Essays On Understanding Race

Essays On Understanding Race-63
It does not bother Americans of the late-twentieth century that the term "black" can refer to physically white people, because an ideological context of which they are generally unaware has long since taught them which details to consider significant in classifying people. Everyone knows, or at least every black person knows, that there are individuals who would be unhesitatingly classified as black in Louisiana or South Carolina and just as unhesitatingly "mistaken" for white in Nebraska or Idaho or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.According to a story that is probably apocryphal but nonetheless telling, an American journalist once asked the late Papa Doc Duvalier of Haiti what per centage of the Haitian population was white.

It does not bother Americans of the late-twentieth century that the term "black" can refer to physically white people, because an ideological context of which they are generally unaware has long since taught them which details to consider significant in classifying people. Everyone knows, or at least every black person knows, that there are individuals who would be unhesitatingly classified as black in Louisiana or South Carolina and just as unhesitatingly "mistaken" for white in Nebraska or Idaho or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.According to a story that is probably apocryphal but nonetheless telling, an American journalist once asked the late Papa Doc Duvalier of Haiti what per centage of the Haitian population was white.

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The first false move in this direction is the easiest: the assumption that race is an observable physical fact, a thing, rather than a notion that is profoundly and in its very essence ideological.

A recent newspaper article about the changing composition of the population of Washington, D.

Elsewhere, classes may have struggled over power and privilege, over oppression and exploitation, over competing senses of justice and right; but in the United States, these were secondary to the great, overarching theme of race. l Today, chastened by the failed hopes of the civil-rights era and genuinely appalled at the ironic turn of events that has seemed at times to give the Ku Klux Klan as much standing in California and Michigan as in Georgia or Mississippi, many humane individuals would regretfully extend Phillips's dictum. Reidy, Richard Stites, Laurance Whitehead, and Harold D. 144 continue to live with their ugly and explosive consequences.

The determination to keep the United States a white man's country, they would say, has been the central theme of American, not just Southern, history. Questions of color and race have been at the center of some of the most important events in American experience, and Americans I completed this essay while a guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Smithsonian Institution. It would be absurd and frivolously provocative to deny this, and it is not my intention to do so.

During that period I was supported by a fellowship from the Ford Foundation. It is my intention to suggest that Americans, including many historians, tend to accord race a transhistorical, almost metaphysical, status that removes it from all possibility of analysis and understanding.

Essays On Understanding Race

For their comments on the manuscript I would like to thank the following people: Ira Berlin, David Brion Davis, Karen E. Ideologies, including those of race, can be properly analyzed only at a safe distance from their terrain....served as a highly visible label identifying the natives of a distant continent which 146 for ages Christians had known as a land of men radically defective in religion."7 Had some of these same dark-skinned, exotic strangers been indigenous to, let us say; a remote corner of Europe upon which Englishmen suddenly and inadvertently stumbled after their first visits to Africa, the difference in geographic origin alone would probably have led the English to attach significance to -- and therefore take verbal notice of variations in appearance that, in the context of the African continent, seemed to them insignificant.Ideas about color, like ideas about anything else, derive their importance, indeed their very definition, from their context.Duvalier's answer, astonishingly enough, was "Ninety-eight percent." The startled American journalist was sure he had either misheard or been misunderstood, and put his question again.Duvalier assured him that he had heard and understood the question perfectly well, and had given the correct answer.Presumably, the fact that, while they share a language (no one, surely, would suppose that Hispanics all share a single culture), they do not comprise a single physical type and they originate from different countries.But, on that reasoning, black and white Americans constitute an ethnic group: they are originally from different countries, they certainly do not all look alike, but they share a language.* What about Asians?C., included the following statement: "The Washington area's population of races other than white or black, meaning mainly Asians, tripled between 19.Recent statistics equivalent to those for racial groups are not available for Hispanics, who are an ethnic group rather than a separate racial category."2 What makes Hispanics an ethnic group, while blacks, whites, and Asians are racial groups?Even the peoples of northern Africa seemed so dark that Englishmen tended to call them 'black' and let further refinements go by the board.Blackness became so generally associated with Africa that every African seemed a black man."6 There is no reason to doubt that such a striking contrast in color would arrest the attention of Englishmen encountering it for the first time.

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