I cannot remember a time during my 40 years of life in which racial hostilities in America have burned as hot as they do now.
The title to this post says racism is incredibly stupid. I might also say racism is not only ignorant, but it is for the ignorant–people who, for a wide variety of reasons, have neither learned a few basic facts nor thought critically about issues of skin color and race.
This title to this post also says “three simple reasons.” Of course there are many reasons why racism is incredibly stupid. The three I identify here I have chosen for their straightforwardness and their simplicity.
Basically, the three examples of which I shall make note are derived from the fields of color/optics, biology, and history.
Color is all around us. We perceive color as inherent properties of objects. Grass, we say, is green. Skin color, two give but two examples, is white or black. To identify color as an inherent property of an object, however, is inherently wrong.
Color specifically depends upon the reflective capacity of a substance–specifically, the low-, medium-, or high-frequency light said substance reflects. Light itself is not colored; light is electromagnetic radiation which vibrates within a certain range. Light bounces of an object and into our retinas where our brains make sense of what we see. The colors we see, in other words, are not the colors of that which we see outside of ourselves; rather, the colors we see are the result of mental circuitry.
Thus, cognitive science “tells us that colors do not exist in the external world…it is not a thing or a substance out there in the world” (Lakoff and Johnson 23, 24).
Color, in other words, is a product of the mind!
As is the concept of race.
Theories of race linked to skin color is a “product of popular beliefs about human differences that evolved from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries” (McCoskey 3). Contemporary theories of race were formed during periods of time which bear little resemblance to our post-industrial technological age. The ideas are old hat. To define race in terms of skin color, and those draw superficial conclusions about the intellectual capacities and moral tendencies of a particular “race” is to remain stuck in the past.
Take, for example, the belief that the process of defining different races could be based on empirical observation. To those living in the 16th through 18th centuries, it would appear skin color was inherent in the biological organism. Nowadays we know skin color depends on the amount of melanin in one’s skin and the amount of melanin is determined by environment. Moreover, modern color theory as just described destroys the very basis of the “empirical observation” upon which modern theories of race are based. Thus the frequency of light bouncing off skin is impacted by the amount of melanin.
That such theories were formulated when they were is not insignificant as such ideas were “initiated within the specific context of European exploration, which brought Europeans into greater contact with populations in Africa and the Americas” and “led to the employment of a range of ideas and texts–including both the Bible and the ancient environmental theory–in explaining the differences perceived in such encounters.” (McCoskey 4-5). Again we find notions attached to race intertwined with material (the Bible and ancient environmental theory) that have little bearing on a contemporary understanding of the natural world.
One might presume Europeans defined themselves as “white” before dubbing people of African descent “black.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The English use of “white” to refer to “an ethnic group first occurs in 1604,” writes James Hillman, “after the perceptions of Africans as ‘black'” (1997, 3).
Symbolism accompanied the application of such color terms. White, of course, is associated with purity, cleanliness, goodness, morality, being civilized, spiritual heaven, God, and, for Europeans, Christianity. Black was associated with impurity, dirtiness, evil, immorality, savagery, material earth, Satan, and non-Christianity–the so-called “primitive” religions of Africans or Native Americans (who were, by no coincidence, said to worship demons and the devil).
The white with superiority, the black with inferiority.
The theories developed during the so-called “Enlightenment” period which gave birth modern theories of race held hands with age-old symbols, symbols used to further uphold and legitimize racist ideologies based on, what we know now, complete and utter bullshit!
To define an entire group of people–what they are capable of and who they are–based on color, which does not even really exist in the objective world, is, in my opinion, the definition of stupidity.
Furthermore, it is to remain stuck in the past. Hatred, oppression, and so much violence based on utter ignorance.
I often hear in some circles the notion that we as a species are on some sort of cusp, some sort of “evolution of consciousness.” Sounds good, sounds hopeful.
As long as we human beings continue to think of one another in terms of race, I call “bullshit” on the whole evolution of consciousness idea. As long we continue to think of one another in color terminology, our consciousness shall not evolve in any significant way for to continue to think in such terms is to remain stuck in a worldview which defined world in (scientifically at least) Newtonian terms.
Much as we know color is not inherent in the object, we know that when it comes to the finer points of “material” reality, Newtonian physics break down. Theories of race were spawned at the very same time Western civilization defined the world according the Newtonian physics, sometimes referred to today as the “old” physics.
Racists don’t live in 21st century; hell, they don’t even live in the 20th! They are stuck somewhere between the 16th and 18th.
To apply “black” and “white”to skin color and race has, in reality, no physical basis. “White” and “black” are metaphors. How do we move forward?
Changing the metaphor is but one step.
Hillman, James. “The Seduction of Black” in Spring 61, 1997.
Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Philosophy in the Flesh.
McCoskey, Denise Eileen. Race: Antiquity and its Legacy.