• OnNothing
    4
    A Critique on the Essentialist View of Race

    In Caesar's "Commentarii de Bello Gallico," he describes the Gallic and Germanic people as distinctively separate from the Mediterraneans in terms of race. His justification for this was their height and long, blonde hair, as compared to the short stature and kempt dark hair of the Mediterraneans. Now, however, both of these peoples would be considered "white," as a racial classification.

    When the eastern Asians who would come to be known as the Japanese colonized the island of Japan, they fought against the native ancestors of the modern-day Ainu who still inhabit one of the northern islands. They had a lighter complexion, but accounts describe the main differentiation made between these two "races" as being dependent on the amount of body hair each possessed, with the Japanese having little and the natives having much. To these early Asian people, body hair was a racial determinant.

    Going further into the racial classifications of Asian peoples, Indians, who are classified racially as Asian, are descendant of middle easterners, who are classified as white, despite possessing darker skin. Also, many groups of Asian peoples, such as the aforementioned Japanese, have white complexions, despite once being classified as "yellow" and contemporary being racially categorized as "Asian."

    There are many more examples of inconsistencies in the racial classifications of peoples throughout history that show that not only were they not solely dependent on skin color as many contemporary interpretations assume, but that irregularities and oddities are scattered throughout suggesting that racial classifications are not touching on some essential property of what it is to be human, but rather an arbitrary, yet in some cases pragmatic, classification of people. However, I will touch on the latter point more in a moment

    When looking at the dispersion of haplogroups (tracing the y-chromosome to determine the migration of early humans; a map of which can be seen by simply googling "haplogroup") one sees that not only do many migrations of early humans overlap and that we all share similar ancestry, but there are disparities between these patterns and the contemporary perspective of race. What this suggests is that, once again, these classifications are arbitrary.

    They are still, however, pragmatic. In Europe, expressing a commonality among all peoples in a shared skin color strengthened their bonds that had, centuries prior, been forged from a shared religion that was falling out of favor. Furthermore, their racial classifications based on skin color made easier the generalization and subsequent colonization and enslavement of non-white peoples. While these actions are deplorable in hindsight, there was a real motivation in classifying others through racially-defined means in skin color. This can be seen with most other peoples throughout history, as the more distance placed between one group and another makes easier the dehumanization and subsequent oppression, exploitation, and/or conquest of another group people. The concept of race served a purpose. What purpose does it serve now?

    None. However, with the rise of the white-skinned Europeans, much of the world bent to, or at the very least incorporated, fragments of their worldview. They were Christians, and as such the vast majority of them had an essentialist worldview, believing that there are certain essences possessed by an individual. While I am not here to argue this point generally, I will argue that the concept of race - which was considered to be part of this "essence" as it served a definite purpose to white-skinned Europeans and was therefore considered as such as it heavily embedded it into the mindset of these peoples - is not an aspect of this essence (if there is such a thing) as seen in the irregularities, changes over time, and subsequent arbitrary nature of the concept of race shown prior.

    Despite this, many still prescribe to this mindset - even those whose hearts are in the right place and have made the issue of racial disparity their life's work. We still think of our arbitrarily prescribed race as being as essential part of our identity; our social institutions, such as our government, force us to acknowledge our arbitrarily prescribed race almost every time we interact with them; we insist that "diversity" is contingent upon our arbitrary view of race instead of that which is was originally - our ideologies and perspectives on the world - propagating the horrendously false and harmful idea that this arbitrary concept of race determines one's worldview; "progressive" legislature pushes for forced equality among racial groups that ultimately only furthers the grasp of this arbitrary perception of race by cementing our these classifications in law. We do all this not knowing that the concept of race is constructed and therefore only gains as much significance as we give it, meaning that for all our well-intentioned words and actions in recent times, the problem only gets worse.

    Our fundamentally essentialist view of the world has corrupted our minds in the context of the concept of race, leading us to still partake in propagating the very ideas that were nothing more than pragmatic to the very colonials and slavers we now demonize. Maybe through the realization that if we were to have an essence that race is in no way part of it we may finally and actually begin to progress and lessen the suffering cause by this outdated, arbitrary idea. While we may still recognize our ancestry, the organization of peoples into racial classifications is unnecessary and does nothing in today's world other than cause needless harm. As for our governments, may we realize that in order to deinstitutionalize racism, we must deinstitutionalize the concept of race itself, and without the strengthening ties to our social institutions, the concept of race will slowly dissipate, and with it the suffering it causes.
  • OnNothing
    4
    Let me know what you think!

    P.S. Yes, yes, I know, racism can be solved by posting a black-screen on instagram. However, not all of us have it :cry:
  • Judaka
    694

    I agree with the main theme of what you had to say, though I wonder if your views aren't a bit Eurocentric, slavery also predates white supremacy. I am not really convinced that the conceptualisation of race came about because it was pragmatic or that its continuation was based off that either.

    I think that society is taking an entirely incorrect approach to race because of the failure to identify that the problem is this emphasis of the importance of someone's race. There is no interest in condemning this practice, the conceptualisation of the problem seems to be that the non-white races have been treated unfairly and there is an injustice to be redressed. Sadly, this means continuing to make race one of the most significant features of a person.

    Many will agree with that race shouldn't matter but are unwilling to end their role in perpetuating its importance. The moral importance of correcting past and current injustices committed against races outweigh alternatives. There is also a reticence to undermine the perceived positive features of cultures which "belong" to races.

    The next problem is that another way of rejecting white supremacy has been to celebrate non-white races, giving them unique properties, a unique voice, to associate their culture and history with the race while putting a positive spin on it. All of which is identical to how racism has always functioned, I think what was called racism is being reformed into a kind of positive racism. Where races have their own unique properties but these properties must be desirable.
  • Tzeentch
    723
    The moral importance of correcting past and current injustices committed against races outweigh alternatives.Judaka

    A moral responsibility by virtue of sharing the same skin color as the perpetrators of racial injustices, historical or otherwise? Perhaps you'd care to elaborate some more on this.
  • Possibility
    1.5k
    The moral importance of correcting past and current injustices committed against races outweigh alternatives.
    — Judaka

    A moral responsibility by virtue of sharing the same skin color as the perpetrators of racial injustices, historical or otherwise? Perhaps you'd care to elaborate so more on this.
    Tzeentch

    Moral importance, NOT responsibility - we correct past and current injustices not by standing with the perpetrators, but by standing against them, regardless of skin colour. Not by assuming culpability for the actions of others, but by assuming a share in the suffering of those unjustly treated.
  • Tzeentch
    723
    Moral importance, NOT responsibility - we correct past and current injustices not by standing with the perpetrators, but by standing against them, regardless of skin colour. Not by assuming culpability for the actions of others, but by assuming a share in the suffering of those unjustly treated.Possibility

    By that I understand that participation in this act of correcting is entirely voluntarily and people should never be forced, since there exists no moral responsibility?

    On another topic, what exactly determines whether one should feel this moral importance, and on the basis of what? Does it extend to all forms of injustice?
  • Judaka
    694

    I think this topic is discussed a lot because even though racism might not be something many of us encounter nor something we ourselves are guilty of, we are bothered by the senselessness and unfairness of it. Personally, I think a lot of that feeling is logically undermined by some of the solutions people employ and that includes conceptualizing race as more than it is. Race being something so important and such a potent connection that one could be culpable for what another did by virtue of being the same race. To me, that completely undermines what makes racism so wrong.

    We do have a moral responsibility to stand up against racism and condemn past injustices but it is a personal responsibility as a moral person, who stands up for others and won't sit silently while evil is done. One's race is not an obstacle to participating in this endeavour to end racism, to condemn what has happened and help shape a better future.

    Personally, I'm a nihilist and I don't really believe there is further legitimacy than my own opinion when it comes to moral matters. However, as a human and a pragmatist and someone who hates stupidity and senselessness, I have things I must condemn and racism is on that list. To stop racism, I must agree with OP and say that the framing around race issues is messed up and the solution shouldn't be framed using the same framing that the slavers did, whom we unilaterally condemn.
  • ssu
    3k
    I personally think that a lot of the most pressing problems in our societies are more about class, about povetry, inequal distribution of wealth and opportunities and the decreasing of social mobility that transforms our society into winners and losers. To argue that it's all because of racism simply doesn't make sense. Those problems are present even here, where 1,34% of the population are poc. (And as the OP stated, racism is quite illogical: today we see German, Poles, Russians as being white and hence similar, but not so was it seen by Germans in the 30's and early 40's.)

    The US has an ugly history of racial discrimination which indeed has created a class divide going along racial lines. Even if the legal discrimination has ended many decades ago, it obviously has consequences still. Yet the insistence and fixation just to focus on racism and seeing racists everywhere has just created a new obsession with race and dividing us by race... whatever that division is. It limits us from seeing that the problems aren't only a racial issue, but mainly an issue of class. Modern anti-racism divides us by race and hence upholds the idea of race, which is perplexing.
  • OnNothing
    4


    To the first paragraph, I showed the pragmatic reasons for the modern conception of race in the west being based on skin color because it explains why this perception emerged and undermines its significance in terms of adhering to some essence. Yes, slavery has been practiced for millennium, and not always solely justified by racial differentiation, but as I said "the more distance placed between one group and another makes easier the dehumanization and subsequent oppression, exploitation, and/or conquest of another group people." Racism, and the concept of race overall, is a tool to be used by a society, and by explaining how it was most recently used by the west and how the emerging perception came to be the dominant view in this region now, once again, undermines the validity of that view.

    Secondly, this perception of race is not necessarily related to "white-supremacy." What I mean when I reference this view that emerged from Europe and later spread throughout other areas of the world as their influence grew is basing one's race on the color of one's skin. So, this racial outlook is not one held solely by white-supremacists, but anyone who bases their view of race on skin color, which tends to be most everyone within western society regardless of their own color. Applying this to your last paragraph, even the celebration of these races upholds their perceived essential qualities and continues this unfounded separation of peoples based on nothing more than an arbitrary imposition. It would be better instead to celebrate one's unique heritage and direct ancestry, such as a Filipino celebrating his/her Filipino ancestry, which would then lead to the fragmenting these racial groups and therefore undermine their importance in our society.

    As for your second and third paragraphs, I find them agreeable. It is a shame that we find ourselves so focused on race that we miss the factors that now truly lead to our unfair separation such as the stagnation of local economies in under-privileged areas.
  • OnNothing
    4
    I completely agree. However, when you look at the discussions being had now in the States, as you expressed, they are more so about racial separations than economic disparities. By rejecting this essentialist view of racism and the concept overall it would steer the discussion towards these economic disparities that are the overarching problem in western societies. While race still plays a role, it is increasingly to a lesser extent, and we would stand to gain from the elimination of the concept upon which it is based.
  • tim wood
    4.9k
    The science has been in for a long time. There exist differences, but there is no such thing as race. Race is a 19th century pseudoscience. It's not a question of choice. Reference to race absent appropriate qualification as to the use of term is just ignorance, often enough to the level of vicious stupidity. Unfortunately that ignorance too often "plays a role." Best to call that by its correct name: crime. There is not race and racism, but crime and criminals, and of course a lot of willfully, stupidly ignorant people. The history of such groups is that in the main, we have to wait for them to die out.
  • Possibility
    1.5k
    By that I understand that participation in this act of correcting is entirely voluntarily and people should never be forced, since there exists no moral responsibility?Tzeentch

    Sure, but based on any such interaction, one identifies either with the perpetrators or with those suffering.

    On another topic, what exactly determines whether one should feel this moral importance, and on the basis of what? Does it extend to all forms of injustice?Tzeentch

    Perceived potential and value in an interaction determines importance, moral or otherwise. For me, it isn’t about ‘should’ - it’s about one’s impact on awareness/ignorance, connection/isolation and collaboration/exclusion. And yes, I believe it does extend to all forms of injustice.
  • thewonder
    473

    In Race: the Power of an Illusion, they point out that there is greater genetic variance between two identical fruit flies than there is between two people who are claimed to be of different races. It's crazy what can be done by a common scientific misunderstanding or that such racial essentialist attitudes even still exist, having long been debunked.

    Essentialist discourse has been recuperated to some extent, though. The most notable example is probably the Black Power movement.
  • Judaka
    694

    Well, I understand where you're coming from and I'm not really saying you're wrong just that I'm not sure to what extent you're right. In any case, trivial matters, I agree with all of your arguments.
  • fishfry
    1.6k
    racism can be solved by posting a black-screen on instagram.OnNothing

    Racism can be solved by removing all depictions of ethnic minorities from pancake syrup, butter, and rice.
  • Outlander
    455
    Racism can be solved by removing all depictions of ethnic minoritiesfishfry

    There we go. That's what you meant. As they say in forumspeak "FIFY".
  • fishfry
    1.6k
    There we go. That's what you meant. As they say in forumspeak "FIFY".Outlander

    I did not understand your point in the least. You altered my quoted text to make it appear that I wrote something that I did not write. That's bad form and bad ethics. How would you like me to start misquoting your quoted text and attributing my alterations to you? I can do that if you like.

    I can't even figure out if you're agreeing or disagreeing with the point I made.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment

Welcome to The Philosophy Forum!

Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.