Thursday, April 30, 2009

Looking back...

Looking back to the beginning of this course, I remember being slightly surprised at some of the first philosophers' constructions of the term "race". Bernier, though notably the first one to use the term with regards to difference in skin color, was nonetheless unable to free his perceptions from the assumptions and biases that he was brought up around. I enjoyed Herder's calling out of the racial hierarchy when he stated that we were all "independent substances". However, none of these philosopher's could satisfy my need for some scientific consistency. Maybe it's because these early constructions of the word race are so different then how I am used to it being used today. However, reading about these early forms have given new light to the term in ways that I would never have thought of before.
Then we were introduced to Montagu. Ashley Montagu criticized the anthropological view of race as nothing but an inconsistent definition and an artificially constructed "omelet". Finally, it seemed as though I found a view that was as dissatisfied as I was about the inconsistent way we tend to use the word race. From that moment on, I agreed with Montagu that the term "race" should be completely eradicated from our language.
However I have come to realize the naiveté of this view. Though I hate the negative aspects of the perpetually broad definition of this word, it is essentially impossible to get rid of due to the dependence the human race has given it. "Race" is constantly evolving in meaning. Because we do not live in a "horizontal" society, the only way to thwart the negative aspects of using the word race starts with yourself.


  1. I agree about the word "race." It is a completely socially constructed idea that has no biological backing. The word really doesn't mean anything, but it has a huge impact on our lives. It is the main way in which we classify people, but grouping people together in races tells us nothing about the individuals who make up the "race". Is it possible to celebrate and appreciate our differences in culture and history without using the word "race"?

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  3. To the question that Alex asks, I don't think it would be possible. Even if race is a socially constructed idea without scientific evidence, nevertheless it is the main "made up" basis of dircrimination not just in this country but all over the world. Because we still live in a racist society, most of the culture and history has a foundation of racism behind the actions and mindset. When our society begins to accept that it is racist and faces this concept as something that is social, then maybe we will get to a point where we talk about the events in our future without the factor of race.

  4. I agree with Manali - the word "race" has become too entrenched in our language for it to be completely eliminated. I'm trying to think of other words that have been gradually phased out of common usage, and although some are incredibly deurogatory, none carry all the connotations and nuances like the term "race." Besides the fact that we live in a racist society, as Manali brought up, perhaps another reason we can't shake the term is because it is such an easy cop-out. During some of our first class discussions, we were asked to define what exactly we mean by the word "race," and we began to realize that it is completely irrational.


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