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  • Misunderstanding the ‘Race Debate’


    by Sunny
    14th July, 2008 at 5:49 am    

    I still don’t understand why The Observer keeps paying Andrew Anthony to write about race and religion - he’s so infuriatingly clueless. I destroyed his long, boring essay on how he was disillusioned by the liberal-left a while back, and yet he keeps coming back with examples that illustrate his ignorance.

    In this review of Kenan Malik’s interesting new book (I like KM), he says:

    Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for members of religious or cultural groups to be classified as races. It’s also perfectly routine to ascribe race to skin colour (except in cases of ‘mixed’ heritage, when a light skin is always referred to as ‘black’). And the standard position of anti-racists is to deny that race is important while simultaneously celebrating racial diversity. For anyone who finds themselves confused or bemused by the ‘race debate’, and perhaps even more so for those who know exactly where they stand, Strange Fruit, Kenan Malik’s excellent new book, is essential reading.

    Either Kenan Malik explains the reason for the above points in the book or he assumes anyone reading a book on such a topical issue must know them already. Either way, they’re pretty silly.

    1) There are legal reasons why certain religious groups (Jews and Sikhs) are defined as races. That doesn’t mean anyone can’t criticise their beliefs or put on controversial pieces of art.

    2) Its mostly right-wingers who are obsessed by colour re: mixed race people - see for example how Republicans still see Barack Obama as ‘black’ when he’s black and white equally.

    3) The assertion: “And the standard position of anti-racists is to deny that race is important while simultaneously celebrating racial diversity” annoys me the most because its just the kind of simpleton thinking Andrew Anthony is famous for.

    Anti-racists celebrate racial diversity as a means of highlighting the few areas where there is actual racial (and gender) diversity. Most industries are in fact dominated at the top by white middle-class males. Race is a social construct. Its relevant in the sense that it is sometimes important or sometimes irrelevant to a person’s identity.

    But its important when race is being used as a way to discriminate against people. Why else would you celebrate the few instances where meritocracy has taken hold except to say - “look, just because this company / org has hired a good number of women and ethnic minorities, it hasn’t gone under. See? Racial diversity isn’t so bad after all!


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    Filed in: British Identity,Culture,Race politics






    4 Comments below   |  

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    1. Bert Rustle — on 14th July, 2008 at 8:09 am  

      Sunny wrote … Race is a social construct. … This statement is contradicted by a statistical analysis of empirical data, for example as presented in Race: The Reality of Human Differences , by Vincent Sarich and Frank Miele. They cover much else besides in a style accessible to the educated layman.

      If one does not read the research, it would be helpful to read the articles by Nicholas Wade in The New York Times as he gives selective highlights of some of the research in a very readable fashion. Nicholas Wade also wrote Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors

    2. MaidMarian — on 14th July, 2008 at 9:03 am  

      Sunny -

      On your point 1, I suspect that the Anthony sentence, ‘Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for members of religious or cultural groups to be classified as races,’ may have been more meaningful if he had added the words, ‘in the common mind.’

      It may well be that race is a social construct, but in the common mindset questioning or, ‘offending,’ those constructs now runs the risk of attracting destructive charges of racism. It works both ways, think about the sensitivities currently surrounding, ‘white working class,’ a social construct if ever there was one!

      I accept that the race relations industry (for want of a better term) may be its own worst enemy on occasion and well meaning sentiment can become counterproductive.

      The legalistic definition offered here Sunny may well be true but I think that questions about the common mindset and how the sensitivities about racism, real, perceived or grey area, may have been what Anthony was getting at. He’s probably right.

      To say, ‘[race is] relevant in the sense that it is sometimes important or sometimes irrelevant to a person’s identity,’ is true, but the common mindset that has become associated with race issues is equally important and one should not dismiss it, whether one thinks it is right or wrong.

    3. MaidMarian — on 14th July, 2008 at 9:28 am  

      Apologies - over-editing! The penultimate paragraph should have read:

      The legalistic definition offered here Sunny may well be true but I think that questions about the common mindset AND COMMONLY FELT sensitivities about racism, real, perceived or grey area, may have been what Anthony was getting at. He’s probably right.

    4. Sunny — on 14th July, 2008 at 2:34 pm  

      Yeah but he’s only then reinforcing ignorant prejudices or misunderstandings rather than explaining them.

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