I did this strange thing last week. I sat down and watched MSNBC’s pundits hour starting with Nicole Wallace at 4:00 p.m. and as far as Rachel Maddow at nine.
Nothing precedent-setting there. I watch that network every day but usually not for that long and never for the reason I was watching last week. I wanted to count the references the pundits made to race, especially “mixed race”.
This is five hours of programming (okay…well…four and a half) and the term “race” (describing people, not a political contest) was used 57 times and the term “mixed race” was actually used 8 times. Can you believe that?
Well…sure…you can believe it because the “issue” is very much in the news right now. Race is a hotly debated theme as fascism makes its most powerful, obvious and potentially successful foray into mainstream politics. Any review of on-line troll-stations — something I also did last week — demonstrates how many people with bizarre world-views write absolutely ignorant stuff about almost any subject. It is truly truly remarkable.
Prominent among their concerns is the issue of “non-white people” replacing “white people” in this society, the distortion of “critical race theory” to mean something I don’t quite get and the fictional monster in residence they call “Black Lives Matter”. They are absolutely freaked out about all this. So the question of race and racism is prominent because, as I can attest from a life dealing with it, racism is very real.
But race doesn’t exist. In fact, the only people who ever refer to themselves as part of a race are white people. Black people will, obviously, refer to themselves as “black” but how many times have you heard a black person say “I’m part of the black race.” No one with a fraction of a brain can seriously talk about an “Asian race” and I have no idea what possibly could be meant by a “Latino” race.
There are continents of origin of course. We Puerto Ricans, by the way, aren’t from any of those but many people are connected in their blood-lines with Africa or Asian or…well…whatever. But there is no “European race” in popular vernacular or “North American race”. What makes this thing called “race”?
Genetics? There are, to be sure, genetic differences among people and genes do define how dark your skin is, how your nose is shaped and other body features. Well…how white does skin have to be to qualify as “white”? Or how black? Or can you handle this — most of us, including all people of color, have blood that reflect heritages from all over the place. For instance…
I’m brown skinned and people usually identify me as “Puerto Rican” (which I am and look like) but my DNA track shows that 20 percent of my blood is African and about 10 percent indigenous (to be expected since Puerto Ricans are African-Indigenous people…right?). However the rest of the stuff is from Europe (Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands). So what race do I attach to?
It’s been a life-long question. When I was a kid my Aunt Virginia, a pathological racist, would insist that I am white. Some black activists I worked with back in the day when New Africanism was first taking hold would insist that I was black. Of course, most people just say that I’m “Latino” which I suspect is a person who has relatives in their tree who spoke Spanish as a first language (but aren’t from Spain).
I am completely bi-lingual and I’ve never been to Spain (and have no relationship with it other than that small percentage of dna) but I still don’t identify as “Latino” because there really is no such thing.
Let’s drill down further. Take black people. How African is each black person we know? They each undoubtedly have black blood to some extent but they sure don’t look alike — skin, nose, eyes, mouths…all very very different as if they are from different places and have very different blood-lines. Because they do.
I don’t need to say much about white people. It’s like each of you comes from a different country and, when you look at your dna, that’s exactly the case: you each are this mixture of all these nationalities and backgrounds.
Right…what should be the question popping up for you as you read articles about Megan Markle that always, and I mean always, refer to her as “mixed race”? Given all I’ve pointed out here, what the hell is “mixed race” and why is she mixed race and Cedric the Entertainer not? If that gifted artist is reflective of the Black experience in this country, he is part of a long line of people who have been battered by abuse which includes the sexual violation of his fore-mothers (and could also include relations with other “races” that were consensual and loving, by the way). We are all “mixed race” and the insistence that there is such a thing as “mixed race” when that is the norm for humanity is the final, bizarre craziness in this sea of insanity.
So given all the obvious silliness here, what is this “race” thing about? I mean, it holds no water, so why are we still swinging the bucket?
Well…you know, right? It’s about oppressing me, me and all other “people of color”: demonstrating the superiority of “white people” over me, stressing that somehow I am different in ways that truly matter for the future of this society and the human race. What you have been doing to me my whole, often painful, life.
The truth is that “race” was invented to assure the domination of certain people over others. It’s a social construct developed during the developing days of imperialism to provide ideological foundation for the atrocities being committed by European countries (and the colonizers in the soon-to-be United States).
Some people argue that it pre-dates that and point to statements and allusions to other people as “savages” or “less desirable” or whatever. It’s absolutely the case that people have long divided ourselves in order to hurt and oppress each other and that any stupid bias will do nicely to make that happen.
But that’s not “race”. Race is a wider net capturing many people of many different cultures, histories and backgrounds and, essential to its contruct, it must mean that “white people” are superior to everyone else. If you believe in a white race, you must believe that it is superior to all others. Otherwise, why call it a “race”?
To be clear, I’m not advocating that we drop the struggle against racism. That’s a central struggle in this society because racism is an essential part of the fuel that keeps capitalist oppression running. No…increase that struggle by all means. But I’m advocating that we work on recasting it a bit.
Race and racism are a trap. In our struggle against its outcomes (which is what we usually do now) we attack it as an attribute of white people but it’s actually an oppressor of white people. It attacks us all — people of color (another one of those terms) are its target but white people are also casualties, more than collateral damage because casting them as the holders of an oppression means removing them from the struggle against it.
That’s why I did that youtube on the “removing race” exercise — it’s in the videos section. But the more important effort is for us to start attacking racism as the absolute crap is really is — an idea that has power only because it holds hands with capitalism and imperialism. Get rid of them, it starts to fade; struggle against it as a truth, their ideological power starts to fade.