Towards a Critique of Race

“Don’t you see? We’re just halfbreeds  Rebecca!” [1]

Must a person of mixed race necessarily have a different view of race than a person who is of only one race? For that to be the case, one would presumably have to know that one was of a mixed race. (For a case study, see the excellent documentary Little White Lie.)

Where do racial stereotypes originate? Is it in the media and popular culture? Do these myths come from the environment in-which one was raised? Are these myths innate to a human way of thinking? Would an alien life form necessarily believe in the myth of race? (Of course, I am using the term ‘myth’ loosely here.) It would seem plausible that racism is a learned behavior.

One would presume that race exists on a genetic level. On that presumption, one would attempt to define race by alluding to the fact that people of a certain race are more similar to one another on a genetic level than they are to a foreign race. A “halfbreed,” is both a description and a mathematical representation of a person’s being composed of two races. A “halfbreed” cannot be defined except in relation to two races.

If we suppose for a moment that the idea of race is innate, then the alteration of the worldview of a “halfbreed” necessarily follows, provided that one knows that one is a “halfbreed” and is aware of the idea of race.

This is reminiscent of an interview of the rapper Lil Wayne in which he takes the presumably extreme stance of denying the existence of racism. The interview is a propos to our current discussion.

A detailed analysis of this interview could be continued at length. One could analyze the interview, for example, as a strategic continuation of the discussion of race or as an exposition of the “millenial” approach to race. One could also speculate that Wayne’s experience of having his life saved by a white police officer (referred to elsewhere as Uncle Bob) has influenced his views on race. But, for our present purposes, the interesting feature is Wayne’s outright denial of any first-hand experience of racism and the seeming declaration of a post-racial world.

“I have been nothing but blessed . . . But I have never dealt with racism, and I’m glad I didn’t have to. And I don’t know if it’s because of my blessings, but it is my reality.  Not only did I thought [sic] it was over, but I still believe it’s over, but obviously it isn’t.”

Later, when referring to an anecdote about him and Skip Bayless, Wayne reiterates his disavowal of the existence of racism in the most powerful statement of the interview.

“I thought that was a message that there was no such thing as racism.”

Throughout the interview, Wayne wants to and does admit of the existence of racism, while disavowing any personal knowledge of it. If we take Wayne at his word, it gives rise to theoretical possibility of a post-racist society. In such a society, all of the living members will not have experienced racism first hand. It would be a situation in which racism were generally considered to no longer exist.

I would like to argue here that this theoretical possibility could not exist if it were not for the fact that the existence of race itself is of a questionable nature. If race were part of the nature of reality, one would expect it to exist in other parts of the animal kingdom, and not merely in human beings. Would race exist at all if it went entirely unnoticed?

These questions require a definition of race. Can it be defined genetically? If race exists in a strictly genetic sense, the existence of halfbreeds, quarterbreeds, and so on, would indicate that the whole is connected by degree, and an image emerges of a more blended humanity. The fact that genetics leads us to a common ancestor only supports this view. Whether this implies a denial of race or a more subtle view of it is an open question, but it is clear that to define race genetically is not a simple matter.

For example, to argue that, ‘since “halfbreeds” exist, then race necessarily exists,’ would be to beg the question. One could say that “halfbreeds” only exist on account of an arbitrary determination of two races.

If one takes the route of denying the existence of race as an objective entity, then how does one define the sociological/political/statistical problems formerly racially defined? If race did not exist, then presumably there would be no criterion by which one could make a statistical analysis and determine problems current.

On the other hand, one might attempt to define race as a strictly subjective entity. One could argue that it would be impossible for human beings not to notice race, and therefore race does exist in a sort of Kantian or inter-subjective sense.

Lastly, if one adopted the stance that we live in a post-racial world, one might attempt to define racism as a strictly historical concept.

It would seem important to note here that one can one admit of differences between people in appearance, while denying the existence of race. One could presumably also deny it on scientific grounds as a misunderstanding, like misinterpreting a cultural difference for a physical one, or misunderstanding a fashion for a cultural difference. Presumably, racism could exist without the existence of race, and so whether or not race exists remains an open question.


[1] This quote does not come from any popular source. It comes from a story related to me by a friend, and all but the most basic details have been forgotten.