Find your "original face"
I think this is the best argument for eliminativism that I have ever read. You write with clarity and the power of conviction. I share your conviction, and I thank you for sharing yours.
Amir: This was so well said. I have the pleasure of having met Carlos Hoyt (and his lovely wife) at a workshop last September and his model of revising the US census questions is brilliant and reflective of honest, fact-based data-gathering. I teach in a large private university and when I look at my students' faces I see the whole world of ethnicities, language and universal hopes and dreams. Many of them could very likely never check a box on race since they are so similar to how you describe your children. Thank you for such a clear and helpful essay.
Thank you so much for this. I'm a person of Sephardic, European, African, and Native American ancestry. Like you, I'm someone whose "race" people have a hard time identifying, so I've often been asked the question, "What are you?" I've been frustrated by the fact that anti-racists speak of race as if everyone dwells in a neat, racial pigeonhole. There is little nuance in public discussions of race, and almost no attention paid to those whose identity spans more than one racial category, leading us to an identity of "human" above all else. I hope to see more writers like you adding depth and complexity to the discussion.
I am somewhat different and somewhat similar. I do not expect other people to know about or care about my "race" identification. For one thing, I've never had one. Being Jewish, my basic division of the world is Jewish non-Jewish and has nothing to do with color, except one thing. Since my background is obviously not 100% Semitic with my blond hair and blue eyes, growing up I always wanted to be darker. It had nothing at all to do with Blacks. That Black - White divide is totally and completely irrelevant to me except government tries to force into an irrelevant category. I refuse to put White since to me that means Goyim. I settled on "Other" and wrote in either "Jewish" or "Speckled" (I get freckles in the summer).
Why would I be anti-Black? Blacks never engaged in genocide against my People. On the other hand, I never found that Blacks as a group were outstandingly wonderful human beings. No group is outstandingly wonderful!
My mother drilled into me that each person is to be judged by their own individual character. Somewhere along the way her father's family was intermarried with Richard Henry Lee's who signed the Declaration of Independence. You'd think the Declaration had been handled down at Mt. Sinai and had become the first book of the Torah. So naturally, Martin Luther King was hero above all other American heroes.
Due to my light skin hue, I do get to hear a lot of stuff dark skinned people do not hear. Whites are not 1/100th as racists as Nancy Pelosi and her Woker Identity Politics insist. It was White people who wrote the Declaration with inalienable individual rights and Jefferson phrased the Declaration so that it would definitely include Blacks. In the late 1950's we thought that finally that day had arrived when each person would be an individual, but then came the perversion of the Poverty Program into a Dem patronage system based on race and ethnicity. Now, the mark of Cain has been placed on Whites, and Wokers wonder why race tensions are so high. Without Wokers, there would have been no Trump, and no DeSantis, No "Don't say Gay," and no GOP President in 2024.
Beautiful. Being of richly mixed descent myself, I have been racialized several different ways depending on context. It made the fiction of it clear to me early on. But some fictions persist despite their irrationality (Easter Bunny) or open harm (race). It is a bell that cannot be un-rung, but we should at least agree to stop ringing it again and again of our own choosing. It only does damage and I cannot think of a scenario in which the invocation of "race" has improved anything. One irony I sometimes like to point out to others is that it used to be considered the height of "scientific racism" to eagerly try to find physical characteristics to "sort" people into different groups. It was - to some degree - the advent of molecular biology that helped us to see that we stood together as one race. Witnessing a large body of people (mostly in the past 3 years) so eager to sort everyone anew into racial categories under the banner of "progress" is a moral revulsion to me. To watch 2 and 3 year olds play together boundlessly across identity markers and then a few years later have them be told in classrooms that their "race" is an important part of their identity truly saddens me. We have so many societal problems requiring our collaboration and the reflectivity of our skin, or breadth of our noses, or curliness of our hair stands in the way? Madness.
A thoughtfully written, heartfelt, and insightful article. Thanks for posting this. I am currently writing my fifth book, Embracing Diversity as a Family: Preparing the Next Generation to Flourish. I plan to include a few statements from this, with citation, in my chapter: 50 Shades of Brown. We are all one race, the human race. With global travel, immigration, and current marriage choices, skin tone from the mix of our ancestors — wrongly termed "race" — has become irrelevant. We are all just people. All of us trying to survive and raise our kids to thrive in a toxic world. Have a great weekend!
I need to have vision of a post-racial world. An open source version of Angelica Dass is to use the standard RGB to describe skin colors. Take a selfie outdoors on sunny day to standardize lighting, view photo on computer, use a color measuring app to get RR.GG.BB color from nose (that’s what Angelica does), make an RR.GG.BB solid color screen resolution image, add text in upper right corner “I self-identify as RR.GG.BB”.
And then use that as your Zoom virtual background. Imagine a day when driver licenses have a field “Skin Color” = RR.GG.BB.
It’s not Color Blind, it’s Color Aware. If we accept and apply the One Drop Rule, then all of our ancestors were Africans. I don’t think racism can extinguish until we accept the unquestionable reality that “race” is not a meaningful or a helpful way to categorize humanity.
A wonderful statement about skin color is the work of Angelica Dass. https://angelicadass.com/photography/
Another great irony is that the "Woke" crowd are increasing a national/Western obsession with this recent construct that is race, and turning regular people into what we might call racists. Those few people in the US that we might reasonably argue are still racist (mostly old, isolated, low education, limited travel) are in fact acting rationally: their world has gone, their norms are shattered, their lives are filled with suffering.
I doubt very much they have essentialist, Darwinian, supremacist views about black people. We can almost sympathize with them. They are not racist. They are sad and slightly lost. They have lost. This is good. They will fade away with their mid 20th century views on diversity.
The DEI crowd however are arguably the meaner side: they focus on payback, animus, cruel cancellation, cherry picking history to suit their views, forcing abstract, troublesome views on kids in schools, punishing people who slip up verbally, and for whats it worth, wasting billions in US productivity per year with inane, sometimes, insane DEI protocols.
Race was constructed by zealous Catholic Spaniards, reasonably for the time, in line with anti-Islam Crusading views. It was not an important historical attitude until the 1700s. By the 1800s, Europeans had been deluded into thinking they were a superior race. The Nazis took it further. We've now had almost 80 years of anti-racism (in the West, travel abroad and see what you get). We are succeeding. We had it won 5-10 years ago before the Identity Politics crowd turned us back decades.
I live just outside Riverside, in the county-so “Hi!”. As an old light skinned woman my fervent prayer is that my grandchildren will eventually see a lessening of this divisiveness. Sadly I fear there will always be something that can be used to divide us and divert our efforts to live fully in peace with each other. With others such as yourself perhaps we can change at least those we come in contact with and that is a beginning.
Balanced, thoughtful, clearly presented. Thank you!
This article is a breath of fresh air, reminding us of the obvious - that any invented concepts of separation will drive an artificial wedge into society, undermining our interconnectedness and shared humanity. I appreciate your weaving of the Buddhist concepts into this piece. It has been disappointing for me to watch most Buddhist teachers and centers in the US embrace divisive racial ideologies.
As an account of personal history and personal musings, this is passably interesting, but it is greatly weakened by two things.
First, it never articulates its logical conclusion: that we should disallow governments and public institutions at all levels from asking people to "check a race" box on any form. Nor does it evidence any realization that in California in 2002-2003 we voted on a ballot initiative -- Proposition 54, the Racial Privacy Initiative -- that would have done just that. Nor does it seem aware of the abundance of articles, op eds, petitions, etc. generated by that campaign.
Second, Amir weakens his case with this common and unscientific trope that is found widely in the "race is just a social construct" literature:
"In 2023, It appears painfully evident that the concept of different and distinct races is a myth. From a biological perspective, this is nearly indisputable." The phrase "and distinct" is an unclear hedge but in its absence, any man in the street would see the falsity of the statement.
From a strictly biological perspective, or more specifically that of physical anthropology or human population genetics, race (or subspecies) refers to the obvious slight genetic and phenotypic differentiation of subpopulations within a species that have been isolated from each other for a long period of time, e.g. for example tens of thousands of years. The degree of "distinctness" and its visibility is usually related to geographic distance and/or barriers, and that naturally influences the practical utility or value of assigning a formal name to each race or subspecies.
All that is completely independent of the fact that intermarriage over centuries and millenia, in some regions more than others, is making it ridiculous for governments and other social and political institutiions to divide people by race. We can revive Proposition 54 without denying scientific realities.
“ The concept of separate and distinct races, as we currently understand it, is somewhere around 400 years old, which counts for roughly 0.1% of our human history on Earth.”
This is false. The concept of race probably goes back before recorded history. We can observe it in the Bible in the racialization of Hebrews as being of “Abraham’s Seed”, and the genocide committed by followers of Moses on various people of the Levant.
We can also observe it in various Greek literature, as the Greeks viewed themselves as of the same “blood” in contrast to various “barbarian” people.
We can also see it… well in most major civilizations and their literature.
“ Humans have a hard time letting go, especially when our egos are so embedded in a certain kind of worldview. To invoke Buddhism once again, this clinging to delusion is a major cause of suffering. Many people are searching for their original face before their parents were born, but with their eyes closed. ”
It seems from your repeated allusion to Buddhism that you are are clinging to the delusions of Buddhism. Buddhism tends to make people particularly delusional about their “egos.” Delusions, when they are shared by a community of people, sometimes provide some people with comfort, not just suffering, and provide a source of shared pride and sense of moral goodness. “The four noble truths” is one such delusion. Regardless of the pleasures it provides to some, it also can contribute to superfluous suffering and social corruption as can be most easily observed in old Tibet, modern Burma, Bhutan, which in the 20th century committed ethnic cleansing of native Nepalese, yet still fashions itself as the happiest place on earth. Ultimately I think Buddhism is a pernicious weed, moreso than Scientology.
The concept of race is not hard to understand, and it doesn’t matter if it’s believed to exist or not—people needn’t be tribal about it. Race refers to our broad based biological lineages, and “races” refer to people who share more or less overlapping biological lineages. The categories themselves that we now refer to, such as black, white, and asian, aren’t particularly refined, but it doesn’t make the concept of race delusional, it makes current usage of the concept sloppy.
When the Buddhist Bhutanese government decided to violently expel native Nepalese people from Bhutan—it was their race and their religion (not Buddhist) that guided it. It would be a delusion to argue that the Nepalese who were expelled had no general racial difference than those who expelled them—and regardless it would be an irrelevant argument to make. Racial tribalism should be denounced even though race has some conceptual and empirical sense to it. And so should Buddhism be denounced, as it is foolish and pernicious.
Right on, Brother Amir. Your view comes close to Shelby Steele who says that any clutching after race is a grab for power. Both right and left get upset when you try to say, "Well, there really is only the human race. A short Central African Republic Black man can mate with a 6'4" Swedish female and have a kid, no problem; there is no genetic or racial interference going on." Of course we all do share large family-type, 'look-alike' attributes - Asian facial features, Black skin tones, White skin tones, hair textures and everything in between - genes are wonderful dice and should be celebrated (and shaken and rolled!). I wish everyone would chill out and read Richard Rodriguez' book, "Brown"; I know you would love it - cheers!
I agree and yet I disagree. The agreement is how we conceive ourselves-- we have a choice and can exercise it. The disagreement begins with humanity offering and compelling different cultural forms -- from lineage and clan, to tribe, to religion, etc. I start my class when I get to identity with a reading from Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book, Infidel. She recounts how she sits under a tall tree with her grandmother. She's six but has already memorized her lineage some 300 years back. Her grandmother tells her, "you are your lineage." Another myth? From some perspectives we would say "yes and that too is a myth." There is a comfort in those myths for many. Others can mute the myth and let the individual flower. So, yes. I agree and disagree.