Stirring the Mind into Thought

If you know me well enough, you would know how that I find categories, labels and generalizations of any kind irritating. I know it makes our lives a little simpler, but it also can prevent us from getting to know somebody, treating people on an individual basis, coming together as a people and letting some people be if they do not fit into a specific category. Although there are so many exceptions to the rules of these categories, labels and generalizations, we still judge someone if they do not fit into it or act accordingly. All of it creates greater confusion and greater divide. This is my first topic for this post and I will be covering racial categories and labels.

The first set of categories that I do not like are “races.” Does anybody actually know what “race” means anymore? First, it was based on physical differences, then they have added on cultural differences, now people are adding on personality differences. I get that we do look different, but those differences are just phenotypes from genes that are not even hugely significant and make up less than 1% of all of our genes. So, I see “races” as a way to divide humans on a physical or superficial basis and give meaning to something that should not have an overly important meaning. In addition to that, many of the terms for races are misnomers. In the past, a term for African-Americans was “colored,” which is funny because everybody in the world has color to their skin, even “white” people. Now, why do I put quotes around “white?” Well, “white” people are not really white; they range from peach-colored to pink to very light pink. I knew this from the time I was young when I used a peach crayon to draw “white” people not a white crayon. As for “black” people, we are not really black either, we are brown-skinned (sorry to all the people who call themselves brown). Even the darkest “black” person is brown, just dark brown like the color of my eyes or my hair, which from far away looks black. The same goes for other races, for example, using yellow to describe Asians, when in reality they are more beige-colored. Actually, our range of colors have a similar base to one another: brown, red, tan, beige, peach, pink, etc.

Furthermore, other racial terms, most often used in America, such as African-American, Caucasian-American, European-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American and Middle Eastern, are confusing too. What if you were born in African, you are not “black” and you come here, are you an African-American? No, the government would consider you of European descent. However, what if your family has not been in Europe for centuries? The same goes for if you are of another “race” born in another continent. Asian-American often is used as a term to describe someone who looks typical Asian, which probably means someone from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc. Still people forget that Indian and Middle Eastern people are Asian too. Also, the term Middle Eastern did not seem to matter to most people until after the events of 9/11 and the Iraq war (most people though they were white, or Indian). The Hispanic group is the strangest racial group, considering it is not a race, but an cultural/language group, closer to an ethnicity. Ever wanted to know what Caucasian meant? It actually came from the area “Caucasus,” a southeastern European region, including Georgia, Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and has now come to be incorrectly used for anybody who is “white” and of “European” descent, although it should be used for anybody who is has that skin color phenotype. Caucasian also is part of the earlier, generalized descriptions of race, which were Caucasian/Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Malayan/Oceanians, Ethiopian/Africanoid, and American (Blumenbach).

This leads me into my discussion of the term biracial. How often have you heard that a bi/multiracial kid feel out of place or that they do not fit into any racial group perfectly? As if someone whose immediate family is the same race is better than a biracial person. What I’ve notice is that barely anyone is completely, 100% one “race.” Almost everyone, especially in our world, has some mix of races (or a similar gene) within them. I always notice how one person who says they are not biracial can look identical to someone who is biracial, so it has to be in their lineage somewhere. From what I can tell, very few people, unless you live in a homogenous society, is pure anything.

Now, onto racial phrases that I personally cannot stand. Phrases like “afrocentric,” “ethnic,” “exotic,” “too black,” “acting white,” and “acting black” are said without any though about how ignorant it sounds. Terms like “afrocentric,” “ethnic,” and “exotic” always gives me a feeling of being the “other,” “an alien,” “strange,” “an exhibition,” or “animal/pet-like.” Why is it if I am wearing my hair naturally, or wearing and doing something that is related to the African culture that I lost, it is all of a sudden “afrocentric,” as if everything I am doing is related to African culture. Also, non-white races are often labeled as “exotic” or “ethnic.” The word “exotic” reminds me of the safari or jungle; it makes me think of wild animals. When someone says it, I want to say “I was born here in America; I am not from some far away land” or “I am not an animal!” “Exotic” also represents to me an over-sexualized image of a person and not seeing them as a regular human just like you. Next, “ethnic” makes me laugh because it is derived from ethnicity, but some people make it seem that “white” people are the default race and have no ethnicity at all, but they do! The other phrases reinforce the idea that some people think culture and physical appearance are the same. “Too Black” is often used by some black people to tell another black person that they are not hiding enough of their physical features or cultural traits of being “black.” But what does not makes sense to me is how am I any less or more “black,” no matter what I do, I am always going to have this skin color with my kinky hair, big nose, big lips and other features related to being “black,” unless I change it drastically. So, my reply will always be, “Well, I am Black! Why should I have to compromise who I am naturally in order to make someone else feel more comfortable?” Finally, “acting black” and “acting white” are ridiculous phrases because someone’s race or mainstream culture/ethnicity does not determine how they will be as an individual person. Yes, I speak proper English and I am educated, but that does not mean that I am “acting white.” Stop implying that a “black” person cannot be educated nor speak proper English. The same goes for anybody else that embodies a different culture than one that is usually expected to have because of their looks. No one said that any culture belongs to a specific racial group; sometimes people grow up in an environment or society that is different than the norm.

In the end, it would be hard to change any of this, especially when government continues to enforce race categories for census and as long as racism exist. But maybe one day, as time goes on, things will change and more people will open their eyes. It has happened before and it might happen again.

August 25th, 2009 at 9:03 PM and tagged , , , ,

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