MONDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2021
Old habits dying hard in Our Town: Once more, we'll ask the question we posed last week:
Dear reader! Do you belong to a "race?"
Here in the streets of Our Town, most people will agree—though lately, only when pressed—that they do not belong to a (biological) race. Folk in Our Town have long accepted the basic thrust of this capsule assessment:
A race is a grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into categories generally viewed as distinct by society. The term was first used to refer to speakers of a common language and then to denote national affiliations. By the 17th century the term began to refer to physical (phenotypical) traits. Modern science regards race as a social construct, an identity which is assigned based on rules made by society. While partially based on physical similarities within groups, race does not have an inherent physical or biological meaning.
Modern science regards race as a social construct? Race doesn't have an inherent physical or biological meaning?
We're going to say that a different way:
There's no such thing as (biological) race! Biologically, we humans are all pretty much the same, no matter where our ancestors may have lived at whatever point in time.
There's no such thing as (biological) race! Here in Our Town, we accepted this assessment long ago.
That said, we've tended to backslide on this basic assessment in recent years. That because we've come to put increasing emphasis on the concept of sociological race—on the belief that we all belong to some such societal group.
Broadly speaking, sociological race is defined in that capsule assessment, even as the concept of biological race is being rejected. According to that capsule statement, sociological race is "a grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into categories generally viewed as distinct by society."
According to that capsule, society selects certain qualities it regards as significant in some way. On the basis of those qualities, society invents certain "racial" groupings. Society says that each individual belongs to some (sociological) "race."
Reader, do you belong to a race? It will certainly be said that you do! Here in the United States, this is one of the very first things we tend to notice about other people:
Are they white or are they black? Are they "Asian?" Are they Hispanic / Latino, Latina, Latinx?
"Race" and gender are the first things we tend to notice about other people. We're speaking here of sociological race—because, as we've long known in Our Town, there's no such thing as biological race. Biologically, we're all the same! Or at least, we used to be!
In Our Town, we don't believe that individuals belong to biological races. If pushed, we'll still say that there's no such thing as (biological) race—though of late, we pretty much have to be pushed.
Why do we have to be pushed at this point? We have to be pushed because, here in Our Town, we've come to place so much emphasis on the individual's sociological race.
It defines a person's "identity," we townspeople constantly say.
When we say such things as that, we aren't exactly wrong. It's certainly true that an individual's sociological race will routinely define the way that individual is perceived, and it will often define the way that person is treated.
To which (sociological) race does a person belong? Day after day, in a million ways, this question drives our human interactions.
A person's sociological race will indeed play a large role in that person's life! But as we ourselves have come to focus so heavily on this type of "race," have we perhaps begun to behave in some of the unfortunate ways we used to revile in Our Town?
When it comes to the powerful concept of "race," old habits may tend to die hard:
Is it possible that we enlightened souls in Our Town may tend to stereotype large groups of people, in much the way we used to revile? Is it possible that we routinely prejudge individual incidents on the basis of the race of the parties involved?
Do we tend to react in the same old ways—in the same old ways which emerged from "the world the slaveholders made?" Given the moral greatness which is widely known to prevail in Our Town, is it possible that we ourselves are sunk in these gruesome old errors?
The concept of biological race comes to us from that brutal old world—the world the slaveholders made. As we ourselves, here in Our Town, put so much stress on sociological race, do we perhaps extend the concepts of that brutal old world in unhelpful, unwise, throwback ways?
A highly visible Crazy Train has been running through the streets of Their Towns—the towns where The Others now live. In Our Town, we take great pleasure, and great pride, in documenting the Big Crazy happening over there.
Over here, in the streets of Our Town, almost all our own bad judgments are tied to issues of gender and race. And sadly, so vast is our love for our own moral greatness, we've found about a million ways to misfire when it comes to such issues.
Do we love our moral greatness so much that it may be leading us astray? Are old habits dying hard in Our Town?
Increasingly, does it sometimes seem that we actually do believe in biological race? Do we stereotype, condemn and cast blame in ways which seem to come to us, live and direct, from the habits the slaveholders made?
The Crazy Train runs through Their Towns. But what kinds of errors do we make over here in Our Town—in our own vastly self-impressed place of dwelling?
We'll examine a few such errors this week, then move on to other vast errors. Here in Our Town, our current errors tend to involve our overweening pride—and, of course, our errors strongly tend to involve matters of gender and race
Tomorrow: Major columnist nails "white women"