CAPC Oakland

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What is Racial Domination?

The first class in our Summer Series entitled “Talking Together about Race Matters” [LINK to Article PDF] Discussing the article “What is Racial Domination?” written by Matthew Desmond & Mustafa Emirbayer.

Breaking down the Article:

Race: a symbolic category based on phenotype (ways in which our observable characteristics result from the interaction of our genotype with the environment) or ancestry and constructed according to specific social and historical contexts, that is misrecognized as a natural category (one that has always existed). (336)

A symbolic category is (one that has been actively created and recreated by human beings rather than pregiven, needing only to be recognized,

Race is based on phenotype and ancestry:
Phenotype – ways in which our observable characteristics, such as our appearance and constitutions (skeletal structure, height, hair texture and skin tone) result from the interaction of our genotype with the environment.
Our ancestry can be mixed. I could have a Ghanaian mother and a Norwegian father. Which of those ancestries is more important in labeling me?
Someone can be labeled as black, because of their dark skin, or hair, even if their ancestry is not at all related to Africa.

Racial taxonomies are bound to their specific social and historical contexts. The racial categories we have in the USA may not exist in other parts of the world (337). These racial categories can be place-specific bound to certain geographic and social contexts. They can also be time-specific, changing between different historical eras.

The racial categories so familiar to us only began to calcify around the beginning of the 19th century: 200 years ago.

Racial domination survives by making us think that the mystic boundaries and divisions have always existed.

Slavery more than another other US institution has dictated the career of American racism. Even if we have changed greatly in the realm of race since the Civil Rights Movement the racial categories (Black, White) that emerged in America over the previous 300 years remained, for the most part, unchallenged (338).

We have naturalized these racial categories, because of our historical contexts we’ve wrongly conceived of them as natural and unchangeable.

The idea of race is not fixed, but changed depending on the social, economic, political, and cultural pressures of the days. Race is a fiction because it has no natural bearing, but it is nonetheless well founded since most people in society provide race with a real existence and divide the world through this lens. (339)

Ethnicity: refers to a shared lifestyle informed by cultural, historical, religious, and/or national affiliations.

Nationality: is equated with citizenship, membership in a specific politically delineated territory controlled by a government.

Race, ethnicity, and nationality are overlapping symbolic categories that influence how we see the world around us, how we view ourselves, and how we divide “us” from “them.” They are mutually reinforcing in so far as each category educates, upholds, and is informed by the others. This is why these three categories cannot be understood in isolation from one another. (339)

Race and ethnicity (as well as nationality) are both marked and made:

Marked – race is marked through racial taxonomy, (in America and globally), ways in which we seek to divide the world.

Made – through a multiplicity of different practice (gestures, sayings, tastes, ways of walking, religious convictions, opinions, etc.) (340)

The crucial point of this is that some individuals can slip and slide through multiple ethnic identities depending upon the degree to which those identities are stigmatized. For example White Americans have a high degree of fluidity and freedom when self-identifying: half-Italian, quarter-Polish, quarter-Swiss. Many people of color do not enjoy the same degree of choice.

One reason for this in the USA is the history of our nation’s immigrant policies and practices. Racial categories often are defined and changed by national lawmakers, as citizenship has been extended or retracted depending on one’s racial ascription.

5 Fallacies about Racism: (342-344)

  1. Individualistic Fallacy – Racism is individualistic. It’s only the collection of nasty thoughts that a “racist individual” has about another group. But this is idea fails to account for the racism that is woven into the very fabric of our schools, political institutions, labor markets, and neighborhoods. It conflates racism with prejudice. It’s like the ambiguity in saying “He’s a racist. But I am not.”
  2. Legalistic fallacy. The belief that abolishing racist laws (that’s to say racism in principle) will automatically lead to the abolition of racism. It makes no sense. For example it’s illegal to steal cars. Yet they’re stolen every day.
  3. Tokenistic Fallacy – The assumption that the presence of people of color in influential positions is evidence of the eradication of racial obstacles. We have had a black president, so there’s no way we can still be a racist nation.
  4. Ahistorical Fallacy – This is the idea that the period of time in the past when we didn’t extend basic rights to people of color (let alone classify them as fully human – only 3/5ths) is inconsequential today. It’s so long ago that there’s no way it shapes how we think and live today. Today’s society is directed, constructed, and molded – indeed grafted onto – the past.
  5. Fixed Fallacy – The assumption that racism is fixed, immutable, constant across time and space. If racism doesn’t develop, then we ask has racism increased or decreased in the past…. Years? This can led us to a false sense of improvement when in fact American racism, assumes different forms in different historical moments. We can’t say that there is little or no racism today because racism today doesn’t look like it did in the 1950s. We don’t have colored and white restrooms and drinking fountains, so there must be less racism.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  1. What does it mean to say that race is a construct (that it’s a fiction, not real)?
  2. What’s the difference between race and ethnicity and nationality?
  3. How have you learned about the idea of race in your life?
  4. How does this article challenge your assumptions and understandings?
  5. How does the Bible talk about race and ethnicity and nationality?
  6. What will you take away with you from this reading and discussion?

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This entry was posted on July 6, 2020 by in Race Matters.
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