Race, Ethnicity, & Racism

What is race? What is ethnicity?

According to Michael Omi & Howard Winant in “Racial Formation in the United States” race is defined as “social conflict carried/played out by reference to specific types of human bodies”. Racism is not something particular to the United States & race is not the same everywhere in the world. Racial categories serve particular contextual purposes depending on the society they are used in, but generally follow the base logic of the supremacy of one type of human body over all others (ordering these human bodies in a hierarchical fashion).

Audrey & Brian Smedley in “Race in North America: Origin & Evolution of a Worldview” on the historical development of race:

Race - Audrey Smedley

Race is a typology based in zoological science and heavily influenced by the line of thought in “the great chain of being”, a concept derived by Plato and Aristotle.

White Supremacist Racism is a system of power based on the supremacy & dominance of “white” people. “white” is a political concept created by the European & colonial ruling elite of the 17th & 18th centuries that is revealed in attitudes, behaviors & institutional systems in which white people maintain supremacy over peoples of color. Human beings create & maintain the systems which, in turn, reinforce white supremacist racism.
Audrey & Brian Smedley in “Race in North America: Origin & Evolution of a Worldview” on the definition of ethnicity:

Ethnicity 1 - Smedley & Smedley

The Slave Trade and Jim Crow/Colonialism:

  • The slave trade in the US was about profit generation and cheap labor for rich white men. With the abolition of slavery Jim Crow became the means by which exclusion from economic, social, and political life was maintained.
  • Africans on the continent and in other African majority nations suffered under the weight of imperialism and colonialism. The purpose of colonialism is the extraction of resources for use in the capitalist economy of the home nation.
  • Both systems represented the primitive accumulation of power, labor, and raw materials from oppressed people through force and political domination.

Colorblindness/ Neo-Colonialism:

  • With the conclusion of the Civil Rights Movement and related efforts to lessen the load of racial domination on Africans in America racial domination turned to more subtle forms of oppression to maintain white privilege in America. Colorblindness represents a way to allow racial forms of oppression to continue without it being as obvious as Slavery or Jim Crow. Institutional forms of oppression continue to destroy African people while whites are able to deny any personal involvement in that said oppression.
  • In Africa, with the end of formal colonization, neo-colonialism took over as the mechanism of control for European nations. Neo-colonialism used World Bank/IMF loans, political alliances, the UN, and corrupt leaders to influence the actions of African nations to make sure they do not develop in a way that does not profit Europe or America.

So let’s look at the facts:

Skin color and hair texture are two physical parts of the human body that tell us what type of environments our ancestors are from and what climates they experienced & we are best “adapted” for:

  • What is skin color? It is just that, its color. The color of your skin is caused by melanin in your skin cells.  Melanin has a wide variety of benefits including reducing the amount of damage the sun’s radiation can do to human skin.
  • Why are some people darker than others? Why are some lighter?  Melanin makes your skin darker, the more you have the darker your complexion.  Some people have more melanin in their skin because their ancestors lived in hotter climates.  People of African descent have darker skin tones because our ancestors lived in tropical climates and having more melanin protected us from the radiation of the sun.  Melanin also makes a person’s skin soft and glowing but also makes it more sensitive.
  • Why do people have different types of hair textures (curly, straight, “nappy”, tangled, etc.)? Hair texture is also a reflection of the environment & climate your ancestors are from, those with curly, thick hair like that of Africans are from a warmer climate.  Our hair acts as a protectant from the harsh environment.   People with straight hair are from cooler climates.
  • Nose shape? Even the structure and shape of the nose is a consequence of adaptation to the environment, those with more narrow pointy noses are adaptations for colder climates while broader noses are adaptations for warmer climates.

Race is a social, political, and economic construct NOT a biological trait but it does have biological consequences.  Since 1972 geneticists have have confirmed that 85 per cent of variation exists within a population. The results of a 2002 study by Noah Rosenberg and showed that differences within population account for a 93-95 percent of all genetic variation where as differences among major groups constitute only 3%-5%.  They also found that about half of the alleles appeared in every major population in the world. Only 7.4 per cent of alleles were exclusive to one specific region, and those alleles tended to be very rare.  Race is not an accurate or productive means of describing variations among humans/Homo Sapien sapiens.  Fact is race was originally defined as a sub-species, based on typology/zoology humans are a single inter-breeding species, meaning that it doesn’t include sub-species.

FURTHER READINGhttps://twitter.com/Hood_Biologist/status/797964283074052096

Link to Dr. Troy Duster’s Article & Lecture at LSEhttps://twitter.com/Hood_Biologist/status/755893929975820288

So what does this all mean?

This means that race is just social, economic, and political meanings that people systematically attached to physical traits that they see but the racialization of skin, hair, nose shape, & etc. is not consistant and changes all the time.  Why? Because those physical characteristics are not actually isolated in based on racial categories.  No population group can be reduced to isolated physical features because its not that simple.  Phenotypes/physical traits do not determine the value of any human being beyond the hegemonic systems & ideologies created to perpetuate that.  Race is not reflective of genetic or even phenotypic difference & variance of Homo Sapien sapiens.  & the genetic variation that is seen within & between human populations is not enough to constitute claiming that Homo Sapien sapiens have races or subspecies. What we see as racial differences are the result of the meanings and hierarchies attached to them over the last 500 years.  The meaning of those said differences are heavily influenced and defined by white supremacist racist cisheteropatriarchal capitalist institutions of legitimacy.

Intro to Race, Racism, & Science Reading List:

Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century by Dorothy Roberts

Race: Are We So Different by Alan Goodman, Yolanda Moses, and Joseph Jones

The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter

Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race by Patrick Wolfe

The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in 17th Century North America and the Caribbean by Gerald Horne

An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney

Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition by Cedric Robinson

Not In Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, & Human Nature by Richard Lewontin, Richard Levins, & Leon Kamin

The American Association of Physical Anthropology Statement on Race & Racism (2019)

Social Constructions, Historical Grounds by Shay-Akil McLean (2020)


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