Last year I read a book called, Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity by Guy P. Harrison.
This was definitely not light, relaxing reading but I’m happy that I pushed through and finished it.
Here’s the Book Description:
“Drawing on a wide variety of evidence – the hard data from fossils and DNA, interviews with the victims of racism, and personal experiences – Harrison dismantles the ‘race’ concept, bolt by bolt. Exposing race as a social illusion and political tool – rather than a biological reality – Harrison forces the reader to consider how they think about ‘other folk.’ Anthropologists have no use for the race concept, and neither should educated citizens.” -Cameron M. Smith, PhD, Department of Anthropology, Portland State University
Before reading Race & Reality, I already considered myself well-educated on the topic, but this book opened my eyes in new ways. I really haven’t been able to look at people, race or society the same ever again. (Now remember, we’re talking about race here – not culture. They are two very different things. The craziness I observe in my own bi-cultural household on a daily basis is proof enough to me that cultural differences exist!)
The author argues that we all have roots in Africa and we are one human race – that any categories based on hair type, skin color, facial features, etc. – are simply man-made. By the time I finished reading this book I felt simultaneously freed…and trapped by the idea. I do see myself as race-less, but this just isn’t practical in the society we live in.
Imagine if I go to renew my driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I’ll fill out the form – name, address and all that good stuff – but then I come to the race boxes. After a moment I’ll decide to leave the race boxes blank because they seem silly and irrelevant. I turn in my form at the front counter.
“Ma’am, you didn’t check a box for race.”
“I know. I don’t want to. I don’t believe in races.”
“Yes ma’am, that’s real cute, but you have to choose one. I can’t process an incomplete form…”
I’ll sigh, take my pen in hand, and check off a race.
“Hmm… I suppose this one is most accurate,” I’ll say to myself.
I’ll hand the form back to the DMV clerk who looks it over. Her satisfied smile at my compliance soon turns to a frown.
So, I don’t think race will be disappearing any time soon – and maybe it would be irresponsible of me to pretend our world doesn’t see these man-made boxes, regardless of what I personally feel. I have two sons who are struggling with their identity, and answering their questions with a cheerful, “Race doesn’t exist” – is not going to help them sort things out.
Just last year a classmate approached my older son and said, “Are you Mexican?” … My son, (having picked up on his father’s annoyance at constantly being incorrectly labeled Mexican instead of Latino or Salvadoran), replied with a simple, curt, “No.”
I told him that he should have used the opportunity to educate his classmate, but I wonder if that was fair of me. As a so-called “white” girl amongst other “white” kids, I never had to explain myself. It must get annoying having to patiently tell people “what you are.” It must make one feel very “other”… and that’s never a good feeling, no matter how old you are – but especially in middle school.
The book, Race and Reality, re-printed a “Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage” which I think is empowering, not just for people who are traditionally considered “multi-racial” by today’s society – but for all of us. In the end, there is no such thing as a pure race. We are all mixed and we are all human.
Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage:
I HAVE THE RIGHT…
Not to justify my existence in this world.
Not to keep the races separate within me.
Not to justify my ethnic legitimacy.
Not to be responsible for people’s discomfort with my physical or ethnic ambiguity.
I HAVE THE RIGHT…
To identify myself differently than strangers expect me to identify.
To identify myself differently than how my parents identify me.
To identify myself differently than my brothers and sisters.
To identify myself differently in different situations.
I HAVE THE RIGHT…
To create a vocabulary to communicate about being multiracial or multi-ethnic.
To change my identity over my lifetime -and more than once.
To have loyalties and identification with more than one group of people.
To freely choose whom I befriend and love.