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Stop saying 'race'

Why I no longer use the word 'race'

Last tended on Sep 11, 2021

Racism creates raceThe Jena Declaration by the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, this much we know is true. As a person of color, it has been nothing short of illuminating to learn that there are no biological traits different enough in me that I ought to be grouped under a different 'race' altogether. What we've come to call "race" is a social rather than a biological construct.

As Western societies, we're quite firmly embedded in the social construct paradigm, which is befitting for societies with a growing urge to heal the wounds of racism. One obstacle we face in our attempts to fight racism is our persistent use of the word "race" to refer to a group of people who, in varying degrees, can be identified with a particular collection of physical attributes.

Using the designator "race" is, one might argue, the very essence of racism.

In this respect, I find the two definitions of "racism" that Oxford acknowledges quite useful:

  • Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism by an individual, community, or institution against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.
  • The belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.

The term "racism" has become such a red-hot concept, one we hardly allow ourselves to touch when we are pondering the effects that our words and actions may have on other people. We've become so accustomed to demonizing racism and racists that none of us will acknowledge that we may, in fact, behave in racist ways from time to time. The way language is entangled with this denial is a topic that I'm currently exploring.

"I'm not a racist" has become a speech act

This reality makes it all the more difficult for us to understand what racism actually is, how it traumatizes individuals and communities, and how using the term "race" perpetuates intergenerational hurt.

There is a distinction between existing in the social construct paradigm and acting as such. Through the centuries, mankind has proven itself incapable of behaving around the term "race". Our ancestors made an error in judgement when they began to believe that certain similar-looking groups are inferior to others. We are still fighting to overcome that error on a daily basis.

Using "race" while fighing racism is like telling yourself not to think about the pink elephant.

And because of that, I believe we should retire the term.