Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Is Race Still A Relevant Category?

proposed wording of Census questions on race
Throughout our nation's history, the U.S. Census Bureau has used the discredited and inadequate “five races of mankind” as a basis for recording the race and ethnicity of its citizens: "White; Black; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander."

I 'm sure there must be some need--for purposes of comparison with other nations, or to note trends in our own history--to use such designations, but I still wish racial labels would become less and less important.

My August  blog entitled "Where Have All The Racists Gone?" had a link posted on Facebook which got an unusual number of comments, including on in which I suggested we might just avoid using racial designations altogether unless they have something directly to do with the scientific study of skin pigment or when we're referring to a sociological study involving some kind of useful research.

To which one friend responded, "Color blind doesn't work. It just glosses over biases. Better to be actively advocating for diversity and encourage people to learn about their own culture and appreciate that of others."

That sounds wise at one level, but I still wonder just how color conscious we should be, or how important it is to pay attention to dozens of kinds of other designations of things that distinguish us from each other. 

For example, should the Census Bureau also include categories like the following:

Swiss-German Caucasion (my "race")
Mixed Irish, African American, and native American (a nephew's "race")
Left handed versus right handed
Blond, brunette or red headed 
Kinky, wavy, straight and/or disappearing hair
Pink, tan, bronze or dark skin shade, with or without freckles
Tall, short, stocky, thin, obese
Eye color

Such a list could go on and on, leaving unanswered the question of what information about others' physical characteristics really have anything to do with anything.

Perhaps some day a simpler version of a census question on race might be the following:

___ Human
___ Inhuman

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