Walter Mosley proposes, not a post-racial society, but at least a post-white society. Read and discuss?
Makes me think of Brown: The Last Discovery of America: Richard Rodriguez – which has been on my “to read” list for a decade now… It is not directly about race – he uses brown as a metaphor for the mixed-up mess that constitutes America.
Here’s an interview The browning of America
The publisher’s blurb:
Rodriguez argues that America has been brown since its inception-since the moment the African and the European met within the Indian eye. But more than simply a book about race, Brown is about America in the broadest sense-a look at what our country is, full of surprising observations by a writer who is a marvelous stylist as well as a trenchant observer and thinker.
I’d have thought the ‘White’ race is a lot more homogeneous than ‘Black’, ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Asian’. Why single out white as an overly vague and artificial term if they all are? (I guess there’s, “because white people have the most power”, but it still seems odd to make this about one group).
Did you even read the article? Cause he points out how and why “whiteness” was constructed historically.
Also, see books that fall within the category of white studies, such as:
Or if you need a more global perspective:
And this classic, which is not specifically about whiteness, but she includes it in her analysis - I especially like the chapter on Jack Johnson:
You’ve pretty much gotten to the issue: in the U.S., “whites” are the biggest group, and mainstream Americans who can call themselves “white” generally accept whiteness without thinking about it because they don’t immediately think about the downside. The downside is that there isn’t any upside unless you are willing to use your whiteness as a justification for being a separatist or other asshole.
Think about how many Germans are willing now to use the term “Aryan.” Even calling oneself a “German” in Germany is a bit freighted, because it was a pretty recent thing for others (Turks, famously) to gain citizenship in Germany. So in Germany, is “German” a race the way it was considered historically? What about if your name is “Hrovat” or has a -ski in it?
I think this is generally the most gentle slope of reasoning to use when rejecting a self-identification as white.
I like this… but how we feel and perceive ourselves, regardless of our race, is often a function not just of our own self-construction (though clearly whites have far more advantages and leeway in our society than do POC), but of how society constructs us. I walk down the street, and everyone who sees me is going to make judgements about who I am, and that will impact how they interact with me, no? They may change their mind when they get to know me more, but who I am, how I dress, the color of my skin (real or perceived) is going to be read by others how ever they decide to do that. Is it more productive to reject whiteness if that is still how our society is structured, around whiteness? Can I say “I’m Irish” instead, when I’m clearly not Irish (my great-great grandparents were)?
Also, it seems to me that if we do away with race as a construct, then we do away with white/black, etc, right? How does that happen?
So, that being said, how do we get to that point, where how we construct ourselves carries more weight than how culture and society decides to construct us?
I think that before Europeans thought of themselves as “white” they thought of themselves (for a few centuries at least) as Christians. Before that, it was probably a matter of slave/not slave for most people in Europe. Converting to Christianity meant that you were a peasant or indentured, but at least in name you were not a slave. And that sort of gets to the heart of the linguistic construction, going back to Imperial Rome and earlier.
So do I really see myself as answering that question by declaring that I am a free citizen of 'Murica? I’m not sure I could do that with a straight face. Probably the least annoying answer would be to give the name of the American state I feel I am from, without making a big deal about it. It’s not like that question deserves a catalog of genetic markers whenever it’s asked outside a medical context.
Sure - and that was just as much of a construction, too, and reinforced by the society that people lived in. But race is a major defining factor of modern times. how do we undo that in any constructive way? That’s my question.
By making the question of race a narrowly medical question? And volunteering an answer about general identity based solely on residency or whatever makes you feel comfortable? I don’t really know but I think I’m warming up to that idea.
well, we are divided and conquered by power when we identify as a race or gender or sexuality or political party and then fight the other, when the real issue is always class, IMO. Mosley illustrates how to free one’s mind, but our culture simply does not allow for this type of identity. cultural change occurs glacially.
further, I fear this idea sets up whites (or–in keeping with his premise–those who identify or are identified as whites) to be able to side-step real issues, in the manner of saying they are “post race.” minority groups can voice legit concerns, and Honky McCave-Dweller can just say “oh, well, you know, there’s no such thing as “white” anyway, it’s just a construct.”
EDIT: I should have said “cultural change occurs at a glacial pace.”
But race isn’t a medical question, it’s a social construct. And for some people, identifying by race does make them feel comfortable… not just white people either. Race, like it or not, is still one of the dominant ways in which many people identify, and which our culture reinforces, so it’s a pretty tricky set of cultural issues to sort through. And as some of these recent discussions (with a group of people I generally consider to be smart and thoughtful) has shown, they are not even fully agreed upon as to why they are harmful constructs. It was the construction of race as a scientific ideology that led directly to how we understand race now. My question is, how do we undo that? I wish it were as simple as white people saying “I’m not white”, but really it’s not.
I would say I’m inclined to agree, yet I think that despite being a construct, race still has very real ramifications. There might be class issues at the heart of it, but that also ignores the fact that often racial ideology is deployed in ways that are not only driven by class war. How do we deconstruct what has been constructed for us a while ago?
Taken as a social phenomenon, it’s not even a construct, not except as a tool to gather one group together (“white” or the dominant nationality of any particular place) at the expense of all others. As a construct, it’s lazy garbage which announces its own demise under scrutiny. I’m sympathetic to the current academic view that race is not biologically useful, but it clearly isn’t abiologic. It’s social to the extent that some may identify as multiple races depending on the situation, laws, and perceived advantage, but there are limits which aren’t so fuzzy for some. In the U.S., PoC don’t have very fuzzy limits, but neither do typical N./S./E.Eur/Eurasian. The problem also crops up in all “old world” societies where historically static populations are readily identifiable to each other. E.g.: Mandarin vs. everyone else, Japanese vs. everyone else, Yoruba vs. everyone else, etc., identified not just by language and culture but by facial structure and very small variations in skin tone.
At least if you look at it as a matter of ancestral origin, it’s discernible as genetic markers traceable in abstract graphs of ancestry and inferred origin. At that point its only use is medical and forensic, because “racial” distinctions (of the tiresome generalizations about criminality and potential) are not scientific, and the biological information be reclassified from racial information to private information and people can use that privacy to both protect themselves from institutional discrimination and, this is the key to the cultural shift, give themselves a reason to pull their nose out of the business of others whose race appears more “visible” within the dominant population. At that point, the concept of race is made entirely meaningless in a biological sense, but there is a biological replacement in a person’s instantiation as a member of the genomic cloud. And that conceptual replacement may be useful for people to reorient their personal attitudes.
Like I said, I’m warming up to the idea of taking the piss out of both the biological and social idea of race by introducing “whites” to the idea that they have to scramble for an identity while giving them the option of giving up the scramble by leaving off the identification of others. But it’s early days and it’s difficult to figure out where this can take society in general.
Where this can break down is where certain whites refuse to stop being racists in legal and civil society, requiring remedy. So rather than a legal social construct which does away with affirmative action and other remedies for discrimination (on irrelevant physical and cultural bases) which are based on objectively-measured harms, a post-white cultural movement would have to be built on an informal agreement among people, including whites, that a person’s genome is their personal business. And for some that’s a way to disengage from their old attitudes which may not have been explicitly racist, but passively so.
I don’t believe the construct of the majority class is nearly as important as the creation of an identifiable underclass against whom the rest of the population can be contrasted. In other words, it’s not the in-group that’s so important, it’s the creation of an out-group against whom the majority can be pitted. So it’s much less relevant to look at “whites” or other majorities and much more relevant to look at the minority groups they arrayed against: Tutsis in Rwanda, Jews in pre-War Europe & Germany, Muslims in modern Europe, Japanese in modern China, etc. And while I think @noahdjango is somewhat correct in that the origins of these race distinctions were socio-economic in nature, they’ve been so strongly internalized into the background fabric of society that they are no longer purely socio-economic in nature.
As for the socio-economic origins of racism, I think that race and ethnicity has long been a useful tool around which the ruling class can unify an otherwise fractious community, especially when that community might otherwise unite against the ruling class (you can clearly see the Chinese using anti-Japanese riots and demonstrations as a way to unify the country while allowing it to blow off steam that could be directed towards the Party). Sometimes this underclass is created to be scapegoat (Jews), sometimes it is to create a moral justification for immoral acts (European slavery), and oftentimes it is to create a permanent underclass in comparison to whom even the most impoverished majority will feel glad they are not a member of (blacks in the US, to the extent most poor white & non-black Americans can probably still feel things could be worse if they were black). I’m pretty sure Harold Kerbo has a fair bit to say about this (with lots of sources) in Social Stratification and Inequality.
I find this discussion really interesting. There’s a (well, actually a lot of) reasons why I mostly identify as Martian, both online and IRL.
Online schtick is the most obvious, but a lack of commonality with people who share my skin tone, a gentle piss-take at the whole idea of personal identity based on geography or physical features and a bundle of other stuff, some of it quite personal, but it boils down to me being a foreigner everywhere on this planet.
I’m no great political thinker and a piss-poor communicator though. So yeah, why limit yourself to a single, homogenous definition.
When you say you identify as Martian … what do you mean? Am I going to be called out as a paleo-centric cis-anthro if I call you a human?
Truthfully, I am a bit bi-planetary-curious.
It’s interesting, but I’m unsure about the path to the solution:
If the members of the so-called white race dropped that fallacious appellation
I’d think that the road from here to there in some ways makes things worse. Specifically, if whites today start saying “Oh, I’m not white,” is that not akin to a willful blindness about their own white privilege?
“Of course you had an easier time getting into college, finding a job, and smoking pot without landing in jail: you’re white”
“Oh no, I’m not white. So it has nothing to do with my race.”
I think that’s the overwhelming problem already and can’t really be made worse by getting people to think about letting go of their own self-identification. Since race is a bullshit concept in any kind of rigorous sense, we need to look past the point where we’re still treating it like it’s really a thing, and that requires, at some point, abandoning our own racial identification. Self-identification of race is the base of a person’s racial point of view, so it follows that what licenses people to objectify others with racial shorthand is that they themselves take on a race for themselves.
Think about atheism or basic non-religiosity; when people transition into living without religion their religious bigotries tend to weaken as well. Why would it be different when it comes to race?
As I said, it’s mostly online schtick but there is a slightly more serious side. I’ll tick the “other” box on surveys that require my ethnicity, hardly ever give a straight answer when asked “so where do you come from, then?” and do lots of hand-waving to avoid what I see as not a terribly useful question.
Putting myself mentally outside of things helps me to see things more clearly, including the treatment that I get from people that can’t see past the skin colour. It’s also a deliberate act to help me find a more nuanced outlook by considering myself to be an observer. Amongst, but not part of, kind of thing. And a bunch more stuff, too.
Ethnic identity is weird. I currently live amongst a load of people who think they can point to someone and tell them what it says on their passport. The ancestors of these same x-ray-visioned people moved here a short couple-hundred years back without any accepted documentation, displaced and exterminated the cultures previously here and somehow they get to say who is a “real $ethnicity” and who isn’t based on cultural influences, geographic location of birth and melanin levels.
Meanwhile, if I relocated to my original place of birth, I would still be treated as an outsider. Sure, I wouldn’t get the systemic abuse I’d get if my melanin levels were different, but it would still be made plain that I’m not one of them.
I’m only an individual though. I have no political power, no way of changing the system. The best I can do is to try and make things better for other individuals while attempting to render the system irrelevant by disconnecting from the assumptions it makes. Something about being the change you want to see, kind of thing.
It won’t work. But this way, I’ll feel better about things and try to be as mindful as I can.
Not the best explanation. I suck at stuff like this. Give me lame jokes and dumb one-liners any day of the week.
Not by me. I’d have to look that lot up in a dictionary first.
And academics would argue this was a modern construction, a colonial/imperial era one. This doesn’t mean that people didn’t differentiate before that, but it tended to be more class based. A European monarch would have more in common with the elite of African or Asian society prior to the 16th or 17th century than they would with their own subjects.
Plus, a cultural construct doesn’t equal “not real”. Obviously race is a real thing because it acts as a real thing in history and in our society today. We aren’t born with the various differences you speak of - those that are biological and those that are cultural/social - what they MEAN are learned. We are taught the meaning of skin color, but they are taught in a social and cultural environment.
Since we’re talking white people and their identity, there is little to no evidence suggesting that the people of the British Isles are genetically different:
Obviously, there are very different cultures in Ireland, Britain, and Scotland, and those differences are absolutely real. But genetically, not so much. So, that’s what is meant by constructed differences. Outward physical differences take on the meaning of the culture.
I know that science is important, and it matters, but in order to construct a post-racial society, a post-white society, we absolutely need to do away with eugenics. Genes/DNA matter, but the differences between people are so small that they shouldn’t matter and the meaning of those differences are a cultural construct.
I agree and that is the hard part.