A Brief History of Race and the Presence of White Silence
Today I'm sharing two excellent TED talks about race, its invention, and how white folk are frequently complicit in its continuation by being silent towards it.
Firstly, I direct you all to this amazing talk by journalist John Biewen. It's a very personal account of how he became aware of whiteness as a problem. Essentially, he says racism survives because of the so-called "good" white people. This has been written about a lot in anti-racism books and will be a subject we explore a lot in more detail over the coming days and weeks but I think this video is a great introduction to anyone who seems to think that they are somehow immune to criticism. Interestingly, in his research he seems to find a person who, arguably, could be referred to as the inventor of race as a construct Gomes de Zurara. It really is an eye-opening talk. He also hosts his own podcast, Scene on Radio which explores race, sexism and the patriarchy.
Secondly, I provide the link to another TED talk. This talk is by Dexter Dias QC, who is an award-winning human rights lawyer for 30 years, a researcher at Harvard, and an author. He states that race is a myth, an illusion, a social construct, that we share 99.9% with other humans and that race is really just a system that protects power and privilege. This is such a powerful and compelling point. We share 99.9% of our genetic DNA with any other human, regardless of skin colour or country of original. This surely throws any biological argument of race superiority out of the window.
He goes on to talk about systemic racism; something we will no doubt talk a lot about in this blog. He encourages white people to consider the thought experiment: Would you want your son /daughter to marry an asylum seeker or a practising Muslim from the middle east, for instance? If you're honest with yourself, you know that their life prospects are to be affected by this union and that they will have to suffer lots of judgements. Now you're connected with the truth that systemic racism exists. He adds, if you consider yourself not-racist, then you must actively be anti-racist. Otherwise this silence just perpetuates denial.
As both of these presentations talk about race as a social construct, I would also like to highlight this particular Harvard article. With a more scientific look at race it talks about the
"New findings in genetics that tear down old ideas about race" and concludes:
Thus, there is no evidence that the groups we commonly call “races” have distinct, unifying genetic identities. In fact, there is ample variation within races.
I could talk about all of the above sources in much more detail but I wouldn't be able to do any of them justice so I thoroughly recommend that you check them out for yourselves. I hope they at least provide an introduction into race as a construct. I will, however, just refer to one more piece of literature that seems relevant.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari is a fantastic book, as are the other two in his series. Although this book isn't exclusively about race, it gives a more holistic view of human history and existence, and provides fascinating insight and context, which also goes some way to highlighting how manufactured race is.
Feel free to leave any comments, share, criticise, whatever. The conversation about race as a social construct needs to happen.