Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Race: A "Pigment" of Our Imagination

As some of you know, I'm a Child and Family Studies major. Recently in one of my classes (Minorities) we've been talking about what race really is (or isn't). I think this information is absolutely fascinating and I have to share it with you. You may not think that a blog about race has anything to do with parenting, but I think it has everything to do with it, because these are the concepts we should be teaching our children.

This information is from: Hodgkinson, Harold. "What Should We Call People? Race, Class, and the Census for 2000." From Phi Delta Kappan, October 1995, pp. 173-179.

The concept of "race" is a relatively new one. It didn't even appear in language until about 600 years ago. Race only exists because our society believes in it. There is absolutely no scientific basis for it.
Consider this: There are four blood types. A, B, O, and AB. If you need a blood transfusion, you will get a blood from a person with a blood type that matches your own, regardless of what "race" that person was. Also, there is only one protein that colors human skin. It's called melanin, and it's brown. The color of human skin ranges from very light to very dark, based on the amount of melanin coloring your skin. We know that our skin can become lighter or darker depending on how much time we spend in the sun. Here's an interesting fact: "the darkest quarter of the white population is darker than the lightest quarter of the black population" (Hodgkinson).

The Age of Reason. The Enlightenment. We started to classify animals and organisms. These categories were based on perceived physical difference. This lead to classifying "types" of people. This was called "Race Science", or what we now call "Scientific Racism". This is where people tried to say that different races were more superior than others because of their intelligence, etc. The fact is, there's just no basis for those claims. We all have the same organs, the same gestation period for our babies, and the same feelings.

So why do we still think in terms of race? There are so many challenges we face when we try to put everyone is a category. First of all, race is easy when you think of it as "black" and "white". However, people have mixed backgrounds. We'd have to have hundreds of categories for people. Cuban-American, Chinese-American, African-American, Mexican-African American, Canadian-Irish-German American, French-Italian-Native American American. Haha, you get where I'm going with this, right? What's the point in having these categories? I think people are just too hung up on labeling people so that we can make quick judgements. What happens if we can't tell "what you are?" Heaven forbid you'd have to get to know them before you decide if you like them or not. That would just be too much work, right?

In his article, Harold Hodgkinson makes a great point by using this story.
"I am frequently asked, 'Are there place in the U.S. where black, Hispanics, Asians, whites, and Native Americans can live together in peace and harmony?' My answer is, 'Of course. Such places abound. Shaker Heights, Ohio, to name but one.' But there are virtually no poor people in Shaker Heights. Next question: 'Are there places in the U.S. where rich people and poor people can live together on the same block in peace and harmony?' My answer is, 'I have never seen such a place anywhere in the U.S.'"

So, the point here is, why do we spend so much time and effort trying to put people in categories when the real issue here is poverty? The common denominator in every "race" is that there are rich people and poor people.
Another quote from Hodgkinson drives this point home: "the furor some whites showed when informed that their children would have to go to school with minority children is mild when compared to the reaction of upper- and middle-income parents (of any race or ethnic background) when told that their children will have to go to school with poor children (of any race or ethnic background)."

The issue of race seems so insignificant when faced with all of the poverty in our country, and the world. The reason I'm writing this blog is to open your eyes as mine were opened when I read these articles. I didn't realize that the idea of race was just a way to justify inequality. We need to teach our children a new way of thinking. For example, my children will be half "white" and half "black". What category will they fall under? They will feel isolated if we keep thinking that race matters so much. Instead, they should see themselves on spectrum of beautiful human diversity. We are all one race: the human race. Within the human race, there is diversity, which is what makes our world so beautiful and interesting. Our difference should never be a basis of discrimination. There should never be pressure to be a part of only one group. This is also why I plan on raising my children to be bilingual. I want them to have another way to connect to people across the world. I think that's what we're missing. We miss the connection we all have to each other. This may sound idealistic and naive, but I think that if we can change the way we think, and change the way we teach our children to think, the world will truly be a better place to live. It all starts at home.


  1. Well i love this topic cause i love psychology. Bad news is that I skimmed the article! My opinion is still that race does not exist, however all people look for a means to identify themselves and seek commonalities. That's why we have groups of friends, democrats, conservatives, etc. More than a means to lable for judgemental purposes; people want to bond and connect. They will continue to do so until they know the ONE who made them and where to find their true identity.

  2. I like Alfred's comment for the sheer reason that by naming Race, we are categorizing once again. I think this is one of those debates that is confusing because in many of our minds "race" doesn't matter, but there are so many reminders out there to say that it exists. If Race doesn't exist, then why does "racism" exist? I do believe that this kind of talk needs to be explained more to our kids and not labeled so that they are forced to see things a specific way. They are the ones without all the labels drilled into their minds already, so let them continue to teach us on the topic. They don't care if their friends are green when they are little, they see people for people. Such a cute pic of you two lovebirds! K

  3. I don't believe the conversation or topic of race ever came up in our family. It was a non-issue. If you brought a friend over to the house, he or she was just another friend. We never thought of anyone as being from a different race. That's why it always surprises me that everyone makes such an issue of it. Now I do believe that we recognize different people groups that have a way of life different from ours... or what I would call a different culture... regionally or based on religion or historical background. Ultimately, as Christians, we do view all humans as made in the image of God and therefore we love them equally. It's fascinating to study human behaviors. You will have many more fascinating topics to muse upon. Keep sharing you discoveries with us. Love, Mom

  4. My husband is a scientist and one of his hobbies is studying creation science. Anyway, he reads a lot from Answers in Genesis, and this is a big theme of theirs--that scientifically there's no such thing as race. Scienists (both creationists and secularists) have identified that we all do truly come from one common ancestor who originated around Mesopotamia. Genetically, if he would have had some sort of medium-shaded skin tone, all of the shades we currently see today could have originated from one man. It's really interesting to read about. So that's what we'll teach our kids, because it's true. There's no such thing as race. There are cultural differences caused by different environments, and I think that's why people sometimes have a hard time connecting.