Paul R. Lehman, American social progress is not possible inside the race box.

June 5, 2014 at 7:38 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American Dream, American history, blacks, democracy, DNA, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, I have a dream, March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., mixed-marriage, race, Race in America, skin complexion, Slavery, U. S. Census, UNESCO | 2 Comments
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Too many Americans have brains that have fossilized on the concept of multiple races and this concept keeps them from making any progress towards the goals of our democratic society– life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people. In turn, American society has not come near the potential it is capable of achieving. Before America can make any progress towards its future and its mantra “E Pluribus Unum,” it will have to remove itself from the so-called race box it created when the country began. Although we knew then and certainly know now, since science has come to support the fact through DNA, that only one species of humans exist on the planet, and that all mankind belongs to one race. Nonetheless, many Americans cannot bring themselves to accept the truth of that information. So, we continue as a society to be held back to a degree from social progress.
Regardless of the efforts of some Americans to hold on to their concept of race, American society is changing as evidenced from the 2010 Census report. That report showed an increase in the mixed ethnic households. In addition, that report also indicated concern for present and future problems associated with defining race. Those problems lend support to the inevitable action to remove the word race as it pertains to a social identity. Therein lays one of the problems, because many people have used race as part of their identity, thinking it was accurate and valid: for example, black race and white race. Unfortunately, we discovered that race is not and cannot be defined by skin color. Yes, for several hundred years we have tried to make the fallacy true, but to no avail. So, what alternative do we have as a society to address this problem?
Some sixty-five years ago, scholars and scientists from UNESCO recommended that the word race not be used for social identity, and that the words ethnic group and ethnicity be used instead. The reason for the recommendation was due to the fact that they knew that only one race of mankind existed on the planet, so why continue to use bogus information? Society ignored the recommendation, but time and social progress has made a difference in how we look at ourselves and each other. Many American people of color now refer to themselves as African Americans. Also, many Americans of European decent refer to themselves as European Americans. We have become aware of the fact that the identities of black and white refer to races that do not exist except in reference to the past and American slavery. Since personal identity is a cultural and/or geographical association, the individual can choose the identity that best fits his or her experience or wishes. That choice cannot include black or white unless used as an adjective.
So far, many Americans are not comfortable with accepting the truth of race and removing themselves from that box. As long as they maintain a racial perspective, they are trapped in the past. That past is well documented in what we call history. When we look at history, we see not only a record of our past experiences and how we dealt with then, but also how much progress, if any we have made from the time of the event. If we do not use history as a tool for learning, and for making progress, then it simply becomes entertainment for us. For example, in Dr. M.L King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, he spoke of his vision for the future America. If today all we do is repeat the speech having made no progress in making King’s dream a reality, and moving beyond the race box, then the speech has only entertainment value for us.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the renowned African American astrophysicist, made the statement that:

To make any future that we dreamt up real requires creative scientists, engineers, and technologists to make it happen. If people are not within your midst who dream about tomorrow – with the capacity to bring tomorrow into the present – then the country might as well just recede back into the cave because that’s where we’re headed.

Today, too many scholars, teachers, and leaders keep us in the past and present with no glimpse of the future. They vividly recapture history with details and facts that help us to see and understand the past and present, but do not take us beyond the present. At some point we must move beyond history and the race box. We can start our movement out of the race box by avoiding the use of the word race except in its science, not social context. We can also education ourselves and one another to the reality of our common humanity. Yes, we have man-made differences based on culture and geography, but we have more similarities than differences.

If we would stop and think rationally about our race problem, we would quickly understand that since race is a social creation, then all its derivatives are also social creations. Yet, because of our illusions of race, we treat these creations as though they are real. Really, how can the complexion of a person’s skin make him or her superior or inferior to another human being? We have no valid answer to that question except, it cannot. If, for example, we look at our human family like the apple family, we certainly see diversity in color, shapes, sizes, taste, and uses. However, regardless of the diversity, all the apples are defined and seen as belonging to the same family.

Our society might not be able to ever impact those fossilized brains regarding the misconception of race, but we can eliminate creating future problems for our children and grandchildren and doing away with the hypocrisy and bigotry based on the concept and employment of race and color as social identities. We know that the very use of the word race separates human being, so why continue to use it? We as a society must as Dr. Tyson stated, “work to bring tomorrow into the present.” We must first, however, get a glimpse of ourselves outside of the race box, so we will know we are headed in the right direction.

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  1. […] Source: Paul R. Lehman, American social progress is not possible inside the race box. […]

  2. Dear Paul,

    Pam Henry Chair Emeritus, OKC Mayor’s Committee on Disability Concerns pam.henry@sbcglobal.net 405-773-0684 7701 DeVore Dr. N18 Oklahoma City, OK 73162  877-408-9290 toll free fax


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