Saturday, February 28, 2009

Black in America

So I was watching CNN today and they had a "preview special" of "Black in America 2", which is a follow up on "Black in America" which you can see the website for here: As you may have deduced from the title, these are programs which aim to show what it means to be black in America today and what exactly that means for the future of blacks in America. They delve into education, crime, poverty, and the disparity found between blacks and whites in each respective category. I tried poking around the site, its very confusing but has lots of information. While I couldn't find one long amazing video there are quite a few shorter ones. I could not find a link to the "preview special" which I watched on t.v. today (though I did record it, so I will try to make that available to everyone) but they do have a few clips that were in the special, like the one embedded below. If you look at this website: you can also see below the video to the left an add for the preview of Black in America 2. I do not really get CNN (they make watching a show or special they aired so freaking hard) but maybe ya'll could be on the look out for that too. Anyway, in the show, they talked about change in American sentiment, and how it has opened up avenues for much needed discussion, which should hopefully lead to more improvements.....soon......hopefully. Have a good one.

I also found this video with some interesting thoughts about pan-africanism....enjoy

Mugabe vows to continue land seizures from white farmers

From an article in the Associated Press today:

"Land distribution will continue. It will not stop," Mugabe said. "The few remaining white farmers should quickly vacate their farms as they have no place there."

"Mugabe was capitalizing on what has long been a sensitive issue in Zimbabwe and other nations in the region: the unjust division of land between whites and blacks that is a legacy of colonialism and white minority rule."

Arguably, this policy has been a significant contributor to Zimbabwe's collapsing economy and growing food shortages. It's interesting how the fates of the oppressor and the oppressed are so intertwined in a society.

Do you think Mugabe's motivation for this policy, with all its detrimental effects on Zimbabwe's masses, is purely that of retaliation against years of racial/colonial oppression?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fanon's Racism

So I have a few problems with his culturally racial colonial country philosophy. I find it incredibly difficult to call myself racist. I understand where he is coming from, and I even see it in action. Further, I feel it in action within myself. "Racist," though, parallels words like "black" and "latino" in that there is a disparity between what the word means in theory and the first thing that comes to mind when you (or anyone) thinks the word.
I see "racist" in the same situation as W.E.B Du Bois saw "race;" there is cultural backing to it that cant be denied.
This is where I have problems. I myself was raised in Texas where Mexicans are hired for cheap labor. Though I myself was not raised to think lowly of them, I did seem to gain an elitist mindset somewhere along the way. I did not have to work outside in the cold. I did not have to ride in a dirty truck or wear dirty clothes because I work at a site. I did not bus tables. Over the years it was even added to with the question of whether or not they were illegal.
The reason I am reticent to call myself racist is that I stop myself every time the thoughts come up because I know its irrational. Why should I place myself under a stigma. I dont want to put myself in that category and objectify myself even though I recognize what Fanon refers to.
There are asterisks and that needs to be said first.

My realizations--apparently I have a lot to say

Since the beginning of this semester, I have come to some realizations about myself and about race in general. To me, race has never been an important part of my identity. In class when we discussed how white people have the privilege to choose whether or not they identify themselves with their group, and I realized I was one of those people that chose not to. I had never thought about it in this way. Because most of us consider the word “race” to mean the color of one’s skin, there is no way to escape it, but my being a part of the majority, however, that does not affect me as much, apparently. We discussed how members of minorities are judged by individuals in their race. The example we used in class was when people are interviewed on the news. Personally, if someone on the news sounds ignorant or looks a mess, I, personally, do not say “They’re making ______ people look bad.” I am more apt to identify them with what region of the country they are from. If a white or black person [I’m using these two since they make up most of the population in our area] was on the local news and sounded ignorant or looked crazy, I would think “They’re making Southerners look bad.” I identify myself more as a Southerner than I do as a white person, and I suppose that is part of my “white privilege.”

Another realization I have come to about myself, however, is that I do not notice my race until I am the minority in an unfamiliar setting. I am from right outside of Memphis, but I spend a lot of time in the city. As everyone is aware, Memphis is a city with a long history of racial tension, a lot of which is not resolved and is still very much alive. Some of the places I go, I am one of the few if not the only white person. It is not until I am in places I am not completely comfortable that I am hyper-aware of my whiteness. Some people in this city do not appreciate THAT white girl at the club or THAT white girl with her group of black friends. While I like to believe that people of our generation are moving past racism, I know that is certainly not the case from past experience and the experiences of others. I am hesitant to go some places because I do not want to put myself in a potentially threatening position; even though my friends say how they will be with me the whole time, they won’t let anything happen to me, everything will be fine, etc. it is unfair for me to put them in the position to have to stand up for me if a situation arises. Race, unfortunately, affects where I can and can not go comfortably and safely in this city.
Going back to my original point of my only being aware of my race in places I’m not completely comfortable or in unfamiliar places—in places I am comfortable and familiar I am not as aware of my race. My sister and I are the only white people in the dance group I am in, and most of the places we dance we are the only white people. I do not notice this as readily, though, because the setting is different.

On to more realizations. . .

While discussing the subject matter of this class with a few of my friends who agreed that race does not exist, we had an interesting conversation about when exactly children realize that there are differences between people. I worked at an all black preschool in North Memphis last year and the three and four year olds there were aware of the differences between white people and black people. My first day of work one of the little girls came up to me and said “You’re hair’s white like you!” Another time, a little girl came to me with her palms up and said “Look! I’m white like you!” These kids are taught about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement at the preschool level. My friend I was having the conversation with, teaches second grade at a school in Boston, MA. Her kids were just learning about MLK Jr. at that the second grade level. When the other teacher in her classroom was teaching about the prejudice and racism black people faced just because of the color of their skin, she said she saw that switch flip inside her kids’ minds and they began to look around and realize they were different from one another. While I am not saying we should ignore the history of our country and stop teaching about the struggle African Americans have faced for centuries, I think it would be interesting to know what would happen if in a compossible world where we didn’t teach children about our “differences.” Would there still be racism? Holding all influence from parents and the outside world [if that is even possible to imagine], would the children in our compossible world ever think to discriminate against someone who did not look like them?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Race at Rhodes

Being that the name of this blog is race at rhodes, I was wondering how everyone felt about actual race/groups at rhodes. Specifically, how well do you think that different groups/races at rhodes get along, and/or intermix with one another. This means greek/independent, south/north, and mixing of all races. Also, how do you feel about Rhodes giving all black tours with a black tour guide, which (as one of my friends that is a tour guide has told me) rhodes does on purpose. Note that this means that, either they do not want the white tour groups to be mixed or the vice-versa, and either way, it seems of wrong. It also seems that while rhodes may be trying to send the message of diversity, they have segregated us from our first steps onto campus. Also on my list of questions is that of the segregation in greek life, and why it is that we continue to have historically black and historically white fraternies? Why not just combine them all? (I imagine that Du Bois would object to this notion) I heard, and albeit this is a rumor, that one of the historically black fraternities did not allow its pledges to talk to white people during their hell week. I know this may be false, but regardless, if it has any truth, would you feel that this is a good or bad thing? (note that for other fraternities hell weeks, generally the pledges cannot talk to girls, have to wear suits, do things together as a group, and the not talking to white people could be a way to further the bonds of that group, as that is the goal of hell week) I realize that the above topics may raise some bit of controversy, but without this thesis and your antithesis's, we would never synthesize the problems that affect us daily here at Rhodes college. (i.e. I do not really have feelings one way or another about the above, as I have not come to a conclusion on any of these topics, they are merely questions I have, and hopefully you all will assist in this respect)

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Dichotomy of Race

Several weeks after reading Alain Locke’s “The Concept of Race as Applied to Social Culture,” I’ve had a chance to digest and reflect on his words. He explains that race is a social fact and non-biological. He continues with with what becomes a reversal of emphasis which states that race should not be thought of as producing or expressing culture, but rather it is culture that produces race. Indeed, “man is one and civilizations many,” perhaps the most striking insight in the entire essay.

Locke’s reversal of emphasis produces many questions. Among these is the unanswered (and perhaps unanswerable) dichotomy of race; the phenomenon of race in terms of the cultural vs. physical. It seems impossible to try and confine a term as vast as “race” to one of these categories, but I am inclined to agree with Locke and would offer that race is absolutely cultural. Using the reversal of emphasis, one could argue that social traits such as behavior and cultural tradition produce our concept of race. How else, then, could someone “act” black or “act” white? Since there is no physical change, this anomaly is a behavioral adoption. Thus, what we refer to as black or white in this sense must ultimately be cultural.

On a fundamental level, one can explore the dichotomy of race by observing the history of racism and racial dominance. The white Europeans and Americans that raped Africa for centuries were able to do so not because they were white, but because of an exhaustive list of cultural traits that, under those circumstances, allowed them dominance. It is these cultural categories and differences that divide humankind. Skin color is and was merely a way to identify those who are culturally different. Not unlike the yellow stars placed on German jews during the rise of the nazi party, is skin color. Both are physical representations, or markers of cultural differences, not the differences themselves.

I don’t claim skin color to be insignificant. It is an identity, more for some than for others. However, in trying to understand race, it is important to separate race from skin color, if at least as an intellectual exercise. The root of race and racism lies not in the physical differences, but in the cultural differences such as language, tradition, or behavior. These contrasts and overlaps are complex, while skin color is simple and therefore tempting.

Race versus Racism in Modern Movies

Assimilating with white culture would definitely be harder for African Americans than any other non white race. Though Native Americans did have a major part in American history, the riots and controverses of race were mostly between White and Black Americans. While discussing the concept of eliminating the term race, only in reference to skin color, and it not being a factor of a society made me think of the movie Men in Black. In this movie, the Men in Black corporation, MIB, tries to make everyone look the same and in a sense attempts to take away a person's identity. Race is not a factor when selecting people for MIB; a person’s capabilities to perform various tasks are what gives him entry into the MIB corporation . After entering MIB, any differences between the members are eliminated as the corporation gives them the same suits and clothes etc; they even take away their fingerprints. However, the difference in race of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith stands out throughout the whole movie. They themselves even make references to the fact of both of them being of different race, meaning skin color. The movie helps to further demonstrate how race is a major part of one’s identity and it’s a part that cannot be hidden by any means. Obviously, MIB is shown to be a world of its own so it could be an example of that compossible world, as it is blind to race but its blindness doesn’t diminish the face of race itself and its importance to a human being‘s identity. Though attaining a society that is race less and one which ignores the term race would be more realistically reached by facing the controversy of race rather than just eliminating it.

In another movie Remember the Titans, the problem of racism it faced while keeping race itself alive. The team learns how to get beyond the racial barriers and play and win together. However, the Titans are able to get along because of they all assimilate into each other’s cultures, by appreciating each other’s families to music tastes and not trying to eliminate the concept of skin color and cultural differences but to face them. Even though there were still people, in Remember the Titans that remained racist, if the majority goes past it then maybe a less racist society will be created. Racism, that implies a negative connotation and prejudices should be eliminated but race itself will remain because it is a part of a person’s own identity.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Meditation on the origin and entrenchment of the term race

Europeans, particularly early explorers, had no insight into African religions or cultures; they were simply different, and compared to the Western norm of Christianity appeared “savage” or “primitive.” European explorers and scientists, having means of physical domination over black Africans due to technological and military superiority, were thus inclined to see Africans not as different equals (as they were yet quite unaware of the complexity existent within African cultures), but as inferiors. They made this assumption (universally it seems) without any inquiry into the culture itself, perceiving nothing on the surface of what they passively observed of it to redeem it as even human. A vast swath of colonial discourse attests to this fact and can be seen most vividly in writings centered on leaving Europe to embark on a “humanizing mission.” An example of such would be Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden,” in which he states:

Take up the White Man's burden--

Send forth the best ye breed--

Go bind your sons to exile

To serve your captives' need;

To wait in heavy harness,

On fluttered folk and wild--

Your new-caught, sullen peoples,

Half devil and half child.

The obvious implication here is that Africans are not human, and while this poem was produced in 1899, after the concept of race had matured significantly, it represents only a more developed form of the rationalization of colonial conquest that had existed since Columbus—the mission of humanizing inhuman beings. Scientifically however, one cannot so easily state that Africans are not humans, as were an African and a European, one being male and the other female, to attempt procreation, their attempt would just as likely yield vibrant and fertile offspring as were two Europeans or two Africans to attempt the same. There was no immediate existing identifiable scientific division to delineate the two groups except for the obvious morphological differences, which Europeans, seeing themselves as clearly superior in every aspect (including the biological aspect), simply could not understand. How do these people share a common humanity with us when they are clearly lower than us, almost like animals? Thus a new, artificial division was contrived by scientists and philosophers, based not on the principals of natural science which had been observed for thousands of years, but on the vague notion that these people look and act differently, and so they cannot be of the same blood as us. This division is called race, and since its initiation into science the idea and its implications have complicated and confounded nearly every productive interaction between differing races. The idea of race is a white construction wrought by a European need for division between themselves as civilized Christians and the other as uncivilized savages. Without such labels as Negro and black, how would whites differ in scientific and philosophical dialogue from simply “the other?” With this development in nomenclature, Europeans could identify other races as inferior without jeopardizing their own humanity.

As their technology and science had generally reached superior heights, so, they believed, their culture (particularly its Christian elements) had also developed beyond that of native Africans, and thus were they justified in believing in the superiority of the white race. Many scientists and philosophers expounded on this notion, placing the different races in a hierarchy with, invariably, Europeans at the top. So recently drunk with the rationality and infallibility of science, and its infinite ability to label and classify, creating, even, new categories for classification, if necessary, Europeans were no doubt disposed to yield their entire consciousness to this new distinction. They, being superior in power, had nothing to lose in doing so. With such a distinction they had a basis on which to identify the other, and the notion that this other is lower on the racial hierarchy. White people created the game of race, along with the terms used and these terms’ connotations, and so it is obvious that the concept will favor their superiority. One must realize that the concept of race and what it was originally intended to describe or imply (generally, superiority and inferiority rather than just difference) is artificial rather than natural, and was constructed and introduced already with the idea of European superiority. The term is just a word or a division that was crafted specifically to solidify that notion, which was commonly held in Europe before the term race came to be used. Thus, the term is fundamentally flawed as a scientific distinction and its continued use should be seen as an affront to both science and humanity.

But how can we abandon the term “race?” The concept is entrenched deeply in our society, and there is no obvious alternative. Race seems to describe two things: morphology and culture. The term can seemingly be used to describe both of these distinctions simultaneously, or to describe either individually. One can appear black and be categorized as black by this distinction alone, but it can also be said that a person who appears black is being white if they conform more to white culture. Though the term was originally conceived by Europeans and constructed to facilitate a perception of European superiority, and though it lacks a cohesive definition, leaving many unsure of where they fall in the racial spectrum, it has come to be accepted and used by people of all races. The institutionalization of the superiority of Europeans through the use of the concept of race, it seems, has borne it into the modern era, where it is continuing to be used, despite its obvious flaws and insufficiencies. The term’s ambiguity and the impossibility of locating a single definition also makes it hard to find an alternative which would be so comprehensive in what it describes, and yet productive in how it conceives differences and their origins. It seems then that the term “race” is insurmountable due to its prevalence and ambiguity. We must learn to work with the term, and to, over time, dismantle the inherent favoritism towards white skin and culture around which the term was forged. It is still an artificial division, but one that can yet yield positive results.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dr. Michael Honey Lecture: MLK and Memphis in the Obama Era

This past Tuesday, February 17, 2009, I attended the lecture by Dr. Michael K. Honey, “"Going Down Jericho Road: The Legacy of Martin Luther King and Memphis in the Obama Era”. Dr. Honey was invited to come to Rhodes to assist the college in celebrating Black History Month and to talk about his new book “Going Down to Jericho: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign”. Dr. Honey teaches African American and U.S. history, civil rights and labor studies at the University of Washington, Tacoma. I thought that this lecture would be interesting especially because he would be talking about President Obama within the framework of Dr. Martin Luther King so I attended the lecture with high hopes. For the most part, these hopes were met.

Dr. Honey had an eclectic presentation that even involved a live performance. Within the first ten minutes of his presentation he pulled up slides of striking photos taken during the civil rights movement on the projection screen and said that the photos would be accompanied with music. I assumed that music was part of the slide show but no, he pulled out a guitar and began to serenade us. (I have posted a link at the end of this post to Dr. Honey’s video where you can hear his song and see the photos). After his song, Dr. Honey’s lecture took on a much more traditional style. But he felt that it was important to show the photos to give us a sense of how far we have come. When he talked about President Obama he said that we have a lot to be proud of but there are still a lot of challenges for America to overcome. He suggested that in terms of racism there is less personal prejudice using the example of blue-collar workers and other Americans who voted for Obama when many did not think that they would because of Obama’s race. However, Dr. Honey said that racism is institutional and that is the problem that is still a challenge for this country. He compared President Obama to Dr. Martin Luther King by saying that “Martin Luther King didn’t create the civil rights movement, the movement created Martin Luther King”. Obama came at a time when people were desperate for change similarly to Dr. King.

Dr. Honey then discussed King and the three phases of the civil rights movement. Phase one was gaining constitutional rights, phase two was economic equality, and the third phase was against war. According to Honey, King would not be surprised by our financial state today because King believed that war, poverty, and racism were all connected.

I most enjoyed Honey’s discussion of King in relation to Memphis. He said that many people believe that the civil rights movement “stops” at Memphis, however this is untrue. The movement is still going on, King accomplished phase one, gaining constitutional rights, and phase two and three have yet to happen. Honey also remarked on the race riots that occurred after King’s death and how Memphis was one of the few places that did not have a riot. He said that this was because they already had a Union movement in place that they were focused on and could channel their anger and frustration into. This of course was the Memphis Sanitation Strike, which was why King was in Memphis in the first place when he died.

Dr. Honey’s lecture was interesting. I am not from Memphis or the South and whenever I studied or read anything about Dr. Martin Luther King it has been in the context of a formal and almost detached history book. Honey’s lecture offered a much more personal perspective on King and especially on the day that he died. Honey said that in his new book, “Going Down Jericho Road”, he looked at oral histories and interviews from people from Memphis who were there or just within the city and their experience on the day that King was shot. Honey also alludes to a conspiracy theory that he has regarding King’s death, but of course, I have to buy the book and read it to find out what exactly that entails.

Should Scientists Study Possible Links Between "Race" and IQ?

Neuroscientist Steven Rose says no.

Psychologists Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams say yes.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

To What Extent Is "Race" Essential to One's Identity?

This post was originally written as a comment to JJohnson's great, thought provoking blog entry titled "My Race is My Identity." It will likely be helpful to read that post and mine.

The big question from class Tuesday and definitely in this post:
To what extent is race an essential property of an individual's identity? Esp. in the way that other properties are not? I.e. Is it essential to me being me that I'm a certain height or weight? That right now I have the property of being in a particular location? That I have certain beliefs and desires? That I am the oldest sibling in my family, and was not a younger sibling? What properties can I alter and still be me?

Here is a somewhat absurd thought experiment to investigate this issue:
If one day you woke up and were no longer African-American, but were instead either Native American, a Mexican-American, or even a white-American, would you still be you? (and if there is a distinction to be made between which say so, i.e. I'd still be me so long as it an x,y,z group/race and not group/race q, and try to explain why if possible)

Now...presuming race is not ultimately meaningless like Montagu contends, I think we have to sort out exactly what losing a racial identity would mean, from a sociohistorical conception of race like the one Du Bois has.

Is it that you just wake up one day with another skin color and some other physical characteristics people attribute to a given group?

For the sake of rhetorical flair, lets call this the MJ Case:

Assuming Michael Jackson is black/African-American (I imagine someone might dispute this, but I don't know why or how). Is Michael still michael, even despite having different facial features and a far lighter skin pigment than he did in '81? The next question, then, is is he still African-American? His 'common history' hasn't changed...he still grew up in an African-American family and presumably learned and experienced all the things necessary for the bond of a 'common history.' I think the best conclusion from this case is that MJ is still sociohistorically black.

Or, what if you had a new 'common history', yet physically were the same?

I'm having a really hard time figuring out exactly how this would work...namely how much of your current 'common history' with your own race would need to be wiped out, and what exactly that comes to.

This is roughly what I've come up with (other possibilities are definitely welcome):
To get a new common history, would be to have your own ideas shaped and largely framed in reference to past historical forces beyond your control, most specifically past ideologies/attitudes about race relations.

I'd also emphasize that these ideologies/attitudes will still exist in some form or another in your own time: I.e. It's fair to say the KKK strand of white supremacy is a weaker force today than it was in 1960 and that any idea that non-whites are only property is practically dead, but that some other manifestations of white supremacy are more prevalent and considered more acceptable, perhaps something like "whiteness" is typically more beautiful than "non-whiteness."

So with this idea of what a common history means for an individual, lets apply this to the objection that Ian's attitude toward judging people on their merits is the product of him having the good fortune of experiencing the less discriminatory side of white supremacy. Let's say Ian fully acquaints himself with the past history of African-Americans and definitely is familiar with the strands that most directly shape what might be dubbed 'black consciousness today.' He also interacts on a daily basis with African-Americans. Can he be considered a part of the African-American group?

Unless African-American literally requires African-American ancestors, I'm not sure how this move can be blocked...The problem with the ancestor rationale is that it can't explain how did the first African-American become the first African-American if a sufficient condition is that a forebear is required; it can't explain how the racial category itself came into being. Maybe personal experience with discrimination is a needed condition? But if that's true, then there is the odd conclusion that black babies that die at birth aren't a part of their race unless someone did something racially negative toward them; or that an African-American orphan who looks white and is raised by whites isn't black, until he and others become aware of his 'blackness.' Anyone else have any ideas on this? Reactions?

To backtrack a bit, there might be an ironic twist counter to the "Ian is white, so he has the luxury of looking at himself as an individual and being judged on his merits and not his race" argument. Namely, that if the determining factor of race is ultimately the result of attitudes/ideas of in a specific power hierarchy (e.g. America) and which groups are at the top of the power pyramid, then in some sense all those top ideals are accessible to lower rungs.

Now obviously the individual merits idea is being trampled upon by other ideas that negatively discriminate based off race. But if those bad ideas are removed from a dominant spot in the power structure, then the positive, arguably colorblind, idea still exists and can be incorporated. Then, does it particularly matter where the idea actually originated from? If it’s black, white, asian, native american, hispanic?

For example, part of the German national identity was at one point Nazism and by extension rabid anti-semitism, but that national identity no longer contains those elements. Now, is there any sense that Aryans today would be obligated to denounce Relativity theory because it was invented by Albert Einstein, a jew? My roommate, an African-American male, insisted I include this, after reading your blog post JJohnson; hopefully it can help generate some interesting discussion: “To say that your race is your identity, or to say that you are who you are because of your race, ultimately is a cop out. To me, it seems to say that everything that is me, or everything that’s meaningful about me, is what it is because of the people who are in my race who came before me. I can’t imagine that this is any type of freedom or truly meaningful definition. If I were not my race, there may be small differences, but I do not feel that I would lose what truly makes me “me.” I may lose the history, and because of that history I may lose certain partial views on life or society, but that’s not what makes me “me.” My race is not my identity, and I thank God for that.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Race is My Identity

Reaching the end of racism does not necessarily mean that the recognition of different races must also come to an end. In the essay, "The Conservation of Races," W.E.B. Dubois expressed that he believed African Americans should hold on to their identities. He believed that Blacks should not assimilate into American culture but rather they should separate themselves and establish their own institutions, such as the Negro Academy for example. During the time period which this essay was written I feel it was necessary and also mandatory for African Americans to separate since segregation was in full swing. I also feel that if African Americans did not separate they would not have been able to hold on to their identities. So I do agree with this part of Dubois's essay. If African Americans had fully assimilated into American culture many of the contributions the race has given would not have ever existed.For a group to hold on to its race as part of its identity is not necessarily racist.

In class the question was posed about whether eliminating racism required a colorblind society. The answer is, no it does not. There is a strong necessity for groups to identify with their race and for other groups to recognize other races exist. Not to do so would mean completely ignoring history. To ignore race would also take away a person's identity. When someone asks me to describe myself one of the first things I say is that I am an African American female. To say that I am an African American means something specific yet special. It means I am a part of a group with a history and a story of which I am proud. The same applies to everyone else as well.

Everyone identifies himself according to which race he belongs. Our race is our identity. If the end of racism meant ignoring race completely, there would be no such thing as diversity, which is something on which we pride ourselves.We believe that diversity helps us to learn about one another. Even at Rhodes we strive to have diverse campus in order to prepare us for our futures. We have to be able to cooperate with people who are different from us if we want to survive in this world. None of us are made the same. As stated in class, if we do not recognize race in order to distinguish ourselves there will just be something else we use in order to identify ourselves because we know and love that fact that all of us are different. Our race is who we are; it is what makes us unique. Without my race, who am I? Who are you? I am not a racist but my race is my identity.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Du Bois on the "Talented Tenth"

If you're interested in reading the entire thing, here is a link to Du Bois' 1903 essay "The Talented Tenth." It was originally published as the second chapter of a collection of articles by African-American writers entitled The Negro Problem. Other contributors include: Booker T. Washington, Charles Chesnutt, Wilford Smith, H.T. Kealing, Paul Laurence Dunbar and T. Thomas Fortune.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Idea of Talented 10th

Today’s discussion of DuBois’ writing, “Conservation of Races” was a very interesting one. He offered a response to the previous philosopher’s belief that blacks had not made a significant contribution to society, as well as the history of humankind. DuBois’ response to this belief was that the future would be based on the forth coming contribution of blacks. DuBois’ arguments were based on the idea that in order for blacks to make this contribution, it is important that African Americans not assimilate but rather develop black owned, operated, and separate institutions. This idea supports his stance that it is on the shoulders of blacks alone to advance the race and make a contribution. This I feel has been a common stance for African American leaders throughout history and today, an idea that I fully support.

I don’t think that it is necessary to be completely separate as a race, but I do think that in order to make any real changes, that race must be at the forefront of the movement. This is true for all other movements whether based on race, class, gender, or sexual orientation; that group has to lead the movement. Unlike DuBois, I think that all members of the group should have a voice and can actively participate in the movement. DuBois deemed the blacks in America as the ‘Talented Tenth’ that would be responsible for the advancement and contribution of the Black Diaspora. While the times and nature of society has changed since DuBois published this article, I feel that some still share his belief. As was brought up in class, I have been commonly taught that DuBois meant the Talented Tenth to be the upper echelon, elite Blacks. This interpretation is what I continue to see today. The most educated, the wealthiest, and the most “advanced” of any group are looked up to and deemed responsible for the entire group.

The contributions of African Americans are range widely; traffic lights, automatic gear shift, the electric trolley, and air conditioner! But other contributions have shaped the arts, music, and culture of not only black America but America as a whole. The sources of these contributions are not limited to what we consider the “Talented Tenth” of African Americans, they include uneducated and poor African Americans. What we consider to be important in our society has determined what we consider to be valuable contributions, and who we consider to be productive members of our society. The talented tenth idea perpetuates the idea that the those uneducated and poor members of our society are not making valuable contributions to society but history in itself proves otherwise.

What is Racism?

We have been discussing the topic of “race” in class a lot but have yet to delve deeply into what “racism” is. I would like to offer some of my thoughts on racism and allow yall to post on what your ideas of racism are. I feel like I have quite an extensive education on the subject from living in Alabama, Arkansas (current home to the KKK headquarters), West Virginia and here in Memphis. I am proud to say that I was raised in a family which promoted the equality of all people no matter what their color, heritage or religion. However, being raised in an area where ideas of hate and racial inequality are so prevalent I have been influenced and do make racial distinctions between people. On the other hand I do not hate or judge people based on these distinctions. From my personal experience and the observation of others I have come to the conclusion that there are two forms of “racism” one type is a normal human tendency to distinguish and categorize different types of things (similar shapes, colors, types of cars etc..) The other form of “racism” is where this normal human tendency to categorize is taken and manipulated so that negative attributes are applied to a certain group. By applying negative attributes to a group one can develop a hatred for this group as your view of them travels further and further away from your idea of what a moral human being is. Eventually this group is defined by purely negative characteristics and they become monsters in your mind. This negative form of racism is not a natural human tendency it is taught. I have come to believe that these negative group identities are developed through interactions between ones family and the environment in which you are raised. I have noticed that those people who are raised in a family who does not promote the idea of racism is far more likely to not develop this negative form of racism. There are certain cases in which a person’s friends can have enough influence as to develop this negative racism in a person, but if the family promotes equality it is far less likely that this form will develop. If a person’s family preaches hatred and discriminates between different people it is almost certain that this person will develop negative racial ideas. As long as people continue to teach their children to hate others it will be difficult to eradicate this form of racism but it can be done though education at an early age before the negative form of racism takes its hold. Negative racism is a virus which spreads through generations in order to stop it it must be treated early.

Groups and Race

After some reflection, it seems that race is but one more extension of a group. A group to which certain individuals attribute themselves, but, in the classical idea of  race, one cannot chose the group to which they belong, for we are born into it, and even worse, we cannot escape it. We bear the letters of our organization in the color of our skin, and we cannot remove them. In light of my recent applications to various summer programs that curtail to groups who are underrepresented in the field of law, I cannot help but wish I was not a white male. My group, that of the white male upper middle class, is over-represented, but this was no choice of mine, yet I remain discriminated against, albeit with justification. I want to offer a hand, but at the expense of myself? It is hard, given my absolute passion to enter a life dedicated to raising the moral and socio-economic quality of all peoples lives. Does this quest not grant me the same right that minorities receive? If my quest would end with the unprecedented development of all humanity, yet I have no means given the group I have been born into, does not this prejudice hinder the goals of humanity. I realize that, generally, it is held that my group has more opportunities, but the opportunity which I seek, I have almost no chance, and for that reason I wish to remove myself from my group.  (or wish that there was no racial prejudice but that is for another blog)

This tangent is meant only to prove the obvious possibility for desires to remove oneself from a group, followed by ones inability for the latter. In all other groups, groups we choose to become members of, we have the opportunity to leave the group or at least not identify ourselves, to others, as a member of that group. For this purpose, let us look into Greek life.  I am a member of PIKE, a fraternity on campus, and I identify with this group while trying to further our ideals. I do, however, have the ability to not wear my rush shirt or not put it on my application. I can remove the ability for others to discriminate against myself, but I can not remove my responsibility to my brothers, so long as I remain a member of the brotherhood. I have a bond with my brothers, and while I may dislike one particular brother, I still work towards furthering our fraternity. Likewise, all fraternities on campus have a common vested interest. We are all brothers of a fraternity, we are all parts of IFC (the council that regulates the different fraternities and also acts as a fraternal lobbyist group for the administration), and we are trying to get back spontaneous gatherings.  We must work together to make life better for all fraternity members here at Rhodes. This is the realization that America needs: yes we look different, yes our groups have differences, but for the betterment of humanity, we must work together. I dislike my roommate, another PIKE, he has low ethical standards, but I still strive with him to further of the ideals of our group. Our group must work with all other groups, whether or not they agree on all issues, to further the ideals of all groups. Think of yourself as your own group, you disagree with others but work together on common ground; groups are nothing but extensions of this principle.

Furthermore, we must not presume that any person belongs to a group based on their physical characteristics, because we cannot remove our color or gender. There are men who identify with  feminine ideals and white men who identify with black ideals. Our physical characteristics do not dictate our association to any group, only to other people who look the same but may or may not hold the same ideals. This is the problem, I both, wear the letters of PIKE, and identify with its ideals, but were I not able to choose, if my dad was a SAE, I may wear the letters of SAE while holding PIKE ideals. For this reason, when people identify themselves with a group, only then, may we judge them on characteristics of that group.

 Lastly, above all other ends, when we find a person or group which is at odds with our own person or group, realize that this is but one person or group of a much larger group. 

For example:
I am: masculine, libretarian, PIKE, American, Texan, Lynx Cat, Philosophy Major, ........., ........., ........, ........, human, living thing, a substance.

As the list goes on, our moral obligation to the group may be called into question, as I do not look to further the ideals of substances, but may or may not further the ideals of being in the group of living things. Note that as I do not have a choice in being human, I can either identify with dogs or some other animal, but otherwise is not the same as our inability to choose race, as there are feasible options that lead to groups with different ideals but can still comunicate, fornicate, etc.

The Inconsistency of "Race"

In class on Tuesday, a fellow classmate questioned whether, over an extremely long period of time, a separated group of people could physically change and develop specific genetic distinctions within that group itself. Although many studies have found no differences in the genetic makeup between separated groups of people we classify into races (proving that we are all a part of the same species) , this made me think of some rare distinctions and physical phenomena that could justify some other way to classify certian groups of people. For example, many studies throughout the twentieth century have tried to make some sort of physical tie with Native Americans and a possible predisposition to Alcoholism. Dr. Ting-Kai Li of Indiana University's School of Medicine ad her colleagues have identified two genes that help protect against the harms of alchohol. In their studies they have found that these two protective genes are most prevalent among Asians and almost nonexistent in Native Americans, thus making one group of people much more physically susceptible to alcoholism. Dr. Li herself said that "when I was doing postdoctoral research, I found that there were different forms of alchohol dehydrogenase and that there were genetic variants that one could identify in different races." Well, in respect to some of the works we have read in class so far wouldn't that statement ruin the validity of the research? I am not trying to deny the claims of this research, however, in respect to Montagu's view that the word "race" is an artificial term that does not hold any specific and consitent definition, wouldn't this skew the foundation for which this research was done? In this light, the only valid results of this research would be the overwhelming statistical evidence of the numbers of alchoholics on Native American reservations.If a Scientist cannot fully define their terms before research was conducted, then how the rest of the results of the experiment be validated? I agree with Montagu's view that the term "race" is too inconsistent and broad and therefore a word that I wish was not relied on so heavilyto classify people in so many different ways. I find this to be a very tricky situation in which there is obvious evidence that certain groups of people actually can have varying physical susceptibilities due to both genetics and the environment, however, due to the fact that the term race has been proven to be such an ambiguous term, I wish there was some other consistent classification that could further justify the results.

Does locating race in a common history work the way Du Bois wants it to?

Du Bois, for his part, tries to define the term 'race' so that it's free from the unavoidable biological/scientific problems. His idea of race is instead more in line with Locke's idea of looking at race as a largely cultural phenomenon. He sees the uniting glue for these cultures being a common social history. This condition of sharing a common history looks to be the best determinant of race for Du Bois.

I think his construction is problematic for how he applies it in the article today (I believe he posits that there are 8 races). The racial bond between African-Americans and Africans is their similar cultural values (I'm not sure how much scrutiny that can survive, unless it is construed very broadly), but it is mostly their past history as an oppressed, colonized people. Yet, if that type of relationship is sufficient condition for their bond into a 'black race', then how can Du Bois claim that it is not so for people of different geographies and skin color? I.e. Why would that condition of being colonized and experencing all the things that come with the categories colonization artificially creates not be sufficient in the cases of some colonized Asian peoples (e.g. Phillipines, or those regions once under the domination imperial Japan)? Don't they have to be considered racially black then? Or does this just demonstrate, that from Du Bois's ideas we should consider African-Americans as a different "race" from Africans, albeit two races with some significant sociological and historical parallels? And the next logical question from that is probably whether or not we should even call this race?

EDIT: In light of class discussion today, I think DuBois could address the Asian quandry, through their lack of physical similarities. I still believe, however, that the divide between various African cultures (and lets be specific here: Africa and its people are not monolithic) and African-Americans may be too great for them to be classified as one race, from the Du Duboisian rationale, due to strong enough historical dissimilarities


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Downfall of Du Bois

On Tuesday, we concluded with a discussion of race in the context of the class compared to our peers’ identification of the term. Each philosopher has helped to mold our perspective and advance our ideas on the term. Ashley Montagu’s took an extremist approach. He suggested that the word “race” be terminated from our use. He supports his argument with the claim of the word being artificial, disagreeing with the facts such as genetics, and it develops into a word of confusion and erroneous subtext. Similarly in our class discussion, we agreed with Montagu to an extent and restated that there is no race gene. Yet, there was debate whether the term could be dropped from our vocabulary. There was a common agreement that “race” has derived meaning from a historical context, and therefore we cannot erase the appearance of it throughout our past.

W. E. B Du Bois agrees in his article The Conservation of Race. Du Bois guides his perspective by defining race as “a vast family of human beings, generally of common blood and language, always of common history, traditions and impulses, who are both voluntarily and involuntarily striving together for the accomplishment of certain more or less vividly conceived ideals of life. (110)” The term has developed meaning through time and “we cannot not reverse history. (112)” He even furthers his argument by suggesting that a race differences should not be discarded by the people. This could lead to even more confusion and races, such as the Negroes, should not be absorbed into the society in which they live. Rather, the “races” should band together to create organizations for themselves, embracing their pride and differences to “positively advance. (114)”

Although the idea sounds nice, Du Bois discards the racial justifications to allow one to be in the organization. He supposes that one is either white or black. Yet throughout the American society, it has been more and more obvious this is not the case. To create organizations for “race” groups would only further the complexity of the term, and cause more friction amongst the groups. Man, especially groups of men, thrives off competition and there will always be the urge to fight. This would essentially create a racial hierarchy, and more division among the people. The countries would begin to divide in struggle for their own territory. Then, people would have to define themselves according to the context to which they belong. This can be confusing for people that don’t carry the similar characteristics as their “race. “ Montagu states its best that one cannot rely on a term that is artificial, counters factual knowledge, and has no solid boundaries creating confusion. To create racial organizations would only further the friction amongst people.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Racial Solidarity and Color-Blindness

Our recent discussion about “nature versus nurture” and the relationship between race and culture reminded me of the Father's Day speech Obama gave last June. Before a church congregation in the South Side of Chicago, Obama urged fathers to become more involved in their children’s lives. While Obama mentioned the necessity of government programs such as better funding for schools, he stressed that a nurturing household is needed as a foundation before the positive effects of any governmental or external initiatives can be realized. A family needs two supportive parents to maintain a strong household, Obama said, and “it’s what keeps the foundation of our country strong.”

Although Obama spoke to fathers “black or white, rich or poor, from the South Side or the wealthiest suburb,” he specifically addressed members of the African-American community at the beginning of his speech.

“Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us towards it. But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing – missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.

You and I know how true this is in the African American community. We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled – doubled – since we were children. We know the statistics – that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.”

This was a very powerful speech, and I think the biggest factor in its strength was the relationship between the speaker and the audience (which was predominantly black). By using the word “we,” Obama showed that he identified himself as a member of the African American community. Imagine instead if this same speech had been given by the late Viola Liuzzo. Despite her role as prominent, white, civil rights activist during the 1960s, if she had said “you and I know how true this is in the African American community,” her plea would not carry the same clout as it would if the speech were given by someone whom the audience saw as a fellow member of the group.

The idea of race both divides and unites. In one way, it calls attention to differences, but the concept of race can also be a compelling force in achieving solidarity. Do you think racial solidarity is a necessary step toward integration and equality, or is it detrimental?

Skin color, language, continent – whatever basis used to define a race – we know that these categories do not serve as steadfast indicators of the individual’s moral or intellectual capacity. However, as Walter wrote in his post below, “the idea of racism, the act of racism, has been carried out, throughout history, on the basis of physical characteristics.” Although scholars have disproven the scientific validity of racial categories, we cannot ignore that racism has stemmed from such pseudoscientific arguments in the past and continues to do so today. Even though the reasoning is false, its effects are quite real.

Perhaps one reason why these pseudoscientific ideas of race still permeate our beliefs is because our generation in particular was taught at an early age to ignore color and to avoid talking about race, a topic which was practically taboo in elementary school. And it’s clear from our recent class discussions that talking openly about race or offering examples of racial stereotypes is uncomfortable for many of us. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, though. We don’t want to admit that we know of the labels, and we fear that by verbalizing them, others may assume we are expressing our personal beliefs. When we were younger, we quickly realized that it was impossible to be racially color-blind. We noticed things like gaps in academic achievement and started to draw our own conclusions. There is a fine line between pointing out a correlation and making a value judgment, and I think that ignoring the historical context of race makes it easier to inadvertently draw an erroneous causal relationship between a group of people and a statistic such as the probability of incarceration.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Well Im not a communist...but read this anyway

It seems that maybe there is a fusion of sorts, that race is a social construct that has identified itself in physical characteristics. The idea of racism, the act of racism, has been carried out, throughout history, on the basis of physical characteristics. There were prejudices against a color, not necessarily a race or the social characterization of race. If a white woman acts black she is not black, she is still white, but on the inside she identifies with black culture. If the same woman acts like a man, she is still a woman, but she identifies with masculine culture. She is masculine, displays masculine tendencies, and is as much a man on the inside as she remains a woman on the outside. The same remains true for the former instance; she is black, displays black tendencies, and is as much an African American on the inside as she is white on the outside. So who is she really? Well it seems that if she had been on say the titanic she still would have been saved with the children and not left for the waters with the men. So that means that we judge, in some situations, a person by their physical characteristics. So it seems that maybe the fault lies with our current and past characterizations of people, we judge the metaphorical book by the cover and leave little worry for the inside. When slavery was in practice, whites brainwashed each other into never thinking about what they may have in common underneath the skin. Only into looking at he skin and believing what others told them about other's insides. Let's take a look back at the woman, now lets pretend that she is a mix race and that her mother is African-American, and her father Caucasian. Now, although she still looks white she is half black. No try the same thought process (acting black or man), is she more black now? It seems at first that she is, is this another instance of physiological necessity for race. Perhaps it is heritage. It seems that a black, white, Asian, or Latino child, brought up in a family of a different race would identify with his family's respective race. Perhaps it is who, as a human, you identify with that gives you a sense of belonging. Some people identify with people of another color, many other colors, or people of the some color, the problem only arises when some identify with people of the same color because they do not understand how to look past color, towards the thousands of similarities that we all share. It is this mis-step that leads to racism, the idea that we cannot find heritage in people of all colors. It is because they never see that we all share a piece of this same pie, called humanity.

Also, I have heard rumors that some of you think I am a communist because I want media control from the govt. (yes the Rhodes rumor mill is crazy like that) Well that is pretty far from my real ideology but I can see the possible presumptions. Let me clear that up with this: I want media to be regulated by us, by the Internet, and/or by peer review. Why not have top economist, philosophers, writers, and all the other PhD's of the world researching and telling the news. I want peer reviewed news, not slanderous money making crap. I want to know that what those news stations are representing as the truth is nothing but just that. I want peace of mind, that the information that uneducated America relies upon (for things like voting) is not pure bullshit. I want freedom of speech, but I want to be free not to be lied to as well. Something like I am free to say whatever I would like so long as I am not lying or misrepresenting the truth for an end not worthy of the means.

The Anthropological Concept of Race versus Locke’s idea of race as social heredity:

There is one thing that really stuck with me from class on Thursday. It was when Dr. Johnson said “race is not genetic”. Because I feel that for someone who has never studied race, that could be seen as a very bold claim and one that may even seem ridiculous at first thought. However, after reading Alain Locke, it started to make more sense. Alain Locke calls the Anthropological Concept of Race pseudoscientific, because it holds that the notion of race is biological, inheritable, while also including non-physical characteristics. This seems contradictory, or at least paradoxical, like both can’t possibly be true at the same time. Locke is quick to say that race is a fact, but not a biological fact. It is a cultural and social fact.

I think my problem with both Locke’s idea of social heredity and the Anthropological Concept of Race is the extremity of the theories. I feel like there must be some sort of fusion of the two. I understand and agree that if someone says that a black person acts white, or a white person acts black, that doesn’t make sense if all we mean by race is physical characteristics. In the way that we’ve always talked about race, we have never been able to completely separate physical characteristics from cultural, linguistic, and moral characteristics. These are the things that would back up Locke’s theory. Having said that, I think that to call race an entirely social construct is taking it too far. In what he calls the “reversal of emphasis”, Locke says that the idea of race expressing culture should be changed to show that culture produces race, in the sense of producing racial categories. And while there is definitely truth in that I’m not sure if I completely buy into the idea of race as entirely socially constructed. Maybe I just have a narrower vision of race as a biological characteristic, and I take social and cultural issues in a different way, and look at them as a part of ethnicity. I recognize that Locke is not suggesting that the term race has lost its meaning and that we should get rid of it in favor of the term culture. He is rather suggesting that we should re-look at the relationship between culture and race and change the way that we talk about both.

So, what do you think? Does race express culture, as was previously thought, or does culture produce racial categories? Can all people even fit into racial categories? Or do culture and race have a mutually dependent relationship, in which they both affect each other, and neither can be explained without the other?