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Unformatted text preview: 152 PAUL R. SPICKARD his or her background. Many of the essays in this volume are about the issues attendant upon such a choice of a multiethnic identity. As the essays attest, the one-drop rule no longer applies. Study probes 1 According to Spickard, how are ‘raciai distinctions a necessary tool of dominance’? 2 Why can ‘racial’ distinctions also be ‘a positive tool’? 3 How does the author illustrate ‘the iilogic of racial categories”? Notes 1 Since both are defined on the basis of social and not biological criteria, a race and an ethnic group are in” essence the same type of group. They reckon (real or imagined) descent from a common set of ancestors. They have a sense of identity that tells them they are one people. They share culture, from clothing to music to food to language to child-rearing practices. They build institutions such as churches and Fraternal organizations. They perceive and pursue common political and economic interests. 2 This was true for peopie of mixed jewish and Gentile background as well: They were shunned by Jewish people and institutions and typically had to adopt Gentile identities. 3 Sometimes the assignments were a bit arbitrary. Anthropologist Max Stanton tells of meeting three brothers in Dulac, Louisiana, in 1969. All were Houma Indians, had a French last name, and shared the same father and mother. All received their racial designa- tions at the hands of the medical people who assisted at their births. The oldest brother, born before 1950 at home with the aid of a mid wife, was classified as a Negro, because the state of Louisiana did not recognize the Home as Indians before 1950. The second brother, born in a local hospital after 1950, was assigned to the lndian category. The third brother, born 80 miles away in a New Orleans hospital, was designated White on the basis of the French family name (M. Stanton, personal communicafion, 1990). Chapter 20 Naomi Zack BLACK, WHITE, AND GRAY: WORDS, WORDS, WORDS Extract from Race and Mixed Race (1993). Philadelphia, PA: Temple Uni- versity Press, pp. 167—172. HAVE BEEN ARGUING THROUGHOUT THIS WORK that in a context where a race is devalued, such as in the United States, racial designations are as racist, i.e., as cruel, as racist devaluations. Such racial designations limit individuals in their subjectivities, even when they take up the designations themselves, about themselves. The mythology about race which underlies racial devaluations and raciai designations is evident in the language of race that is used in the United States. Everyone knows that racial epithets and slurs represent a breakdown of normal cooperative assumptions of communication — these derogatory race-words are insults and as such easily bridge gaps between words and action.l But people are less aware of the way in which seemingly neutral racial language is racist. Because the racism inherent in various concepts of race has already been discussed, it seems appropriate at this point to turn to the words themselves. First, there is a general myopia about the black—white dichotomy. When Americans hear the word “race,” they immediately assume it means “black” or “white.” In many places, for long periods of time in American history, all people could be divided into black or white racial categories. This was before there were large numbers of Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and recognized Native Americans. It was before these other racial groups became large or strong enough to demand recognition or, as in the case of Native Americans, before they were permitted voices which could be heard by some of those in the society from which they had been alienated. The blackwwhite racial dichotomy imposes a myopic linguistic convention, which holds that everyone belongs to a race but that there are only two races: Negro and Caucasian. Of course, even the most 154 NAOMI ZACK emphatic biracialists know that there are also Asians, but when the topic of race comes up they speak as if everyone were either black or white. In Anglo-American cultural history, the words “black” and “white” are symbols with positive and negative moral connotations. Sin in the sense of sexual transgression, for example, is “black,” and virginity and other traditional states of moral virtue are “white.” Thus the black—white sin—virtue dichotomy was avail— able historically as a justification for the exploitation of blacks b whites when Europeans first began to exploit Africa, the “dark” continent. (The moral- religious connotations of a black—white dichotomy are so exaggerated in American culture that it can be a locution of criticism, imputing ignorance, stupidity, and possibly insanity, to say that someone “sees” such and such “in black and white”)3 In addition to this symbolism, there are other racist aspects of . the American use of the black—white dichotomy of race. There is no parity in the derivation of the words used for the two racial categories: Caucasian and Negro. The word “Caucasian” has a geographical reference to the Caucasus area and thereby derives from a proper name. The word “Negro” comes from the French or Spanish word negro, meaning the color black, which derives from the Latin word niger, having the same meaning.4 Until the 19203, American blacks were referred to as “negroes,” with a small n. The insistence on the capital N was based on the demand for the acceptance of American blacks as a national group, like other national groups whose names were capitalized” The insistance on the word “black” to refer to black Americans in the 19605 was, in this context, a change to an English translation of negro. When “black” is used to refer to black Americans as an ethnic group, it is capitalized. But when “black” is simply a racial designation in contrast to the racial designation “white,” it is not capitalized. it is ironic that when American blacks insisted on racial respect, “Negro” became capitalized; and when Black Culture was revalued, “black” became the preferred racial‘designation. The word “white” as a racial designation is almost never capitalized these days, outside of white supremacist literature. When American blacks are referred to as “African Americans,” this appears to establish a parity of terminology with “Caucasian” because the word “African,” like the word “Caucasian,” is an adjective deriving from the proper name of a place. But people were first designated as Caucasian because of their resemblance to the physical appearance of people who inhabited the Caucasus geographical areas. By contrast, most American blacks are designated as African Americans On the basis of an assumption that they have forebears whose physical appearance resembled people who inhabit the geographical area of Africa. So again there is no parity. The words “blac ” and “white” purport to categorize people racially on the basis of their skin color. There are some, but very few, Americans who have skin the actual colors of objects that are accurately described as having black and white surfaces. As colors, black and white are anomalous: In quasi-scientific language, black is the perceptual experience of the absence of all colors from the visible spectrum, and white is the perceptual experience of the presence of all ' colors from the visible spectrum.6 (These optical facts make a joke out of the use of the sobriquet “of color” for all non-white people.) Still, it is possible to BLACK, WHITE, AND GRAY' 155 manufacture black and white pigments, and like all other colors that can be applied to the surfaces of objects, black and white can be mixed. When the colors black and white are mixed, they produce various shades of gray. When people who are black and white “mix” genetically, it is commonly aclmowledged that the skin colors of their offspring fall on a continuum of colors that are in the ranges of brown and tan. On one end of this continuum are those whose skin color would be called “white,” in the absence of knowledge of their black forebears. On the other end of the continuum are those whose skin color would cause them to be racially designated black. Thus, as racial words, “black” and “white”'purport to refer to skin color, but in fact they are only loosely related to the actual skin colors of human beings. In the case of individuals who are called “white” racially, the word “white” is not expected to refer either to their actual skin color or to the actual skin color of their ancestors. In the case of individuals who are called “black” racially, the word “black” may be believed to be a more accurate description of the skin color of their ancestors than of the individuals themselves. By contrast, as Carl N. Degler describes the racial system in Brazil, there race is not determined by the race of a person’s ancestors but by money. Thus a poor Brazilian mulatto is a Negro, whereas a rich Negro who 'is not visibly of mixed race is white. This has been called the “lightening” effect of money g and social class. American slave owners bred their slaves as a way of increasing their capital. This was less' so in Brazil.7 It may be that the strong hereditary aspect of American race derives from the strong property interest in the hereditary aspects of American slavery.8 If this is so, it would suggest that Americans have stronger property traditions than Brazilians do. Even though Brazilians are now more “materialistic” about race, historically, Americans have been more materialistic about people, a form of materialism that lives on in all biracial American racial designations to this day. There is every reason to believe that Americans are just as sentient of colors as people who live in other countries. That is, only a small percentage of Americans are color blind, or perceive only black, white, and gray. So it is fairly clear that the racial words “black” and “white” are not the color words that they purport to be but labels that refer to riineteentlrcentury concepts of race, which associated nonphysical characteristics with racial designations. The current scientific view of a race is that a race is a group of people who have more of some physical traits than do other groups of people. Skin color is not a particularly accurate standard for determining races, nor is skin color in combination with body types, facial features, hair textures, or any of the other physical characteristics associated with races. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., makes the point of how inadequate those physical criteria are that purport to be racial criteria, in a quote from a contemporary American work on “Left” political theory: The division of the human species into races is biologically — though not socially e arbitrary. We could differentiate humans along count- less axes, such as height, weight and other physical features. If we assigned racial categories to groups of humans with different heights 156 NAOMI ZACK — for example, every foot of height from four feet up determines a new race — we would be more biologically precise than the usual racial designation by skin color. For no fixed biological boundary exists between Asian and Caucasian, black and Indian, whereas a fixed boundary does exist between those who are shorter than five feet and those who are between five and six feet.9 However, it is not racial-group membership that determines race in the United States but lines of descent i genealogy. As groups, races are not stable entities. In Melville Herskovits’s often-quoted words, “Two human groups never meet but they mingle their blood.” And of course, this has always been the case in the United States. But due to the alchemy of American racism, no new race ever results. Black and white do not make gray here, but black. It is important to note that when the acknowledgment of a mixed-race individual does not go beyond a reference to the racial diversity of that indi- vidual’s forebears, the individual is called “of mixed race.” But if the individual is acknowledged to be a racial mixture in himself, then he would be called “mixed race,” without the “of.” The use of the word “of” in the designation “of mixed race” leaves open the question of what the mixed‘race individual is racially, and this “of” is compatible with the American one’drop rule. But if “of” is left out and an individual is called simply “mixed race,” it becomes more difficult conceptually to designate that individual black (or white, for that matter). It is interesting, however, that wherever there is some recognition that mixed-race people exist, as there was in the old lower South and as there still is in Brazil, the metaphors “black” and “white” are abandoned in favor of color words which come closer to describing what it is that people see when they look at skin colors.” The skin colors of people of acknowledged mixed race are called words such as “coffee,” “almond,” “almond shell,” “piney,” “honey,” “ivory,” “mahogany,” “tan,” and so on.” It is almost as if, in the presence of those individuals who are perceived to be mixed black and white race, the reality of human perception reasserts itself, and an attempt is made to speak the truth about visual experience. As offensive as such mixed~race color words may be against the backdrop of a biracial system, they nevertheless have more human reality than those color words “black” and “white” (which most Americans could never approximate in appearance without being badly burned or suffering massive blood loss). However, once an American begins to formulate a theoretical entitlement to consideration as a mixed-race person, the word “gray” might look attractive as a racial name, for the sake of parity (even though it is now used to describe an appearance of illness in pracn'cally everyone, without prejudice). Of course, it would be a more liberal society if all people could be described physically as other natural objects are described (without anachronistic metaphors that, if taken literally, refer to death and disease). It would be a far more liberal society if racial designations were allowed to go the inevitable way of all historically vestigial categories. And if there is an intention that this be so, in the interim between the world of today, when people are categorized like so many breeds of BLACK, WHITE, AND GRAY 157 domestic animals, and tomorrow, when the dog show will be over, what should “black,” “non—white,” “gray,” and perhaps “red” and “yellow” people be called? Call us what we are, plain and simple: “racially designated.” Study probes 1 How does Zack illustrate the ways in which ‘the mythology about race . . . is evident in the language of race that is used in the United States’? 2 Why is she critical of the terms ‘black’ and ‘white’? 3 What does the author mean by the statement: ‘it is not racial-group membership that determines race in the United States but lines of descent—genealogy’? 4 What ‘term’ does she advocate and why? Notes 1 According to HP. Gricc, normal communication presupposes cooperation. On the assumption of cooperation, if certain obvious rules of discourse are broken, the listener has reason to infer a logical implication behind what the speaker has literally said. For example, if we are cooperating and I ask you how X’s performance was last night and you tell me that X knew all her lines, I can infer, according to the Rule of Relevance, that X's performance was not very good, because you have flouted the Rule of Relevance. See I-I.P. Grice, “Logic and Conversation,” in Donald Davidson and Gilbert Harman, eds., The Logic of Grammar (Encino, Calif: Dickinson, 1975), pp. 64—153. Insults, especially racial insults and implied racial insults, do not merely flout the normal rules but signal that cooperation ‘ in communication is not present. This may be why insults lead so easily to acts of violence, i.e., they signal that verbal communication is no longer possible. 2 See john L. Hodge, "Equality: Beyond Dualism and Oppression,” in David Theo Goldberg, ed., Anatomy’ (3” Racism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), pp. 89—108. 3 See Carl N. Degler, Neither Black our White (Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1986), p. xviii. 4- See Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 2d edn (1960), s.v. “Caucasian,” “Negro.” 5 See Degler, Neither Black nor White, p. 277. 6 William Cecil Dampier, A History of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1943), 9. 176. 7 See Degler, Neither Black nor White, pp. 105—107. 8 Not only was there, in Brazil, a lack of interest in breeding slaves, as compared to the United States, but manurnission was easier and more frequent in Brazil, especially in the Case of slams of mixed race. See ibid., pp. 19—20, 39—4-7, 61—67. 9 Henry Louis Gates, Jr, “Critical Remarks,” in Goldberg, ed., Anatomy of Racism, p. 332. 10 Degler, Neither Black our White, pp. 102—103, john C. Mencke, Mahatma: and Race Mixture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Institute of Research Press,,1979), pp. ix, 2M3, joel Williamson, New People (New York: Free Press, 1980), pp. 23—24. it should be noted that the old racial words for mixed black and white race, 6. g. , “quadroon,” “octaroon,” etc., are no more naturalistically descriptive than the words for people who are racially pure. 11 The nineteenth-century fiction sympathetic to mulattoes was replete with such descrip- tions. Many writers claim that among contemporary American blacks, close attention is paid to gradations in skin color. See, e.g., Beth Day, Sexual 119% between Blades and Whites (New York: World, 1972), pp. 185—187. Also, there is a tradition in black letters of aesthetic racial pride, based on the variation in appearance among people who are desig- nated as black in the United States. See WEB. Du Bois, The Dusk of Dam, in idem, Du Bois' Writings, comp. Nathan Huggins (New York: Literary Classics of the US, 1936), pp. 657L658. ...
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