The Language of Racism

I have been having an interesting internet discussion with someone over at one of my favorite sites “Anti-Racist Parent.” Though slightly off topic from the original post that I was responding to over there, “How Should We Refer To The Race of Our New Baby,” the brief discussion (which I sincerely hope to continue at the writer’s own blog, “Mixed Race America,” which looks to be quite interesting as well) dove into how important it is, or is not, to fight against the use of the term “race.” If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I believe that changing our language is one, if not the first, step to overcoming our insane focus on all things racial.

The point the blogger and I seemed to disagree on was whether it was possible to fight racism while simultaneously accepting the social construct that is race in the first place. And since I cannot fairly articulate another person’s point, please check out her site or our discussion at ‘Anti-Racist Parent.” While she and I disagreed on this issue I totally respect her comments and viewpoint. We have a lot of work to do to make the world a more accepting place when it comes to issues of prejudice and racism, so there is plenty of room for attacking the problems from many different perspectives. The good news is that there are lots of people out there who are doing what they can to make a difference.

In the end, it is certainly true that the concept of race is unfortunately very real to most people. Personally, one of my contributions to the fight against the racism that results, is hopefully to get enough of us to stop accepting the foolishness of the racial concept and to stop buying into even the language that contributes to our acceptance. Words do not do physical harm, and therefore may not be our biggest concern. But words can create realities that lead to very real and very physical and psychological harm.

Few words can compare to “race” in terms of the importance that has been placed on it. So much so that even those fighting against the results that flow from the concept, even accept its usage as something too big to get rid of.

I just can’t.

I am not foolish enough to think my bi-cultural kids will not have to deal with the siliness of “race” and racial identity concerns. But my wife and I also agree that what we will certainly do is teach them that dealing with the illusion of race does not mean they should continue using the language of “race” and racism. Whether that is a large or small step, is debatable. But what is surely not, is that the impact of that little word has come to mean so so much to so many people. How strange then, that it is a word that is biologically meaningless, with it roots in division. And yet it is uttered every day as if it is o.k.

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2 thoughts on “The Language of Racism

  1. Jennifer says:

    Hi Earnest,Thanks for your kind note to my blog email account–and for linking to my site “Mixed Race America.”I also enjoyed the exchange that we had and look forward to reading older posts on this site and to reading new ones you add.The first thing I want to say is that I think we’re absolutely in agreement on two key points:1) Race is a residual of racism–a by-product, an after-effect, the means by which racism gains its currency/power (I have a blog post about this called “Getting rid of race” which you can access through one of the sidebars on my blog.2) Anti-racism is a living practice that I try to adhere to. I’m an imperfect practioner–I don’t get everything right and I certainly don’t have all the right answers. But I do try to hold myself accountable, and when appropriate, to hold others accountable as well, in terms of wanting to live and lead an anti-racist life.But here’s my question for you and for others — and it’s really a genuine question: how do you NOT use a language of race? In my line of work (I’m a university professor who teaches and writes about race/racism) I cannot avoid it. And even if I were not working specifically on these issues, on university campuses in general, a language of race, albeit almost always used in terms of diversity/multiculturalism/ethnic nationalism/racial pride is part and parcel of the university culture.And just in our day to day lives, a language of race permeates. So I find it admirable and remarkable that you refuse this language and I am really curious as to what that looks like in your day to day life and what the reactions are of those around you when you refuse this language.Heres to more dialogue and great disuccssions on this and other topics.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Earnest,Thanks for your email reply–I do get why you want to avoid the term “race” and do think it’s admirable that you are trying to convey to your children that there is no real racial differences among human beings. For my own perspective, I sort’ve feel it’s like being a communist living in a capitalist society. Like trying to convince people that the way out of capitalism is to recognize that money is a social construct and that if we stop using the phrase “money” or “currency” we can end capitalism because “money” is the root of capitalist exploitation.I’m not just being cheeky (although I recognize my analogy to be doing that)–I just think that what I’m principally concerned with isn’t abolishing the word race but to abolish the judgments and hierarchies and oppression used in the name of race. Anyway, feel free to continue this over on my blog wherever is appropriate!

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