Displacement, identity, and theology
First Sunday in Lent

Why does the category of race persist?

An interesting article on the topic of race and why the category continues to persist when we know that it does not rest in any metaphysical or biological reality and is a social construct?

In the midst of the article, the philosopher makes a fine point about how America ignores elements of its history by blaming racial categories:

It is American culture that is principally responsible for the perpetuation of the concept of race well after its loss of scientific respectability by the mid-20th century. Even the most well-meaning attempts to grapple with the persistence of inequality between “blacks” and “whites” in American society take it for granted at the outset that racial categories adequately capture the relevant differences under investigation (see, for example: Thomas B. Edsall’s recent column, “The Persistence of Racial Resentment“) . This may have something to do with the fact that the two broad cultural-historical groupings of people in this country, which we call “white” and “black” and which have been constituted through the complicated histories of slavery, immigration, assimilation, and exclusion, tend at their extremes to correlate with noticeably different phenotypic traits.

An African-American is likely to look more different from an American of exclusively European descent than, say, an Orthodox Serb is likely to look from a Bosnian Muslim. This creates the illusion that it is the phenotypic difference that is causing the perception of cultural-historical distinctness, along with the injustice and inequality that has gone along with this distinctness. This also creates the illusion of American uniqueness: that our history of ethnic conflict cannot be understood comparatively or in a global context, because it, unlike conflict between Serbs and Bosnian Muslims or between Tutsi and Hutu, is supposedly based on “race” rather than history, politics, and culture. But where people are living with a different historical legacy, as in much of European history prior to the high modern period hailed in by Hume and Kant, the supposedly manifest phenotypic differences between “blacks” and “whites” can easily recede into the background as irrelevant.


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