What is race? If you just answered it is a competition based on who can go faster, you win a gold star. Because the other meaning of the word is far, far more elusive.
Phillip K. Dick speaking of sanity once said something like (like because I’m too lazy to go look for a quote, and besides it’s late, my having woken up about an hour later than normal and having had to deal with stuff postponed from the trip) Sanity is an edge narrower than a foothold, sharper than the tooth of a guard dog, more elusive than a phantom. Perhaps it doesn’t exist. Perhaps it’s a phantom.
Now, just as with sanity there are degrees. While Phil Dick might have considered the guy on the street corner, weedling on himself and ranting about giant ants perfectly sane, most of us would have no doubt in seeing him for total nuts. And while you can look at me and my friend Amanda – who is a redhead – and go “well, I’m not sure” if you set Amanda next to someone from Papua New Guinea, you’ll probably go “okay, they have different sets of inherited characteristics.” And you’d be right. Heck, we all have different sets of inherited characteristics. I’m fairly sure my brother and I inherited characteristics each from one side of the family.
So, how do we define race? How do you go “you have this and that characteristic and that other therefore you’re this race.” If you’re saying “I know your race when I see you” – go sit in the corner and think about your misdeeds. I’m impressed over and over again by how many American blacks would be immediately and instinctively considered white in other countries. Perhaps not Obama – although it depends on the country and the circumstances – but Jeremiah Wright? Oh, for heaven’s sakes, there wouldn’t even be any hesitation. The man looks Portuguese. He doesn’t even look like one of the darker – still white – Portuguese.
What we consider black (I refuse to use African-American for the same reason I wouldn’t call myself Portuguese-American – and I got here yesterday. Because the American part is what counts. Besides, African-American is not a race, it’s an origin. If Dave had come to the US instead of OZ he could damn well call himself African-American. Not that he would)in the US would pass unnoticed as Caucasian most places in the world. (Maybe not Germany or Scandinavia.)
Did you know that if you put an afro on me and I have a tan, I am functionally black? No? Well, I was for most of the seventies, and this in Portugal, where race distinction requires a deeper tan and more African features. And yet, three of my four grandparents were blue/green eyed and two were blond. And the features don’t even all come from the same side.
Are you under the impression there is some set of genes that makes a race or another? Well… There aren’t. There are some genetic defects that make it fairly sure you belong to one race – or sub-race – but that’s about it. Even genetic testing at the level we have it can’t say for sure that you don’t have any x blood, just that you PROBABLY don’t. That the genes you inherited don’t have traces of x doesn’t mean one of your siblings or cousins doesn’t. We found out recently for instance that my sons have way more Amerindian blood than we thought, because Robert has some health problems that trace to that – however Dan has always considered himself anglo-Irish, and he just doesn’t tan. If you put him under the sun long enough he’ll turn a slightly less blue-tint shade of pale.
Race is in fact a phantom. It is also a survival of the human instinct for tribalism. Throughout history “race” has applied to – not a set of genetic characteristics – but “my tribe” vs. another tribe. If you’re my tribe you’re probably my cousin and look somewhat like me. If you are another tribe, you look different. That’s the earliest definition of race. Later it extended to national unit and at the time that national units were sharpening their stories, to be accepted as valid, and you can read Nineteenth century about the Portuguese race and the English race and the Irish race.
And now… And now we have the present system, in which the government uses race to divide and conquer. In the name of righting injustices and banishing the increasingly more invisible specter of racism, they are looking for race in all the wrong places. For instance, my maiden name now makes me a different race. Which is interesting, because for years it didn’t. My maiden name is Marques de Almeida (it is common in Portugal to do this sort of thing because there are very few family names, comparatively, so Marques de Almeida is a different descent line from say Soares de Almeida or… You get the point.) If I had spelled that with a z when I became a citizen, I’d have been immediately and without blinking Hispanic, Latina or whatever you want to call it this week. But I spelled it with an s and therefore I was white. Now the feds say I’m Latina anyway. Well and good. But how does a letter make me a different race? And what difference does it make, anyway, when at least one branch of the family came from near enough Spain that with one thing and another (and yet another) I probably have a lot of Spanish ancestors (not that I’ll admit to it for sure. Not under torture. I mean… Spaniards! – I’m joking, I swear.)
It is possible that you can’t eradicate tribalism from the human soul. And if you can, I’m not the one to say the federal government should set about doing it. They’ve already gone too far towards doing that and, like most attempts at changing the human soul with the blunt mallet of statism, it has backfired horribly.
Yes, black people in America have a troubled history – of which the government and the entertainment industry makes a point of reminding them every time they turn around. So what? Are they the only people taken slave in the history of the world?
Believe it or not, a lot of Americans believe this. I once sat through a speech given by a Catholic Bishop – A BISHOP, not a parish priest – who decided to hang his point on the day of the speech being the day of two saints who were slave and mistress (both women.) I can’t remember their names, but back in Roman times, slave and owner converted to Christianity and died for it. What was the theme of the Bishop’s sermon? Racism. And as he spoke it became obvious this man, who SURELY somewhere along the line studied history, assumed – unthinking – that the slave was black. She might have been, but it’s unlikely. From the time period it is far more likely she was blond and blue eyed, while her mistress was somewhat more melanin enhanced.
But American schools don’t teach this. They don’t teach that each and everyone of us has ancestors who were enslaved – that slavery was an evil that stalked humanity UNTIL the industrial revolution freed us. Nor that most people were enslaved by people who looked just like them.
I once asked a teacher why not and was told that teaching that – though it’s true – would be racist. Because singling out people who tan easily, have curly hair and might have recent slave ancestry and telling them they are the ONLY ONES who were ever enslaved is not racist (besides being a lie.) And apparently it builds their self esteem. You know, self-esteem is built on being a victim, which makes you virtuous, right? If I told you “You were beat up by everyone in kindergarten, even the little girl on crutches” it immediately makes you feel powerful, doesn’t it?
No. It makes you feel like you need protection and therefore it serves the government’s ends, not yours. Which is why true history of slavery is NOT taught in schools. Not to save anyone’s “self esteem.”
Phantom. We’ve given them cart blanche to hunt a phantom. Should we allow our government to spend money and resources pursuing a phantom? What’s next? We’re going to give them a mandate to ferret alien landings? Look, that probably would be better. At least, it would be less harmful. This race thing which of course the government sees as a means to win power by pitching a set of their bosses – the people – against the other has now become silly season. When you say things like “unemployed” is a code word for black, you’ve entered nuts territory. You don’t even deserve to be tarred and feathered, just pointed at and laughed, because you just crossed that edge of Dick’s definition and proved you’re insane.
In an increasingly more race-mixed America – and world – race is becoming harder and harder to track down. You see, it’s not easy to pin. The child of blond people can have black hair – a recessive gene surfacing. Dan and I could theoretically produce a blond, blue eyed child. Actually it’s not even that rare, in Portugal, for a family of Mediterranean looking people to throw out a blond child. We had a couple of blond sheep among my cousins, one of whom could be my twin, except for blond hair and blue eyes.
What you have to remember is this: unless your ancestors come from a very small place and have been isolated for thousands of years, you probably have ancestors from all over the world.
One of my belly laughs on the DaVinci Code is that if Jesus and Mary Magdalen TRULY had had children and any of those lines survived, the descendants wouldn’t be the kings of France – the descendants would be ALL OF US. Heck, if any of Shakespeare’s descendants survived (well, not from his wife, obviously, but for heaven’s sake, the man worked away from home a good deal) there is a good chance most of us in the anglosphere are descended from him.
We are of a randy species that never really made a distinction based on skin color or much of anything else when it comes to giving someone a two-penny upright. And lost travelers, ship wrecked sailors, prisoners of war and heaven knows what else, have ensured that enough of that occurred to keep us one species. Yes, people from Scandinavia can make babies with people from Sub-Saharan Africa, and that means that some gene exchange has kept on occurring. (We’ve found that species – defined as unable to have viable offspring – occurs in far fewer generations than we previously imagined.) [It wouldn’t mean that someone from Sub-Saharan Africa made it to Sweden every few thousand years, either – just that a lot of someone’s made it to Northern Africa, and then those in turn made it to the Mediterranean and... Genetic exchange on the retail plan.]
Now, with international travel, more of it occurs. And meanwhile government bureaucrats are looking for racial characteristics and code words and unconscious racism under your bed and mine and trying to convince us that the way to eliminate racism is to keep emphasizing different characteristics of some sub-group. Because you know, if we start saying “There’s nothing wrong with redheads” and “redheads are people too” and “you bought carrots. It means you hate redheads” it will foster integration and good will and not cause EVERYONE to do a double take every time they see a redhead AND CERTAINLY not cause everyone to be afraid to mention “carrot” or “orange” near a redheaded friend.
They think we’re stupid, and they’re trying to make us insane.
I don’t know about you, but I personally am tired of it. I’m ready to go under the bed with the fumigation equipment – for ants. Today’s emergency – and if I find any government bureaucrats there, I’ll laugh at them. Which is what we all need to start doing.
And as for race… My parents told me I was human. (Though for a while they weren’t sure.) I choose to believe them.