon in such a way so as to include what is cultural or learned
about us as well. We simply are and will always continue to be wholly of
NATURE & NURTURE regardless of how socio-politically expedient it might be
to deny it or "misdefine" it. Let unqualified usage of the now loaded words
in question remain the bastion of the ignorant who are also the morally
bankrupt, the politically exploitive, and those who, in one way or another,
doggedly pursue gain without due consideration for others or the ethics
behind their methods.

B. Conrad