Race ramblings from July 2015

In the wake of a week of violence unlike any other, I very much appreciated the spirit of the new anti-racism with which David Whiting wrote “Dialogue between races, with law enforcement is critical for peace” in the Orange County Register, 9 July, 2016.

However, Mr. Whiting’s use of the word “races” in the headline makes me wonder: How will we end racism if we continue to perpetuate the myth of race? What is the role of anti-racism in the effort to end racism?

Some critical race theorists have suggested that to end racism, we must use language authentically and truthfully. Many researchers in many disciplines have showed the power of language, naming, and categorizing to shape our views of reality. And, so, I don’t use race. Instead,

I use other markers including place of origin (which can lead to some great conversation and debates), faith, and linguistic identity.

Race is a social construct forged in medieval Europe and Colonial America by the marriage of philosophy/theology with the needs of Empire. The ancient civilizations of India and China were unaware of race and most modern countries don’t use race but they use social class, language, faith, ancestry and lineage to distinguish people groups. In south India, centuries-old caste-based oppression continues unabated especially in rural areas. Dravidian, a linguistic people group, has more meaning as an identity. Not race.  The United Nations does not recommend the collecting of ethnic data, and even in the US, there was a proposal to stop using race in the 2020 Census. Sadly, this didn’t pass but the time is coming when the shameful category of race will be eliminated from our census. Right now, though, there are powerful interests that are vested in perpetuating ‘race” based group identities. Those of us in education, media, politics, however, should strive to express the truth: All people belong to one human race. I am not talking about race erasure but I do think we can learn from the many unsung heroes today – young Americans, mixed ancestry peoples, new immigrants, anti-racist activists, and  others – who are quietly building identities without racial tones, seeing and listening to all cultures and traditions, working compassionately, inclusively, fighting for justice for all, in solidarity with humanity, wherever and whenever marginalized, oppressed.

Tip #1: Abandon race. Stop racializing people! Racializiation = Oppression!!!!!

Changing the language/names is a decolonization technique often used by the former colonies; many new nations changed so many of their place names when the power to self-govern transferred back to them. Horace Selden, an early anti-racist American activist of European origin and founder of Community Change, Inc, suggested it as well. I quote from two of his insightful essays below:

 Assumptions (Convictions) About Racism in United States of America (August 1990)

That language is a prominent carrier of cultural values and norms, and will actively contribute to racism unless it is continually reviewed for its racist effects

The De-Radicalization of Anti-Racism (December 1998)

The title and the probing ideas come from Amy Elizabeth Ansell‟s New Right, New Racism: Race and Reaction in the United States and Britain. My explorations follow her lead only as it opens vistas onto what is happening in the United States, since that is where I live and observe. In a detailed and precise way, Ansell outlines the emergence of “new racism” with the advent of “new right” politics during our most recent decades …

In the late ’60s and early 70s … Prejudice + Power = Racism. … became a mantra of the anti-racism movement. Today that extended mantra probably becomes Prejudice + Power + Privilege = Racism. Variations on these words prevailed; there was talk about a “white problem,”  about “white power,: and words like dominance, supremacy, and hegemony were common. … The uses and abuses of white power, settled by custom, law, and practice in the major institutions of the nation, combined with the enculturated prejudices of several hundred years became a primary focus of anti-racism. Most of  my colleagues viewed anti-racism as a movement which necessarily had to focus on the social and political structures of white power.

Anti-Racism                                                                             New Right Anti-Anti-Racism

Emphasis on outcome/results                                             Insistence on proving intent

Centrality of group rights                                                      There are only individual rights

Color-consciousness is OK                                                    Color-consciousness divides & is racist

Integration is a goal                                                                 Separate & equal is a goal

Planned economy                                                                     World-wide market economy

Power relationships define racism                                        Racism = race prejudice Prevention & rehabilitation is response to crime                                                       Punishment is response to crime

Role of government utilized to alleviate                               Role of government becomes benign disparities, inequalities                                                                          neglect

Inequality increased by social structures                              Inequality comes from differing individual abilities

Affirmative Action attempts to include                                 “Preferences” to overcome discrimination

those excluded by past/present are discriminatory                                                                                discrimination

Inequality is rooted in contradictions of our                       Inequalities measure the failure of our                                   founding; believing in both equality and                     nation to live out its creed of equality                                     white, male superiority

Multi-lingual abilities are a national                                    English is the official national language asset, to                                                                                                                                    be encouraged

Immigration of new citizens is essential to                         Immigration limited for technically define our identity as a nation of  immigrants                                               skilled and/or English speaking whites

The rights of indigenous people must                                  Indigenous people become assimilated be legally acknowledged, and politically implemented

The above list invites you to add to it from your own understanding and experience. There is no attempt to prioritize or to even explain why I have worded things as I have; again you are invited to change whatever begs your welcome advice. Rather, I want here to trace some of the strands which seem to dominate the way the “new right” has manipulated the agenda of anti-racism.”

Seldon doesn’t offer definitive advice but notes, based on his 20+ years of anti-racist training, that anti-racism (since the late 1990s) has become de-radicalized; diversity the soft edge of anti-racism must be guarded from assumptions that white is normative, and attempts to change the language can distract. Small changes made by individuals can, however empower success and facilitate taking on bigger battles. Our anti-racism efforts today, now, can begin with this small step/change:  We replace the word race with ethnic origin/ethnicity. We don’t need to discuss definitions or debate meaning. Just abolish the word race from our own vocabularies. We find new ways to describe people and we stay focused on understanding the structural racism and elimination of its inequities in our society.

Tip: Once you’ve stopped using the word race, you will find that you also need language to describe people. Stop calling or describing people as white, black, brown or people of color.  This way of describing people is a convenient shorthand that perpetuates colorism, another very subtle form of new racism. Isn’t this often embedded in all human societies around the world?   More about this in the next post since there’s complicated issues to unravel such as group identity and identity politics, but for now, what are some examples of a new anti-racism language? Using origin, we could say:

#1: People of European origin …

#2: People of Asian origin …

Or, we could do what I do. When people ask me, where are you, where are you really from? I say.

I’m from Africa. Aren’t we all from Africa?

Related Reading:

Seeing beyond race – A mother’s plea for her son 

Anti-racism Digital Library (prototype)

Originally written July 2015. Revisited 2016, Published on blog July 2020.



Published by Dr. Anita Coleman

The one and only Biblio Prof :)

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