As the 4th of July ends and America celebrated its independence from Britain, with grilled meats, alcohol, and fireworks, race is and has been a hot button issue for this country for centuries. We see and hear the word race in the media; it’s uttered from the mouths of the educated, celebrities, newscasters and politicians. It’s uttered by every population, regardless of color with conviction and confidence. Conviction and confidence that the word race is used correctly
The word ‘race’ has been near and dear to me since I was a teen. Every time I hear or see the word race to describe a peoples or population, my body bristles, because ‘race’ is an inaccurate term to describe populations. Race has never described me, my family or any of my friends, colleagues or co-workers.
I gave a speech last week on race. When I first asked the group what their first thought was when I mentioned culture, I didn’t really get a response except “yogurt.” Um. Yeah. Cute. And moving right along. Other than that response, the group shook their heads side to side not knowing how to respond. Then I asked the group to name the first thing that came to mind when I said race. All I got were crickets. I didn’t expect silence, so I became concerned or wondered how this group would take this speech. I wondered if they thought to themselves, “Not this again!” But, I asked again. This time the group responded with: “food, dance, music, culture, and language.” Nope. What they described was culture, not race.
Here’s the reality of race used to describe specific and different populations. It DOES NOT exist, yet we, as a country, as a society continue to use an outdated, archaic word that was created as a means to separate and divide people. In fact, ‘race’ has no scientific basis or significance. World renowned anthropologist, Dr. Audrey Smedley stated in 1997,
“Race ideology was a mechanism justifying what had already been established as unequal social groups; it was from its inception, and is today, about who should have access to privilege, power, status, and wealth, and who should not. As a useful political ideology for conquerors, it spread into colonial situations around the world….and Race has no intrinsic relationship to human biological diversity, that such diversity is a natural product of primarily evolutionary forces while ‘race’ is a social invention.”
(Anthropology Newsletter, Nov. 1997).
Anthropologists and genetic biologists agree that there is only one race, and it’s Human. Period. End of story.
I have a personal stake in this. Growing up, I was asked at various times and well into adulthood, “What are you?” Depending on how irritated I was by this question, I’d either answer with “excuse me?’ or “Human.” I grew up in a multicultural household, my father is black American (from the South) and my mother is white Scandinavian (Swedish) to be exact. By all accounts I would respond with, “mixed; black and white,” Not mixed-race or biracial. Mixed-race implies being a product of mixing different species. Incorrect. Mixed race would be splicing the DNA of two distinct species together such as a cat and a dog. Imagine that!
My parents aren’t two different species. They are two different people: two different genders, two different personalities, two different colors, from two different cultures and two different continents. It’s that simple.
I see differences in cultural aspects, religious worship, food, language and I see differences in physical features and color. They are only variations and opportunities for me to learn and experience.
Have you ever wondered what America would be like if we didn’t use race as a description? What if we stopped using it all together and instead used the correct, scientific word/words.
Instead of Race Relations, we simply called it Human Relations.
Instead of Race Riots, we called them Human Riots. Notice, it sounds very similar to Human Rights.
Instead of interracial, we named it intercultural or interhuman.
Instead of racism, we simply called it colorism, bigotry, prejudice or hate-ism.
Since race is completely a social construct, created by us humans, then we have the power to dismantle it. It may feel daunting and overwhelming but what if we started small, something that we can control? We can start by changing our language. If we stop using ‘race’ as a definition or description, we will be forced to individually look at our own prejudices and stereotypes that we hold as well as our ingrained belief(s) and need that we are separate or better.
So, here’s a challenge for you. The next time you hear or see the word race used to describe a peoples or population either in the news, media or by friends, family or colleagues, mentally interject Human in place of race and notice what happens. Does the story change? How about the perception of the event or people involved? You don’t need to do this out loud, this is a challenge strictly for you.