Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Attack the Myth of “Race” and Keep but Modify Affirmative Action

The Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, on May 5, 2013, noted the absurdity of the question on “race” contained in Question 9 of the U.S. Census: “How to update census’ race question.” (See image of Question 9 below.) In addition to checking “white,” or “black, African Am. or Negro,” or “American Indian or Alaska Native,” there are several additional choices that are Asian nationalities or ethnicities. (The term “Negro” will be dropped.) The question not only confuses “race” with ethnicity and nationality, it also implicitly affirms the false idea that “races” exist as biological entities. This lie is not something that the U.S. Government should be perpetuating.

Mr. Page begins the column by noting the confusion of a woman who considered herself “white” but who recently discovered that she had an African-American ancestor. Was she “white” or “African-American”? Her dilemma was published on TheRoot.com. That website also published a short article linking to Mr. Page’s Tribune column: “The Census Race Question Isn't Working.”

While Mr. Page criticizes the old “race” boxes, I did not think his critique went far enough. Thus, I posted the following comment to TheRoot.com article:

Yes, the Census form question on “race” makes no sense. But it needs more revision than you suggest. Genetically, there is no such thing as a “race.” (Even if they existed, most Americans are mixed with one thing or another--as the young “white” woman discovered.) “Races” are not biological realities but are mythical social constructs that falsely impose rigid categories on a continuum. It is a very powerful and harmful myth that we must expose as nothing but a myth. (This does not mean that “affirmative action” has to be ended--the harm that the myth has done needs to be remedied.) Thus, the census question should not ask about anyone’s “race,” but instead should ask, “What ‘race’ or ethnicity do others generally consider you to be?” That gets the information needed to monitor discrimination without affirming the myth. 
--John L. Hodge (author--JohnLHodge.com) 

A reader replied to my comment by noting the harm of affirmative action programs. This is my reply to his reply:

. . . affirmative action does not have to be based solely on color. It should take into consideration other factors and shift its focus to impoverished backgrounds regardless of color, but still address the past adverse effects of racism where appropriate. AA needs to change but not be abandoned.

As I argued in Chapter 5 of my book, How We Are Our Enemy--And How to Stop, the concept of affirmative action should not be abandoned. We cannot ignore the immense harm the false concept of “race” has inflicted on us. It is wrong to close our eyes and just say, “Too bad, but there is nothing we can do now.” Nonetheless, a shift needs to be made from a purely “racial” or gender-based affirmative action to focus more on remedying the effects of poverty and poor education regardless of the color, ethnicity or gender of the victims.

The point is that we can attack the myth of “race” and at the same time find ways to address the immense harm that the myth of “race” has caused and continues to cause.

The parenthetical statement in my comment, “Even if they [races] existed, most Americans are mixed with one thing or another,” is based on a book, DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America by Bryan Sykes .

Here is the absurd Question 9 on the U.S. Census Form: