Paul Lehman, Race terms no longer effective

January 7, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Posted in Race in America | 2 Comments
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A recent article,”Rate of survival rises for white with melanoma,” by Landon Hall, points out the problem we have in America where the terms race, black, and white are no longer useful, accurate, and acceptable.

The article makes the statement that “Whites are surviving melanoma at much higher rates than decades ago, thnaks to public awareness and early treatment.” Hall continues by stating that “The trend hasn’t extended to blacks and Hispanics, however: Those groups develop skin cancer much less frequently but tend to have more advanced progression at diagnosis, according to the study.”

While the intent of the article is to provide good information regarding the treatment of cancer and those who can benefit from it, much is lost in the language relative to race. First, the term race is no longer a valid term since science has determined that all humans are 99.95% alike. We are one race. Why do we keep using the term and applying it to other human beings? We should use the term ethnic or ethnicity when we are referring to someone’s cultural or ancestral identity. Let’s look at a few examples of the problem with the three terms.

First, we should all know that color does not define or identify a person biological identity or race; it does not matter what color. So, when the article in discussion uses the term ‘white,’ what does that mean? Does it mean all fair-skinned people or people regardless of the ir skin complextion who refer to themselves as ‘white’? The term ‘white’ is reserved for European Americans, but other fair-skinned Americans refer to themselves as white. So, just who is the study directed towards–people who call themselves white or those with fair-skinned complexions?

Also in the article we find the use of the term ‘black.’ Does this term refer to all people with dark-skinned complexions or people (usually African Americans) who often refer to themselves as black? Many Americans of varying ethnic identites have dark complexions. Should they be included in this group? Because the term are too vague and not ethnically specific, the information lacks benefit to those not included or identified.

The term Hispanic is the only one used in the article that accurately identifies a cultural/ancestral group. The term Hispanic, however, covers a wide range of people with different cultural identites from all Spanish-speaking culturals. So, who is to take heed of the information?

Should very fair-skinned and very dark-skinned  Asians, American Indians, and other ethnicities ignore the warning that singles out blacks, whites, and Hispanics? The reader is at a loss to know because the terms are too general, confusing, and stereotypical. we need more clearity and accuracy in describing people. As one race of people we can easily refer to a person’s ethnic or cultural identity rather than lump them together on the basis of color or so-called race. No one’s identity is ever based on a color because color has symbolic value only. One is usually identified through geography or cultural or both.

In America we have reached the point where we need to re-educate ourselves regarding the idea of race. We should no longer use the term race when refering to a person unless it is to underscore their humanity. The term race carries with it some connotations that unites and separate people into groups of humans, some thought superior to others. This assumption is false.

The appropriate term for people who refer to themselves as black is African American. The term black is the same as negro and both have little positive value except in the so-called black community and the history of American slavery. If some people choose not to identify themselves as African Americans, they are free to identify themselves as ‘other.’

According to the Supreme Court, the correct term for people who identify themselves as white is European American. The term caucasian race is a misnomer because all so-called white people are not desended from the Caucasoid Mountain area and humans constitute only one race. Once, again, people who identify themselves according to a color do not really identify themselves; they simply refer to a symbolic social group that no longer exist.

In due respect to the article, the study was meant to provide some worthwhile and useful information, and that should be encouraged, but when we look at the language relative to ethnicity and culture, we must wonder who will it benefit?



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  1. Dr. Lehman, I must admit you make a convincing argument. We are all indeed part of the human race and should avoid seperating ourselves base on race. However, while I have not read the article you refered to, I beleve those who do read it will know that the racial terms use are refering to African Americans and European Americans. Why, because we in America have not learn this unique and accurate perception of cultural diversity. The Government in its infinite wisdom decided to teach us our racial difference. As usual, their attempt to help has given us all a misinterpretation of our cultual identity. In fact, it only set us up for further division among the American people.
    My question for you is, how do we began to re-education the American people. If we have highly education reserch scientist who don’t recognize what they are during when they freely use the terms black, and white to refer to African Americans and Eurpean American then where do we start the education process?

    • In answer to your question of how to make change, my suggestion is to start with you and yours. If you make it a point to indentify yourself in a non-color fashion, people will began to respect your wishes. In essence, until the attention of people in high and influential places catch on, the bast policy is ‘each one teach one.’

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