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Mean racist, kind racist, non-racist: which are you?

“Race is real, race matters, and race is the foundation of identity.” I imagine that perhaps with a tweak or two, most people would be OK with this declaration.

Many people are aware that the concept of race has no biological validity; that it’s a social construct, like gender or money, real only in that we treat them as real. So, in response to the first part of the thesis, I imagine most people would say, “Race is a social construct with very real effects.” As such, race certainly matters in myriad ways. To the third part of the statement, I’d bet that most people would say something like, “Well identity is a multi-faceted thing. Race is certainly among the factors that interact to form the foundation of one’s identity.” Notwithstanding these slight adjustments, I expect there’d be few objections to the thesis.

If I’ve guessed right about your reaction to the statement, then you share something very important and very problematic with Richard Spencer, who made the pronouncement about race at a National Policy Institute (NPI) convention in November. Spencer is the President and Director of NPI, “an independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.” He is the creator of the term “Alt-Right,” a new coinage for an old ideology of white supremacism, and he has stated unabashedly that America is “a white country,” created by whites who have no need for other inferior groups.

“Don’t you dare clump me with the likes of Richard Spencer!” you might be saying now. “I’m not a racist! Yes, I think of people as member of races, but for me that’s no different than thinking of people as tall or short, or any of the many ways that people naturally vary from one another, none of them implying inherent inequality. Racists are vile people who impute hierarchical differences to the idea of race, and use that rationale to oppress.”

I do not mean to offend. I mean only to provoke the realization that we have to stop believing and acting as if we can have it both ways: adhere to the notion of race while also trying to end racism. The scourge that is the latter is inextricably contingent on the former. Despite our best efforts to eradicate racism, it reemerges like a defiant toxic weed because we fail to pull it up by its root: the notion of race that Spencer and so many treat as real, crucial, and foundational to human identity.

Years ago, I came across an insight in an essay by sociologist, Donal Muir, that perfectly articulates the flaw in how most people think about racism. Muir distinguished three types of thinkers when it comes to racism: “mean racists,” “kind racists,” and “non-racists.” Mean racists and kind racists share a belief in the thesis articulated by Spencer. Mean racist see the thesis as an imperative to menace the racial other. Kind racists wish to ignore that the very essence of the idea of race is unequal worth, and they campaign for racial equality, effectively an oxymoron. The only people who qualify as non-racist are those who defy and denounce the false predicate of race altogether.

Race is not real. Race must cease to matter. Race is not a legitimate foundation of identity.

White supremacists, white nationalist, neo-Nazis, the Alt-Right, or whatever we choose to call mean racists, are, like all humans, driven to achieve consonance between their convictions and the shape, and functioning of the world. Their motivation is rooted in the belief that race is real, race matters, and race is the foundation of identity. We’ve failed to vanquish racism because kind racists are in a perpetual argument with mean racists about whose interpretation of the false declaration is accurate. What we need to do is disabuse them (and ourselves) of the delusion that catalyzes racist belief and behavior in the first place. Luckily, we have another thesis that can and should replace the faulty one about race.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Despite the terrible truth that this declaration was hardly applied equally to every person (and with the necessary replacement of “men” with “people”), it is technically perfect, and it is perfectly incompatible with the idea of race that corrupted it before the ink had dried on our founding document.

Race is not real. Race must cease to matter. Race is not a legitimate foundation of identity.

Of course, many would fear that repudiating the concept of race would mean retreating from anti-racism and falling into dreaded colorblindness and a false sense of being post-race.

“In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way” (Regents of Univ. of California v. Bakke 438 U.S. 265 (1978)). This is what most people believe is necessary and what would be lost if we ceased to regard people in terms of race. But Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun’s precept was only half-rightnecessary, but not sufficient.

The false notion of race was prescribed to allay the hypocrisy that was the by-product of our fledgling country’s virtuous aspiration to liberty and virulent addiction to slavery. The burden of that belief plunged us into a quicksand in which we continue to flail. To escape the trapto truly get beyond racism, we must also get beyond race as a naturalized and compulsory social convention. To truly get beyond racism, we must do two things at once: monitor abuse based on the belief in race AND repudiate race as a legitimate basis of belief and behavior.

We can do this. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We have to. There is no other way.

Featured Image Credit: “Fight Racism” by Metropolico.org. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

Recent Comments

  1. James Connelly

    A both provocative and persuasive essay. I’m curious to learn what the author means by “naturalized” in the phrase “a naturalized and compulsory social convention.”

  2. Gregory Tzanetos

    1. I think that it is not enough to refuse race as the foundation of identity. Since the identity is matter of conscience – related to our embedded knowledge by which we can define ourselves with reference to the ”other” – we need a powerful meaning to provide our knowledge about the identity with reference to a wider spectrum of our existence, and I considering that such knowledge is provided by our species in humanity. 2. Therefore, we need to understand our existence, in this wider spectrum, by the sense of humanity, presenting particular characteristics of its identity by its own nature that make human being unique as a species. The most powerful of these characteristics are the embedded attribute of reason and knowledge of conscience that provide human with additional capacity to recognize itself as a being with reference to other, namely to recognize itself as Human Being. 3. That embedded capacity for recognition of the identity of a species provides human with the perspective for development, which is given by the nature of its species as humanity ; and thus, the human being is provided with the capacity to define the identity of its own space in continuously wider spheres of evolution of mankind, having knowledge of the space that humans share among them as members of a species in humanity (beyond any particular race). Therefore, the perspective for the human being to survive – by retaining sustain its state in the ”battle of life” due to the change in the physical spheres of the things – is given by the embedded capacity for development of knowledge of the identity of the species in humanity. That knowledge gives human the capacity to define itself as species in the space of the universality, to which life is continuously expanded by the process of change. We may consider thus that, in the developed knowledge of a species, every culture and every human expression of collectivity are equal in mankind, representing expression of a species by its members without any discrimination. However, the question is raised unavoidably: What steps have we to take, right now, in order to increase our capacity to learn about ”us” in humanity? I think that the answer, which we might give, will be critical, as beings, for our future.
    Thank you for reading this..

  3. Margaret Ellis

    I have been telling my friends there is no biological reality to race. They answer, “Yes, but …”
    Would you please provide some references to research articles I can download? Thank you.

    I loved your article, both content and spirit.
    Margaret

  4. Gregory Tzanetos

    I think that it is not enough to refuse race as the foundation of identity. Since the identity is matter of conscience – related to our embedded knowledge by which we can define ourselves with reference to the ”other” – we need a powerful meaning to provide our knowledge about the identity with reference to a wider spectrum of our existence, and I considering that such knowledge is provided by our species in humanity.

    Therefore, we need to understand our existence, in this wider spectrum, by the sense of humanity, presenting particular characteristics of its identity by its own nature that make human being unique as a species. The most powerful of these characteristics are the embedded attribute of reason and knowledge of conscience that provide human with additional capacity to recognize itself as a being with reference to other, namely to recognize itself as Human Being.

    That embedded capacity for recognition of the identity of a species provides human with the perspective for development, which is given by the nature of its species as humanity ; and thus, the human being is provided with the capacity to define the identity of its own space in continuously wider spheres of evolution of mankind, having knowledge of the space that humans share among them as members of a species in humanity (beyond any particular race). Therefore, the perspective for the human being to survive – by retaining sustain its state in the ”battle of life” due to the change in the physical spheres of the things – is given by the embedded capacity for development of knowledge of the identity of the species in humanity. That knowledge gives human the capacity to define itself as species in the space of the universality, to which life is continuously expanded by the process of change. We may consider thus that, in the developed knowledge of a species, every culture and every human expression of collectivity are equal in mankind, representing expression of a species by its members without any discrimination. However, the question is raised unavoidably: What steps have we to take, right now, in order to increase our capacity to learn about ”us” in humanity? I think that the answer, which we might give, will be critical, as beings, for our future.

    Furthermore, I would like to add that humans express collectivity by necessity to secure what they consider as good in their physical (material and ethical) sphere of existence, developing ties and culture of community; thus, a group of individual entities, motivated by sense of collectivity among them, develops ties and culture of community in the sharing of what they consider as common good and defining, by it, their collective ethical and material sphere of existence.

    By this approach, what drows my interest is the identity which defines the relation of the physical subject of a person with the collective sphere of existence of a group of individuals, showing thus the relation of the physical subject of an individual whith others, as a whole, in group: In this relation the sense of identity of the subject seems critical, since the subject in person specifies its own exclusive relation with the sphere of collectivity with others; therefore, the identity is expressed by a person as basis of definition of the status of subject with reference to a collective ethical and material sphere of existence defined by a number of individuals and it concerns also the relation with the object by which they define the collective ethical and material sphere among them which is the agreed object of common good; thus, the identity of the person specifies its own status as subject in the agreement with reference to the shared object of common good as basis of the relation in a collective sphere of existence with others; namely the identity of a person defines the status of subject in the collective ethical and material sphere of existence of a number of individual entities defining their relations among each other, as space of a group developing ties and culture of community sharing the agreed object of common good. We can say then that the sense of identity associates the individual with the collective sphere of existence of a number of other entities expressing collectivity among them; and so, we may say that the perception of the identity is critical for a person to define its own status of subject with reference to the collective sphere of existence of a group of individuals; therefore the knowledge of the identity by a person is critical, as matter of conscience of the individual, defining a specific relation that associates the subject of itself with the collectivity’ in ”us” in order a person to define itself in the status of subject related to the collective ethical and material sphere of existence of a group developing further ties and culture of community.

    This observation might open the discussion on the exclusiveness of the identity in a person and in a collectivity with which the person is associated ,since the identity defines the exclusive relation of the subject with the collective sphere of existence of a number of entities in group; namely the identity expresses the defined relation by the subject of a person with the object of itself defining the individual sphere of existence, and with reference to the ”other” in the external world defining the shared sphere of existence in group. We may argue then that if the human being expresses the sense of individual identity to define itself as subject in relation with ”it” in an object and to define the existence in a person, since by the sense of this relation the human recognizes the physical sphere of existence of the individual entity, then the perception of the identity in relation with other individuals defines the collective physical sphere of existence of a number of entities, as aggregated number of physical spheres of several individuals expressing sense of collectivity in group, sharing, in their collective sphere, the object of common good; therefore, if the identity defines the relation of the physical subject of a person with its own physical sphere of existence as an object of the individual sphere of existence of a person, it also defines the relation of a person with the object of existence of others in a number of individuals, showing the collective sphere of existence that they share among them in group by common object; and consequently, the identity represents, in the conscience of human, the exclusiveness of the relation of the subject with reference to the object that defines the physical – ethical and material- sphere of existence of a person: Either in its own individual existence, or collectielly with others in group; we may consider thus that a person, by expressing identity, defines the status of subject in a collective sphere of existence of a number of individual entities which share a common object expressing common sense of their identity, by which they define themselves equal in the meaning of ”us” and in a collective sphere, in which they share the object of common good, in group.

    Therefore, by expressing the sense of identity a number of humans seem to associate themselves with a form of collectivity, expressing the capacity to define the collective sphere of existence of a number of independent human entities to share an object of common good, equally and by freedom, on the basis of agreement; and, thus, the identity associates a number of humans with the ties and the culture of community

    Concluding, here, we may argue that the identity, expressing human conscience, is equal among humans and it is expressed in freedom, expressing the personality and the human’s capacity to associate him/or herself with a collective existence of a number of human entities, in group.

    Thank you for reading this (which represents part of my research). Gregory Tzanetos

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