Racialism: A Social Construct – Part 1
Racialism: A large and critical strand of the social fabric of the American society. It can be defined as the overarching systemic structure that supports the social organization and social differentiation of the American society based on artificial signifiers—skin pigmentation / melanin, hair, nose, lips, eyes, and bloodlines that are used to define the otherness among human beings—the mythical black, white, brown, yellow, and red persons. Racialism has remained an integral part of the American culture since its inception. Throughout history, different cultures have been known to create their own categories and define the characteristics of those categories, as they deem necessary. It is a social construct.
What exactly do we mean when we talk about racialism? It has been demonstrated that race means different things to different people.
Most people know what we mean when we talk about race, or what we take ourselves to mean, even if, like most of us, they’re not quite sure why we talk that way, and even if they don’t think we should talk that way. This common knowledge is overwhelmingly practical rather than theoretical: we know how to categorize people and, often enough, to react to them, or how race-thinking says we should react to them; but our grasp of the principles and definitions behind these practices, such as they are, is unclear at best. – Paul C. Taylor, Professor, Penn State University (Race a Philosophical Introduction, 2013)
Taylor also provides the following insight into the origin of races. During the 17th century, Francois Bernier (1625-1688), a French physician was perhaps one of the first to use the race appellation in a modern context. In 1684, Bernier defines the races of men as species that include the following: Europeans – Africans – Asians – Americans – Lapps, based on physical features—nose, face shape, skin color, and hair texture. According to Taylor, this conceptual innovation developed into what became known as “monogenist synthesis.” Also, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840), a German scientist, wrote his treatise entitled On the Natural Variety of Mankind and argued that there are five races: white, black, red, yellow, and brown.
Several of today’s contemporary scholars corroborate the notion that race is a social construct, and in some respects, considered an existential fallacy. “Race as a meaningful criterion has long been recognized to be a fiction.” – Henry Louis Gates; “Scientific scholars generally agree that there is actually no such thing as race.” – Joel Williamson; “The concept of race does not have an adequate scientific foundation.” – Naomi Zack; “Whereas racism is a well-attested phenomenon, race itself does not exist.” – Tzvetan Todorov; and “Race is a concept that exists in our minds, not in our bodies… I have grown weary of explaining to my students that there is no such thing as race.” – Eugenia Shanklin.
The notion of race is the hydra-headed monster which stifles our most beautiful dreams before they are fairly dreamt, calling us away from the challenges of normal human interaction to a dissonance of suspicion and hatred in pursuit of a fantasy thanever was.” – C. Eric Lincoln, (Coming Through the Fire,1966)