Why it has always been a problem, and how it impacts Modern American society today
Before I begin talking about my perceptions of race, I would like to first give my deepest condolences to George Floyd’s family and relatives, as well as others who have tragically lost a part of them through brutal, unjust, inhumane, and unnecessary torture. I cannot imagine what you all must be going through, but I want to better understand why things like this are happening almost every day, and I’d like to make sense of it all by sharing some insight into how I’ve perceived this. Still, I don’t want to sound unsympathetic or not caring by suggesting or implying that we should ignore the pain and struggle B/black people go through every day, but I think the best thing to be done is simply speak out and hold those accountable. I also don’t want to sound satirical by any means. And if you’re like me and want to learn how everything works, and if you also believe that science says, there’s no such thing as race, don’t let that fool you. As much as we’d love to hold that positive attitude, we still must support those in the Black community until one day comes that we would all eventually get along. I don’t know when that will be, though, or if that’ll ever happen. We must also approach this intersectionally, meaning that we should look at Black people in various communities, such as those with disabilities, different genders, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. Here’s a bit of information on police interaction with Black individuals with disabilities. Some people are referring to this group as the Black, indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC), community as a whole. Ultimately, we need to look at the whole picture and do our own part by not letting the media skew bias into what they’re telling us.
Where to Start
Before I can talk about systemic racism, I think it would be helpful to understand, from a scientific perspective, what race is, why it exists, and how it came to be an important aspect in almost every part of the world. I will be making analogous comparisons to a few books I have read, so there may be spoilers present, though I’ll do my best not to give anything away. If there is such a situation, they may be hidden from view. I will also provide in-line linked text so you can read more about that particular topic. Having said that… I will do my best to explain how it is that we, as humans, have evolved into what we are today.
We’ve only been around for about a hundred thousand years, and anthropologists believe that we all migrated from Africa to other parts of the world. According to this article, white supremacists held the belief that being white was a superiority that simply evolved from African descent. For this reason, people in the scientific community prefer to use the term ancestry or lineage. In 2003, for example, scientists completed the Human Genome Project, which is how you’re now able to get a home test kit and let the labs do the heavy lifting for you. Still, it’s not as accurate as standard genealogical sleuthing – combing through historical documents, reading books, talking to older relatives, and remembering oral stories passed down, which will tell you a whole lot more, especially from a cultural and heritage standpoint.
But how is it that we got here? Why is it that people from different ancestral backgrounds look different from others biologically, and are there any kinds of cultural identity surrounding that?
What is Race, anyway?
While completing the usual demographic form that you’ll most likely find when filling out an application or survey, I found one back in early 2019 that had a clear description of how these folx were considered by the United States Census Bureau, and you can find that list here.
- African American or Black refers to people having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa and who migrated to the Americas or were born there.
- American Indian or Alaskan Native refer to people having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment.
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander refers to people having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
- Asian refers to people having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent (e.g. Asian Indian).
- White refers to people having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.
- More than one race includes individuals who identify with two or more racial designations.
But why is Hispanic the only ethnicity?
Hispanic is an ethnic category for people whose origins are in the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America or who identify with a Spanish-speaking culture. Individuals who are Hispanic may be of any race.
Okay, so we have a better understanding of who is considered what. I also wonder what became of the Atlantic Islanders. But when you first look at someone, what things tell you that this person belongs to this particular ancestry? For example, those from Asian descent tend to have a flatter nose, and those of African descent tend to have a broader nose compared to those of European descent. East Asians typically have less eyelid than a white or black person, A black person might have a larger lip, and hair texture can differ among these groups.
But why are these differences prevalent? What happened to actually cause these noticeable differences? Can they overlap?
I used to read quite a bit of classic literature from the public domain, and one of them talked about the theory of human evolution. This came after a discussion was held about how we used selective breeding to produce offspring with desirable characteristics in several areas. Still, humans didn’t need to use science to understand what they were doing. It’s therefore not a surprise to learn that incest is not so quite taboo in nature. Still, research has shown that the more this happens, the less diverse the gene pool will be, increasing the chances for many diseases and abnormalities to occur. But this is probably why some humans wanted to produce purebred animals, to increase their economic value and rarity. Some of this attitude later got engrained in the National Socialist German Workers party, i.e. Nazi party in what was coined eugenics. The idea was for people to only mate with other people with a similar likeness to them. For example, I’ve read several satirical posts about how scientists were breeding empathic humans, or how they only wanted smart people to mate with other smart people and thus reduce the number of stupid children.
But what other things besides eugenics and selective breeding, or artificial selection, determines how we look? Most of you will be familiar with Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species book that he wrote in 1859. He explored the theory of how natural selection works among different characteristics, such as gender, sex, race, ethnicity, etc., mostly in other animals besides humans, though he applied many of the same concepts to us, as well. Natural selection is also believed to be the reason why most humans have developed an innate ability to refrain from engaging in any incestuous activity, according to the article linked above. Females have been known to look for the best fitting mates, while males solely focused on planting the seed. Still, some cultures recognised arranged marriages and marrying distant cousins.
Wild versus Domestic
How do we know whether the animals, plants, etc. are wild or domestic? Can anything be domesticated by humans? Can animals domesticate themselves? Are there natural breeds?
NOT ALL living things can be domesticated, though. This is because of several factors involving economic investments, reproduction cycles (usually based on seasons, though this can be artificially manipulated), and probably a few other things. Some animals born in captivity learn to be tamed, but they are still genetically wild. People have also used captive breeding to remove endangered species off the list, although I personally believe that people need to have a valid reason for doing so, as I think there needs to be a balance, as George Carlin once said in his speech. For example, we need honeybees to continue eating honey. If they disappeared, would we be able to find other means of making it?
It is amazing how our ancestors figured out a way to do this, especially considering that they had no knowledge of science such as genetics and biology. They simply captured them, gave them plenty of food, and did not let them go. It took a very, very long time. And yes, you can undomesticate an animal, too. Just let it run around loose, and natural selection will commandeer once more. They are called feral animals. Because this happened over thirty-five thousand years ago, there exists very little information on the exact domestication process. People have tried to replicate it using foxes, raccoons, possums, and other things, though. It makes me believe that humans are the only species to have direct influence over other species. I do not know of any other species that have tried to breed us, or anything like that, except our own. Domestication falls into three main categories:
- farm food, and
- working or draft animals, like beasts of burden.
Many domesticated animals live in herds, have plant-based diets, reproduce and mature quickly, and adapt easily. And, most importantly, they are not feared by humans. Another aspect of breeding is establishing a pedigree or well-known ancestral lineage that a family tree can be created. These animals are called purebreds and often have a lot of economic value because of their rarity. But this also comes with other problems. They are more prone to getting recessive genes because their parents have the same genetic makeup. So, they might end up having health issues that may prevent them from living a healthy life. Thanks to modern science, though, it is possible to have healthier purebreds, but there’s nothing like having a healthy mixed breed, even if they have no economic value. Hunting for ivory has been banned because people often did it for selfish reasons that often led the species very close to extinction.
I will tell you what accounts for all this. One example comes from Tom Swift in Captivity, by Victor Appleton, in which he talks about finding giants.
These folks originally belonged to a race of people noted for their great size. Then they must have lived under favourable conditions, had plenty of flesh and bone-forming food, and after several generations they gradually grew larger. You know that by feeding the right kind of food to animals you can make them bigger, while if they get the wrong kind they are runts, or dwarfs.
So, now we’re a little closer to understanding what goes into the making of these traits. Some of them can also result from a mutation that turned out to be more favourable than those without the mutation, so the ones without it simply died out, while the ones with it continued to survive. Others learnt to adapt using genetic predisposition, and they eventually allowed their offspring to be loaded with the necessary genetic instructions to live in that environment. Check out this article to learn more about advantageous mutations. One example of this is how we lost our tails. Long ago, there was a mutation that resulted in having a shorter tail, so those with the longer ones kept being eaten by predators because they couldn’t hide as easily. Those with the shorter tails continued to survive, so having a shorter tail became the new norm until the next mutation for having no tail came along.
Migration (emigration and immigration)
We are not quite certain exactly where humans originated, but research conducted by anthropologists suggests that our species originated in Africa. This makes sense, because Africa is known for having the best conditions for many animals to thrive and live prosperously. Eventually, though, some of them found ways to relocate once they could find a means of getting across large bodies of water, such as by swimming, flying, or building something that would carry them afar. Some of these locations required them to biologically adjust to the new environment, such as getting used to colder weather or having less access to food. This may have resulted in their offspring in developing a shorter stature and having a paler complexion, or they may have grown more hair to allow them to retain more warmth. As their parents died out, their offspring were able to start new populations of their own, and they eventually developed their own traditions, customs, rituals, and a common language. Some of these groups were very exclusive and did not allow newcomers to join them unless they could demonstrate that they were worthy of it. Theoretically, it is possible that if you took a hundred people who knew nothing of language, and in a few generations, they would be able to establish a unique method of communication.
Also, if the Europeans had the technology to explore the new world in which Ntive Americans had been living for long periods of time, including the Vikings, then why didn’t they explore outside their continent and discover Europe first? What would’ve happened if Christopher Columbus never found America? That would mean that in order for people to be inhabiting North America, the original people would’ve had to find means of crossing the ocean to get there.
A few other things to note: one of the first things we see is someone’s skin colour or complexion. We know that sun exposure, or lack thereof, can contribute to the amount of melanin being produced. Since Africa is almost always abundant with sunlight, most of its inhabitants were likely to have darker skin complexions than those who were in Europe. But remember that skin colour isn’t everything. There can be black albinos, too. So, remember how food can contribute to our development? Well, almost each culture has its own diet and cuisine. Many people who were used to hunting and gathering primarily ate meat from animals they have killed, either raw or cooked, while those who didn’t simply ate more plant-based foods. We are omnivorous, after all.
So, if all of humanity originated in Africa, then why does racism exist? Humans, unlike other animals, are a group species. We like to make cliques and form bonds with those we have in common with, and yet we also have a need to defend our territory against certain people with different characteristics, even if we are of the same species. Animals often use visual, auditory, or olfactory signals to mark their space, while others simply threaten them with aggression. We, as humans, build fences and walls to not only border our territory, but also to protect us from the elements. To learn more about territoriality, check out this blog post.
There’s no doubt that humans are primarily selfish. We have learned to look down upon those who are different from us by dehumanising them… i.e. using the pronouns it, its, and itself. We treat them as objects and own them as personal properties, making them do the dirty work for us without getting anything in return. In one example, when Louis Sachar talks about monsters in There’s a Boy in the Girls Bathroom, he says that a monster is simply a creation of one who believes that they are evil, but it almost has nothing to do with how they look, since the way a hideous-looking creature could actually be a favourable asset within that species, and we are just not used to seeing that. So, it’s easy to disregard them as being less human if we think of them as being ugly. If you don’t have any emotional involvement with them, then it won’t hurt if you have to kill them.
One general attitude that many people of European descent had was that they felt like black people, especially black men, have ruled the world for centuries, so when white people evolved, they quickly took over and set things up for themselves. The problem is that many of them want to keep it that way, rather than share the power, like any other human would. So, in some cases, I think they are being hypocritical.
But here’s another question. If all of humanity came from Africa, then how many generations would’ve had to pass in order for you to be considered native or aboriginal of a particular region? All I can say is that I am a native of Earth. But it just means that your species originated there, after hundreds of years. It is possible that your parents may have been of a different race, so some people are now using the term white-passing to indicate those who may be multi-racial but may have a skin colour that would resemble that of a white person.
So, if I follow the logic that I have two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, and so on, and a generation is twenty-five years, and after thirty-seven generations, or nine hundred twenty-five years, I would have a family tree with over a hundred thirty billion people. How is that possible? The answer is a really complicated one, but feel free to check it out on Quora.
Now that we have a better understanding of the science behind all this, I wonder how all of that got engrained into our system, and the things that led up to and ended slavery.
We know that the United |States of America was founded by slave owners, who were rich, white, and male. They had a means of conquering Britain and winning the war. They also decided that they would fix the electoral college to make it so that only the rich and powerful would have direct influence over an election, while those in lower positions, or who were black, female, etc., were oppressed.
At the time, our country was just made up of thirteen states that were originally colonized. But then we started buying and stealing lands to add to our territory to expand westward and southward. Some of these territories came from Mexico, while others came from France, and others were stolen from Native American tribes. Some of those people were subject to slavery, and black people weren’t the only ones. Before the industrial revolution, many children were forced to work long hours without being given breaks. Then child labour laws were introduced.
The Civil War began when the South, which was already made up of purchased and stolen property, wanted more people to work, but they didn’t want to pay them to do it. This meant saving more money, paying more on taxes, and buying more slaves and more land. This kept on going while the north continued to refuse them the right to secede from the United States, and the war was on. For the next four years, both sides tried to outdo one another, but fortunately for us, the Union, we won, thanks to help from President Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address.
Congress decided to exclude all the losing states from the amendment ratifying process, which made slavery illegal. A lot of people in the south were very unhappy about that, and many of them held grudges that went beyond belief. It is perhaps why they are seen as more traditional and conservative compared to more liberal and progressive states.
Some people just didn’t want to give up and let go of the fact that we were all equal, so they enacted some Jim Crow laws, which allowed states to racially segregate people simply based on how they looked. It was around that time that the Black National Anthem was written… Lift Every Voice and Sing. People have tried to justify racial segregation in many different ways, while others found it completely illogical, especially kids. Judy Blume once talked about it in Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. You might have also noticed that the segregation laws were being enforced more in the southern states than in the northern ones.
Then, around the 1950s and 1960s, people started to rebel. One of these was the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Another was made up of the Little Rock Nine. Protests continued to rise until Martin Luther King JR. delivered his I have a Dream speech in August of 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial, just two years before the actual one hundredth anniversary of winning the civil war. Then the Supreme Court released an opinion, which said that any law in the U.S. that established racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional, even if said segregated schools were equal in quality. What was interesting was that the Supreme Court had initially ruled in favour of segregation almost a hundred years before, saying that they were separate, but equal. I believe this was mainly due in part to the financial risk and liabilities black people would impose on property owned by white people, since they were generally impoverished and were not able to get work except doing odd jobs and menial labour.
Ultimately, the Civil Rights Act was passed and signed into law in 1964, but desegregation was slow. But now, nearly forty-five years later, we are still seeing effects of racial injustice and police brutality. But why?
One of the things I plan to talk about in a future post is the emergence of recreational drugs, and which groups gained reputation for doing so, as well as talking about how some states are legalising the use of Marijuana, or decriminalising hard drugs like Meth. Sufficient to say here that because of how extremely marginalised black people are in getting jobs, many of them were seen as getting work under the table or off the books, i.e. doing illegal jobs, and drug dealing is one of them. So, the general consensus is that if you see one black person doing it, then you assume that ALL black people do it, too. That is not the case, and that should never be the case. Another stereotype about black people that has risen is that they are always short-tempered, always wanting to pick fights, and that they are always aggressive. But couldn’t we say the same thing about white people? While the question of whether these personality traits are associated with race is up for debate, I do know that genetics and environmental factors can wire us in different ways. So, in the end, any human can possess these traits, no matter what race they are.
A few more things to point out
In the Harry Potter books, very similar things happen, as the series closely mirrors a society complete with social, political, legal, economic, educational, genealogical, sports, and transportation-related issues. One of the things I found fascinating was how people sometimes lied about their heritage to gain better status, build their reputation, etc. What was also interesting was how the energy to do magic could be mutated i.e. a witchard who is Muggle-born, or it could be inherited by someone who already has it. If one parent has the gene, but the other doesn’t, that person is said to be half-blooded. If both parents have the gene, and their parent before that had the gene as well, with no trace as to where it had started, then that person would be considered pure-blooded.
A derogatory term that was used to target Muggle-born people was mudblood, which, translated into other languages, means dirty or filthy blood. It meant that the person with the magic was an imposter to the magical world because none of their parents or relatives could do magic, so those who came from magical families felt superior to them.
On the other end, someone who came from a half-blood or pure-blood family, but who never got the gene to do magic, was called a Squib, so they would also be ridiculed for not being able to compete with them.
And finally, the role house elves played in the series mirrored that to how slaves were often treated. Some common linguistic patterns included talking to oneself in the third person, addressing the person with an honourable title at the end of almost every sentence, and of course, speaking in broken English. In the Spanish translation, the elves seem to speak grammatically correct. I’ve also seen these dialects printed in older books such as those written by Horatio Alger JR. and Victor Appleton.
So, What’s Next?
I hope now that we have a better understanding of how racism has evolved in this country, and more importantly, how we can fight back against it and support each other when disaster strikes. Because, no matter what race, ethnicity, or nationality you are, you are still human, still susceptible to the same virus that is causing this pandemic, but you are still capable of having the same emotions as everyone else.
Let us make sure George Floyd’s death was not in vain!
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