Paul R. Lehman, Race irrelevant and confusing to America

February 18, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Posted in Ethnicity in America, Media and Race, Race in America | 7 Comments
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For some time now this blog has been advocating for the removal of the word race used to classify and characterize humans of varying ethnicities. The claim has been made as well as substantiated that the word race is inaccurate, inappropriate, and ineffective in the task it has been forced to perform. Again, for the record, race is the term that includes all human beings, as in the human race. The use of race in regards to color or geography is useless because it simply adds to confusion rather than making clear the relationships of all humans. People with black skin complexions and those with white, brown, tan, pink, and other complexions are all part of the same race; their ethnicity and culture, however, will vary.  In an effort to underscore the problems caused by our use of the term race, we will call attention to a recent article written by Jeff Jacoby from the Boston Globe.

In his article titled “Irrelevant racial criteria,” Jacoby makes the following statement:”Spend a while with the census search engine, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the nation’s racial composition has never been defined with such pinpoint accuracy.” To this statement he adds that “In fact, the nation’s racial composition has probably never been defined with less accuracy, and the margin of error is widening. Why? Because of the growing number of Americans like Michelle Lôpez-Mullins, who render the government’s racial categories meaningless or obsolete.”

What Jacoby means by the last statement is that Michelle, because of her multiethnic ancestry, has no category available to her on an identity space with the exception of “other.” She is identified as a University of Maryland student who is ‘Hispanic,’ but “the government agency that tracks data on births and deaths, would pronounce her ‘Asian’ and ‘Hispanic.’” Her birth certificate from the state of Maryland omits race altogether. So, we can readily see the problems using the term causes.

Jacoby makes the statement that ‘Though most Americans may still think of themselves as belonging to a single race, the multiracial population is surging. Racial boundaries are more permeable and easier to ignore than ever before.’ One might be willing to agree with Jacoby except for the simple reason that he makes the same mistake as does the government—accepting the word race as legitimate and accurate. If we as a society accept the fact that all humans are of one race then we do not need to continue using race  in identifying people of differing ethnicities and cultures as belonging to a separate race.

Jacoby makes notice of the changing complexion of society with respect to what he calls interracial marriages or new marriages that have increased greatly from the 1960s to 2008. He states that “When Barack Obama was born in 1961, less than one new marriage in 1,000 was, like his parents’, that of a black person and a white person. ‘By 1980, that share had risen to about one in 150 new marriages,’ Pew notes. By 2008, it had risen to one in 60.”Unfortunately, the words black and white do not identify other ethnic influences that might have been reflected in these individuals.

Underscoring the problem that not only the word race creates but also words used to identify these so-called races, Jacoby cites the fact that President Obama identified himself in last year’s census as ‘black.’ However, it was pointed out that many young African Americans prefer this latter term to represent their identity. The problem of using the word race is clearly shown in Jacoby’s comment that “The Census Bureau currently recognizes 63 possible racial labels, but that taxonomy is as limited and artificial as the one in an earlier age that subdivided Americans into the categories of “white,””Japanese,””Chinese,””Negroes,””mulattoes,””quadroons,””octoroons,”and “civilized Indians.” By what logic, for example, did the 2010 questionnaire classify Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese as separate races, yet, lump Scandinavians, Arabs, and Slavs together as “white”?

As has been stated many times in this blog as well as in my last two books, the word race was forced to perform a service for which it was not suited. To make matters worse, accompanying the use of the word race is the assumption that a separate biological uniqueness is accorded. For example, if someone is identified as being of the Korean race, then that race would be interpreted as not belonging to the family of human beings who identified themselves as white. What the Census Bureau and the government have done is compound the confusion by retaining the word race instead of using the word ethnic or ethnic group. American has fallen in love with ethnic colors and all their stereotypes which keeps society from making needed social progress. Our refusal to deal honestly with our race problem will cause the confusion to not only continue, but also to multiply.

So, how should our society address this growing problem? We can start by eliminating the word race as part of an individual’s identity since all people belong to the same race. What will this simple action produce?  First, it would eliminate the stereotypes associated with the reference to a person’s race. The concepts of racism and racist would be eliminated because there can be no superior race if only one race exists. The idea of a racist would no longer be applicable because more than one race has to exist in order to compare or contrast them. Also, the concept of races as a biological certainty would be dismissed and those social groups who have built their identity on the idea of multi-biologically separate races would be null and void. What would not disappear from avoiding the use of race are prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, anger, and hatred. Each of those concerns is unique to individuals, not groups.

So, Mr. Jeff Jacoby should be applauded for his comments and findings regarding not just the Census Bureau’s confusion regarding race. He does, however, miss the part that the word race plays in this story. American society’s seems to lack concern for the race problem. The more we procrastinate, the more confusion we heap on ourselves and especially our children. Children need to understand and know that they are more than colors; they are members of a human family.



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  1. Does Jacoby mention the relations slaveholders imposed upon slaves? The procreating of two people classified by different colors is not new at all in the United States if one considers slavery. To only talk about marriages of two different color-category people is to miss that point entirely.

    • Jacoby limits his comments to the information provided by the Census Bureau. He basically focuses on the variety of so-called races and the options the Census Bureau offers. He does not comment of the falacy of race itself, jus how it is used and the confusion it causes. His piece can be found under the title in the blog.

  2. Dr. Lehman,
    Some of us have no objection to changing what has been the march of “conventional wisdom.” It’s just that we’ve been conditioned to certain thought patterns over our several decades of life. It is ignorance, rather than something sinister, that may keep us trapped as far as correct terminology is concerned I may be wrong, but I think most people I know mean well–if only they could get over certain hurdles.

    • Dennie,
      I could not agree with you more. My concern is with the ignorance that can be corrected. However,if one refuses to see the problem, then it will continue. And if the problem continues, more people will become ignorant. The circle has to be broken at some point. I simple want to try and put a small crack in the circle so the process of education can begin.

  3. I am currently in Qatar visiting my husband. Black/white marriages here seem to be viewed as rather unusual or strange. It was even suggested to us by an Indian immigrant we should get our marriage certificate notarised by the Qatar government. We haven’t been arrested yet, so I suppose we are safe. The hotel wanted to give us two rooms.

    Our children will no doubt face the issue of explaining having a white mother at some stage. We will not be using the word “race” in our house.

    • Thank you for your comments and your current status. What people need to be made to understand is there is only the human race. People with varying skin complexions and cultures are still part of the same human familty. When we give in to the false concept of “races” we give support to those who have something to gain from viewing humans as separate races. I applaud your decision to not use the word race. Your children will be better human beings for it because they will identify with their ancestry and culture (s) for their true identy.

  4. luckily my children will always know their heritage. Not so for many African Ameicans, something that is very sad and, I believe, he root cause of many issues.

    The hotel here will not even clean our room – I amnot sure if that is because we are who we are OR simply because the hotel doesn’t operate in a way we are used to! I do think it is the latter!

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