WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2021
How "race" is discussed in Our Town: Right at the end of the segment, the very notion that "race" exists was convincingly shown to the door.
Rather, the notion of biological race had been dismissed in that manner.
The TV show was Democracy Now. The bouncer in question was Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative.
We were surprised by what we heard that day. As we showed you yesterday, here's what Crear-Perry said:
CREAR-PERRY (12/30/20): If I was taught in medical school, as I was—I was taught that there were three biological races—that’s racism.
Racism was not created by God. Racism was not created by medicine. Those things have been—racism was created by people who wanted to hold power and wealth. And so, our job is to fight for equality and justice and joy, and to say, “How do we undo all these places inside of medicine where we say that Black people have different lungs or different kidney capacity or different pelvis shapes?”
All this talk that we have a different shape of our pelvis, how could that possibly be, when it’s just melanin production that makes us different? That’s the only one difference. Our pelvis and our melanin have nothing to do with each other. So, really undoing those racist ideas that we were all taught inside of medicine so that we can have antiracism.
This came at the end of a longer discussion, one we'll discuss tomorrow. But in this, her final statement, Crear-Perry seemed to say that there's no such thing as (biological) race. Crear-Perry seemed to say this:
She seemed to say that we the people just aren't all that (biologically) "different."
Concerning our own nation's dominant picture of race—that picture is part of "the world the slaveholders made"—she seemed to say that those of us who are said to be "black" and those of us who are said to be "white" differ only in one small way—in the realm of melanin production.
Our lungs and our kidneys are all the same. Except in that one insignificant way, we're all (biologically) alike, Crear-Perry seemed to say. We aren't (biologically) different!
Dr. Crear-Perry knows a thousand times more biology than we do. Our ignorance stretches back a long way—we refused to take high school biology because we weren't willing to cut up the frog!
In part for that reason, we don't know how accurate Crear-Perry's various biological statements may have been that day. But she was making a type of statement which was once very common in liberal / progressive towns:
She seemed to be saying that (biological) race is just "a social construct." There's no such thing as (biological) race! That's what she seemed to say.
There's no such thing as (biological) race, Crear-Perry seemed to have declared. That said, leave it to a trained physician to slip that key word in!
Why had Crear-Perry shown the door to biological race? Why had she been so specific?
We're willing to take a guess:
To appearances, Crear-Perry wasn't denying the existence of a second type of "race." We'll call it "sociological" race. It dominates American life, and it always has.
In part, sociological race is simply the widespread belief that different "races" exist. Beyond that, sociological race is the web of cultural differences which inevitably enter the world when different groups of people are forced to live apart.
In prehistory, there were no buses, and even no airplanes. Different groups of people lived apart by the simple force of geography.
In American history, groups were forced to live apart by the power of law. And when groups of people live apart, they develop different languages, different cultures, different customs.
Their kidneys may be alike, but their customs and cultures no longer are. These become actual differences between these different groups of people. These cultural / sociological differences may come to define them as two separate groups—may make them seem like two different "races," whatever that historically loaded term is understood to mean.
According to Dr. Crear-Perry, our kidneys and our pelvis shapes are all the same arounf here. That means that there are no "biological" races.
It doesn't mean that our various people aren't different in major ways. Wherever groups are forced to live apart, differences are going to form.
As we listened to Crear-Perry's statement, we heard the general outlines of a statement we don't hear much today:
There's no such thing as (biological) race! We humans are all just the same!
There was a time, five or six decades ago, when liberals were strongly inclined to stress that key point. We would tend to stress the accurate scientific point which says that we're all just the same.
Today, that point has largely been shown to the door. In the clamor heard in the streets of Our Town, we're much more likely to defer to the role of difference—to the notion that everyone belongs to some sociological race.
Our kidneys may be the same. But as groups of people, we aren't.
Today, we liberals tend to default to the concept of difference. Indeed, we were surprised by Crear-Perry's comment on (biological) race because of what she'd already said that night, in the deeply familiar, unhelpful discussion which had already occurred.
Tomorrow: Concerning the late Dr. Moore; how "race" is discussed in Our Town