03
Mar
15

What is race and why do politicians keep talking about it?

Original article found here.

aylmertwins

“There’s a set of biracial twins in the UK who are turning heads because one is black and the other is white.” That’s how the New York Post introduced a profile of Lucy and Maria Aylmer, 18-year-olds whose father identifies as white and whose mother is “half-Jamaican” (and, we’re to assume, thinks of herself as black).

It’s just the most recent story of fraternal twins born with such dramatic variations in complexion they’re seen by many — and even see themselves  — as members of two different racial groups.

Each of these situations and their accompanying striking images, is a reminder of how fluid and subjective the racial categories we’re all familiar with are.

What “black and white twins” can teach us about race: it’s not real

Lucy and Maria’s story, and all the other sensational tales in the ” Black and White Twins: born a minute apart” vein are actually just overblown reports on siblings who, because of normal genetic variations that show up in more striking ways in their cases, have different complexions.

But they’re fascinating because they highlight just how flimsy and open to interpretation the racial categories we use in the US and around the world are.

Even the Post’s description of the Aylmer twins is clumsy, asserting that they’re each “biracial,” but stating in the very same sentence that one is white and the other is black.

And the fact that the two, despite having the same parents,  see themselves as belonging to two different racial groups ( “I am white and Maria is black,” Lucy told the Post) proves that there’s a lot more than biology or heritage informing racial identity.

It’s a reminder that the racial categories we use are fickle, flexible, open to interpretation, and have just as many exceptions as they do rules when it comes to their criteria for membership— that’s why they have been described as “not real,” meaning:

  • They’re not based on facts that people can even begin to agree on. (If we can’t even get a consensus that people with the same parents are the same race, where does that leave us?)
  • They’re not permanent. (If Lucy decides one day, like many other people with similar backgrounds, that her Jamaican mother is black and therefore, so is she, who’s to stop her?)
  • They’re not scientific. (There’s no blood test or medical assessment that will provide a “white” result for Lucy and a “black” one for Maria.)
  • They’re not consistent (Other twins with the same respective looks and identical parentage as these twins, might both choose to call themselves black or biracial.)

For more on this, read 11 ways race isn’t real , and watch this short video.

“Not real” doesn’t mean not important

Of course, none of this changes the fact that the concept of race is hugely important in our lives, in the United States, in the UK where the twins live, and around the world.

There’s no question that the way people categorize Lucy and Maria, and the way they think of themselves, will affect their lives.

That’s because, even though race is highly subjective, racism and discrimination based on what people believe about race are very real. The racial categories to which we’re assigned, based on how we look to others or how we identify, can determine real-life experiences, inspire hate, drive political outcomes, and make the difference between life and death.

But it’s still  important to remember that these consequences are a result of human-created racial categories that are based on shaky reasoning and shady motivations. This makes the borders of the various groups impossible to pin down — as the “black and white” twins demonstrate — and renders modern debates about how particular people should identify futile.

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Quotes:

"We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth... For my part, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst; and to provide for it." - Patrick Henry

"Politicians and diapers both need to be changed, and for the same reason." - Anonymous

"Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it." - William Penn

"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country" - Hermann Goering

"I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do this I keep on doing." - Romans 7:18-19

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain

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