Race Is Socially Constructed- But it Still Matters

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I have recently made the commitment to post to my writing instagram account, “wmoviegrapevine” at least twice a day. I post to “moviegrapevine” 3-4 times a day, but posting to that account is generally easier. It only requires finding suitable images and offering some commentary. For wmoviegrapevine I also need to come up with original writing or find excerpts from my previous works, and then find a suitable image. For a while I was only doing one post, but I noticed a relatively quick increase in followers when I started posting more. The momentum took me from 73 to 84, where it has now stalled again. Either way, 2 posts are better than one and I think my laziness stopped me from committing to 2 earlier. It can be hard to post when juggling several other responsibilities, but I prefer trying to make time, instead of excuses.

Finding a topic to write on is usually the hardest part. I sat on the bus for a few minutes thinking of what I wanted to discuss and I remembered one of the arguments about racism that I detest the most. I have read many comments online saying that the discussion of race and racism is unnecessary, since we are all one race, the human race. After all, race is socially constructed, so it has no real impact on our lives and doesn’t matter. Firstly, the sentiment that we are all one race is lovely, but I hate the fact that it is often used to downplay the impact of racism in cases of police brutality, hate crimes, employment discrimination and so on. It is a convenient platitude offered to silence people who truly want to engage with an issue. If you just blurt out “we are all one race” you can bask in the glory of your own enlightenment while also ignoring facts that demonstrate that many institutions and individuals don’t act on that principle.

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As a starting point, I’d like to ask these enlightened ones to read this study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Research Fellows Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan sent out resumes in response to over 1300 employment ads, ranging from clerical work to customer service roles. The resumes were crafted to display identical levels of skill and qualifications. Some resumes had names that people may think of as “white names” or more race-neutral ones, such as Jacob and David. Others had names that people tend to associate with people of colour, such as “Jamal”. Despite equal levels of qualifications the resumes with white names received more callbacks for interviews. Each resume with a white name needed 10 resumes to get a call back, resumes with black names needed to send 15 to get a call back. If the resumes display the same level of skills and qualification, why is there a noted difference in callbacks? If people are colour-blind then the names shouldn’t have any impact. One of the most common beliefs among “colour-blind” preachers is that skill and a desire to work hard are all you need to be successful. Then why are “black names” (Jamal and many other names people think are black names are actually Arabic in origin) holding some applicants back? Keep in mind, these names are not all “ghetto” ones. What justification do you colour-blind people have for the results of this study?

The argument that a social construct doesn’t matter reminded me of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. The Pulitzer-nominated book mainly examines the impact that the internet has on our brains but Carr also includes an interesting segway that examines how societal constructs can change the way humans think. His example was the use of time and I think it provides a perfect parallel to the oft-cited “race is a social construct” argument. Although categories such as “white” and “black” have not always existed, there have always been people with different skin colours. Likewise, the units of time that we now call “hours” and “minutes” have always existed. The only difference is that we did not always have names for them and we did not always arrange our schedules by them. We used to rely on the sun and the moon to measure our days, but overtime we adopted more precise times for arranging meetings, transit schedules and so on.

Now imagine that you are late for work for a work meeting for the fourth time in a row. You walk into the meeting room and everyone is already seated, with your boss at the head of the table glaring at you. Why don’t you tell him that the start time of 10:00AM is socially constructed, so showing up at 10:10AM doesn’t matter. The sun is still up, so it is still the morning. You are still on time and you refuse to let foolish social constructs dictate the way you see the world, or the way you behave. Do you think that argument will go over well?

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Getting rid of racial categories or pretending they don’t exist is not enough to end or even diminish racism. It is a fact that many people have racial preferences for their romantic or sexual partners. If we get rid of the category of “black”, people will just go from saying “I don’t like black guys” to saying “I don’t like dark-skinned guys” or “I don’t like guys with curly hair” etc. Cops won’t be more suspicious of “black people”, they’ll be more suspicious of people “of African descent”. It is true that race can at times be fluid, since some black people might be lighter-skinned than people of other races. However, people need to realize racism and discrimination as a whole aren’t just about melanin.

Everyone “sees colour”. The real test of whether or not you are racist is what you do with that visual information. There is nothing wrong with noticing that someone is lighter-skinned or darker-skinned, or that they are a different race. The issue is if you think less of them for it e.g. this person is black, therefore they are stupid. This person is black, therefore I will never date him. This person is black, so there is a greater chance he will attack me. That is racism.

Saying “I don’t see colour” just means that you don’t have the moral fortitude to actually make these distinctions. It is too hard for you to see colour and not be racist, so it is simpler just to pretend like you can’t see colour at all. Yet you will probably be the first person to argue that we don’t need affirmative action and that blacks would be better off if they weren’t so lazy. The next time you say “I don’t see colour” or hear someone else saying it, don’t get sucked into this black hole of denial. Ask them if they could see colour and still avoid being racist, which is what plenty of people manage to do. Ask them why they can’t wrap their head around that task. Better yet, ask them what they are physically attracted to, what they think that about black people disproportionately killed by police, or ask them what they think about affirmative action. You might discover that they do see colour after all.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Race Is Socially Constructed- But it Still Matters

  1. Pingback: The New Dirty Words | Movie Grapevine

  2. Pingback: The Persisting Justification of Racism | Movie Grapevine

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