We're All Racists Now - or - The Pretense of Race

I'm tired of filling out forms with the, usually optional, question of race.  At what arbitrary point in history and by what arbitrary percentage of my lineage am I to decide my race?  Some of my ancestors came from Germany and England in the 1750's.  My great grandmother was half Native American, but I'm not even sure which tribe one of her parents was from (or which of her parents obviously).  Some of my other ancestors were Irish, or Scottish or Scotch-Irish.  I'm really not sure which, or maybe it was all three.  These are only the aspects of family history which I know based on family names and certain individuals from history about which something was written or stories were passed down.  If I knew all the maiden names involved in my family tree I might know more about the countries my ancestors came from.  Given the time and location, it's a pretty safe bet that some were Italian, maybe even French, but there is little chance of something else.  Given this information I feel pretty safe in checking the box beside "White", but how boring and overly general is that?

Before moving into the great melting pot, trading and marrying with each other and taking up a common language, my ancestors spoke a handful of different languages, had a wide array of inherited customs, food and dress.  They even possessed among them a wide array of skin tones.  What if I were to go way back?  Maybe some of them were European nobility.  More than likely they were serfs.  Before that, some were probably citizens of the Roman Empire, or the republic that preceded it, or maybe they were part of barbarian tribes set against it. Maybe some fought against the Moors or even the Neanderthals going way back.  That is all fun speculation that can hardly be proven or disproven, but the one thing I am confident of is that they all descended from humans who left Africa many thousands of years ago.  So maybe the safest box to check, and this applies to everyone, is "African."

Certainly in the modern context, to do this would be disingenuous.  The purpose of such questions is generally to collect data regarding relative distributions in various areas of employment, purchases of consumer products, patterns of behavior etc.  But to assume the relevance of this information is, in my opinion, very much like Hayek's pretense of knowledge applied to the 'social sciences'.   We assume that this one metric, because it is relatively demonstrable, is relevant to achieving our end, whether that end is to hire an appropriately diverse work force or to bring about fairness with respect to some measure of socioeconomic status.  This is an understandably attractive technique because it is a simple matter of understanding history, defining under performing groups and then lifting them up through some political machinations.  However, it can not be reasonably argued among serious adults that race on its own carries any information regarding the aptitude of an individual to be successful in life.  So many more situations and events carry considerably more weight in one's life than ancestral lineage.  Was your father a gambler, your mother an alcoholic, your grandfather a priest, your brother a murderer, or your sister a movie star?  How much money did your parents make, and how did they treat you growing up?  Did they read books, ask you what you learned in school and attend your baseball games?  It will not take long to run out of room on the form at this rate. 

It is an unfortunate fact that to be born of a certain race in many places around the world is a distinct disadvantage, and this is an evil that must be fought in the prejudices in the mind of every human being.  But to see ourselves as social scientists, we must consider whether the things we seek to control are the ones that matter and whether the rules we presuppose contradict the notions of equality and liberty that we seek to maximize. 

My point here is not to claim an ancestry that is not my own or to offend anyone by supposing I check a box other than "White."  I simply resent the label as applying anything meaningful to my description and stand in firm opposition to the mentality that insists that we should continue to graduate ourselves by these ancient, arbitrary and irrelevant distinctions. 

I hope that someday, we can all see this question of race as irrelevant and offensive to the variety and beauty of human experience as it actually is.  
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...