Friday, June 12, 2009

Depués de Raza

Awhile ago, AZWiner wrote an upbeat post criticizing the pervasive claim that America has progressed past race as a concept. He disagreed with the assertion that after the Obama administration had been elected to office America officially became "post-race." Of course, he's correct - the suggestion that hundreds of years of othering and oppression imposed by the erroneous concept of "race" has suddenly been resolved simply because America has voted in our first African-American president is absurd.

In fact, it's practically insulting, certainly infuriating - even if you hail from not-necessarily-pasty, white, middleclass-dom (as this Gentleman admits he does, not that there's anything wrong with that). Was Obama's indoctrination a big moment? Absolutely and without a doubt - whether you supported him through the election or not (I didn't - deal with it, hipster fan base). Was it THE big moment? Not just yet, Gentle Readers. Although, I must say that I have no actual clue what the representative moment will be. But, I think I've decided we'll be getting close when society stops using the phrases "latino" or "hispanic" to apply to all representative persons with origins below the Mexico/Texas border (and surrounding areas).

There isn't, nor has there ever been, a latino race. What the term covers instead is a group of people from over 20 countries with different cultures, histories, and anthropological backgrounds. Even in the harsh, cold, badlands we call science there probably exists far more genetic variation than one could traditionally expect between most races - latinos included. This, of course, is probably thanks to a concept we call "traveling." You may have heard of it - it's the notion where someone or something moves from point A to point B for a given distance, regardless of motive or cause. Except, here someone moves from point A to point B, looks along the way and says, "Well, hello gorgeous. Fine weather we're having, isn't it? What do you people do for fun around here?" Then, after a mandatory waiting period, they discover the one thing human beings have been doing for fun since before we could stand upright, an act with consequences momentarily forgotten (or not, in many circumstances), which leads to the discussed "racial blurriness." Had fellow Gentleman Matt Lindeboom ignored his tarot reading, thereby dating and impregnating a Thai woman during his travels, we would have a living example in the flesh, so to speak.

What's perhaps more important than genetic identifiers is our penchant for making race a cultural determinant. We build assumptions about backgrounds and upbringing based on external characteristics out of a need to differentiate the "other" and to have some form of "racial consistency." We create an "us-them" dynamic and then we like to think our assumptions about "those" people are correct. The best representative example that I can think of, at this point, is the claim that rap/hip-hop music is indicative of black culture or that rock is white. Or that all latinos are catholic and speak Spanish at home. The media and Hollywood build on these stereotypes and steadily reinforce them through television, movies, and music. Think about all the spanish-speaking persons you see in film. How are they portrayed?

What's more interesting is that not only do we want consistency, but we seem to only allow people to have a single cultural identifier - particularly if that identifier isn't white or, at the very least, is just less typical. When discussing your cultural background, you could rattle off a slew of ethnicities, but people are going to remember the exotic one and assume that the most prevalent. It probably has its roots in the "one drop" rule - a rule of thumb dictating that if you're only part white, you're generally considered that other part - particularly if you look the part, however slight. And from there, we build associations and reaffirm our own expectations. We apply these expectations to culture, thereby increasing "otherness" and creating this concept we've called "race" for the past however many years.

With that said, there's nothing wrong with personally identifying with a particular culture or keeping in contact with your roots - far from it, in fact. If America is to be the big melting pot it is supposed to be, an element of that is not just necessary, but preferred. Diversity and unity can be celebrated simultaneously - mutual understanding between all peoples can't occur otherwise.

I suppose what I talked about here could have just as easily applied to most other "races." Do you agree? As always, Gentle Readers, post your questions, comments, and concerns below.


Dennis said...

We won't be post race until our society stops putting emphasis on race. If we were post race, Obama being elected wouldn't be a big deal. We are making steps in the right direction, but our society won't be completely post race in any of our lifetimes. Another sign of a post race world would be the elimination of discrimination as a means of reconciliation for past discrimination (Affirmitive Action/diversity incentives). Once again, not happening in our lifetime. So, I agree with your (and Adams) approach to the "post-race" concept.

I wish I could be a part of this post-race world though, as mixed race people are definitely the most attractive. HOO-AH!

B.Graham said...

And the most frustrating part for me is this: race is made up. Just, totally, 100% invention, to describe "otherness" and somehow explain how the people who made it up are superior to the people who they need to be superior to, to make themselves feel good.

Culture is real, and interesting, and awesome, especially when mixed and reborn. But race is just a whole lotta nothing that for some reason we still cling to, in our ever shrinking, ever mixing world.

David Pratt said...

I'm not giving up racist jokes.

They're just too funny.