Racist Ideology within Racial Terminology

“History has shown that even acknowledging that race has both a social and a scientific meaning cannot disconnect the concept from its typological and racist past (or present). Despite the best intentions of many scientists and scholars, race will always remain what Ashley Montagu once called a “trigger word; utter it and a whole series of emotionally conditioned responses follow.”41

“We are a genetically diverse species, and there is meaning in that diversity. But we as a species seem thus far unable to reliably distinguish between the scientific ramifications and the social meanings of human difference. Race is an historical, not a scientific, term. Yet, until the scourge of racism is eliminated from our lives and institutions, developing methods unburdened by racial ideology to study human difference will be an impossibility.”

A Short History of the Race Concept by Michael Yudell (p. 27)
from Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture

To merely speak of race is to inevitably and automatically elicit or even express a racist worldview, no matter your intentions (including for anti-racists). It has so far proven impossible to separate race and racism. The earliest use of race in relation to humans had a racist purpose. That purpose became built into the concept itself, built into our entire racially ordered society that justified that concept.

Study after study has demonstrated how common is racial bias and prejudice in our everyday thinking and behavior, not to mention the pervasiveness of structural racism. It is all around us and within us. We aren’t normally conscious of this. It is just what happens when you are enculturated in this kind of society and indoctrinated in this kind of political system. When a racial order has existed for centuries, it doesn’t disappear in a single generation (or two or three) just because we had a civil rights movement.

There are only two results that can come from speaking of race.

First, as I’m pointing out here, to use race (even if only with code words) is to evoke a racist worldview. With this first option, you don’t even need to speak of race directly in order to elicit the corollary racial bias and prejudice. It is already in place. You simply must not challenge it. The racism is in-built not just into the overt language of racism for the race-tinged terminology and the racial framing is always shifting (politicians, for example, have become talented in using dog-whistle politics, Reagan having been the master). That is where its power lies.

The second option is to speak as openly, clearly and bluntly as possible. No unquestioned assumptions. No code words. No political correctness, whether of the liberal or conservative variety. Like Rumplestiltskin, the power resides in knowing the name of something and stating it. This is why not speaking of race or speaking around race empowers rather than disempowers a racist worldview. The greatest fear of those most invested in a racial worldview is an open and honest discussion of race and racism. That fear must be confronted. We live in a world ruled by fear and ignoring it won’t make it go away.

I advocate for the second option. No more hiding behind words. Instead of using language to obfuscate, let us use language to communicate and discuss.

4 thoughts on “Racist Ideology within Racial Terminology

  1. Benjamin, of course you’re right about option 2, but only those on the left will use it. Racism permeates the right wing in this country, and those on the right will continue to use dog-whistle code words (option 1).

    • I understand. Maybe I’m preaching to the choir. Then again, maybe not. I thought there might be an insight here that even many anti-racists don’t understand.

      I’ve met a not insignificant number of people who are well-intentioned and would claim to be against racism while at the same time claiming that races are genetically real. As long as you believe race is real, there is no way to fight racism for then racism is real in the same way. We can’t fight reality or, if we do, we will lose. That is what the racial realists are always going on about, but the racial realists seem either to not be fully aware or fully honest about these consequences..

      This is in some ways a simple point. However, it touches on some very deep issues that are hard to articulate and explain in our society.

  2. There was another line of thought I had. It was on my mind when I read that section from the book and underlined it. I guess I forgot about it when I got to writing the post.

    This other consideration was racism in terms of racists. Who is and isn’t a racist? When can we or should we call someone a racist?

    I was thinking this missed a more fundamental issue. The ideology of race makes racists of us all and our only moral response is to be anti-racists. However, if race was weakened as a social construct, anti-racism would be irrelevant and unnecessary.

    Racism is a bigger issue than the issue of racists. Only a minority of the population are extremely racist and only a fraction of those would overtly identify with a racist ideology. Racism, on the other hand, involves us all for it is inseparable from this society we were born into.

    A racial order is a greater challenge than the most bigoted of racists. At least overt racists are easily seen for what they are. Not so much for the average person unknowingly perpetuating racism in a racist society. The racial order has lasted so long because it is so hard to grasp. It hides in plain sight. It is the background to our collective sense of reality.

    This is why we should handle it so carefully. We easily deceive ourselves when we don’t pay attention to what we are doing. Thinking about race and racism requires immense self-awareness and historical understanding.

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