Sunday, August 30, 2009

Some thoughts and clarifications on yesterday's post; race v. racism

I want to make sure this is clear, because I want to make sure I don't imply the wrong message: how we classify "race" and "ethnicity" on forms, how people choose to classify themselves, is arbitrary. There are no clear "rules" or guidelines to say who is what, and so many people are mixed races anyway, the whole thing is rather silly.

However, racism is, sadly, very real. I did not mean to imply, when I was talking about race being arbitrary and construed, that racism was not a real problem. We have certainly taken giant leaps, but few still have far, far to go. Yes, we elected a black President. But we're carrying assault rifles to town hall meetings were said President will speak -- would we do that if he were white? I think this Tweet asks a very valid question.

Racism is about what you look like. Most of the time, especially now, you can't really tell what a person "is" by looking at him or her; you can tell if the person is "different" -- non-white -- but how often are people of Hispanic and Middle Eastern backgrounds taken to be the other? But racism doesn't bother with those details anyway, as long as you're "different" you're fair game.

Race and ethnicity are about where you come from. How you grew up. While we can come up with a few general guidelines, there are no rules for this, because we are people not robots and we're all different. So, what you put in those boxes? Arbitrary and contrued.

First of all, "Hispanic/Latino" is not a race, it's an ethnicity. Which is why you can have Hispanics/Latinos of all colors, as Danine pointed out in yesterday's comments. They finally started updating the boxes, where you are black (non-Hispanic) or white (non-Hispanic) or Asian (non-Hispanic), but we still don't have enough boxes to fit everybody.

Then there's all the mixed races (which, I guess, technically, is what I am -- Chilean dad, USian mom, so I grew up with both cultures). Some people look more "mixed" than others, but here's where we stop talking about race or ethnicity as background/your personal history and start getting into... not necessarily racism, but the side effects of it. The mentality it had bequeathed us. (I know racism isn't dead, but think of it as a living will. Or wishful thinking.)

If you "look" black, then we're going to call you black. Because that's what we see. Even if your mom's white. If you look, shall we say, "less" black, then we'll call you bi-racial. Or mixed. Or something.

Hopefully we're moving into an era where we're all going to be so mixed up, we're going to stop worrying about all this junk, and just be "people," and comment on skin color the same way we comment on hair or eye color: just something that's there. Neither good, nor bad, just there.

For further reading, let me direct you to Raising My Boychick's post on sexual orientation and gender v. race.

(Part 2 of yesterday's rambling thoughts to come tomorrow. Or thereabouts.)


  1. Criss, your thoughts on race & ethnic identity are so, so smart. You really should keep writing on this subject and consider writing a book about this.

  2. I always just out "other" when filling out the boxes. Because I was neither "Hispanic (non-white)" nor "White" only. I was just... "other."

  3. Danine: thanks! *blush*

    Marcy: We should start a movement, have everyone simply choose "Other." Because, really, we're all just mixtures at this point.