Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

So skin color...

In my Dr. Laura post, someone objected to my use of the terms "people with peach skin" and "people with brown skin," saying they were euphemisms, and that white people aren't the color of peaches. 
He has a point, that it's not like people wouldn't know what I was talking about if I used "black" and "white" instead of "brown" and "peach." He'd also have a point if he said that "brown" is far too general to be an effective substitute for "black"; not only do people of a great many other races have brown skin, but a lot of people we'd consider "white" have brown skin as well. Look at George Hamilton and this tiny "Snookie" creature that's all of a sudden famous for no reason.
Well, blame Guy P. Harrison. I'd always been taught, of course, that race is only skin deep, but Harrison's work, Race and Reality; What Everyone Should Know about our Biological Diversity brought home the fact that race isn't even that. He gives, for example, President Obama. We call Obama black or African American because one of his parents was African. This ignores the obvious fact that his mom was white - how, the author asks, does a woman give birth to a child who is a member of a completely different race? It also ignores a fact a little less obvious - Africa, the author tells us, is the most genetically diverse continent on earth. Since most people we consider African American are descendants of West Africans, and Obama's dad was East African, he's probably as closely related to most "black" people in America as his mother is. 
What's more, "African American" doesn't accurately describe all the people we consider "black." People we consider "black" might have Jamaican ancestry, Haitian ancestry, or may have ancestors from a million different places throughout the world. People we consider African American might have just as many European ancestors as I do. You might point out that black Jamaicans and Haitians are descended from Africans. The problem with that is that anthropologists tell us that humanity was born in Africa. That means we're all descended from Africans if you go back far enough.
The idealist would say, of course, that because there's really no such thing as "race," biologically speaking, we shouldn't call people black or white or African American or Caucasian - we should call everybody people. 
That'd be nice, and I hope we get there one day, but for now there are important reasons to recognize racial differences. Case in point, the Dr. Laura blog. We all know who Dr. Laura was talking about when she repeated the "N" word a dozen times. She wasn't talking about all people with brown skin, of course, and she wasn't talking just about people with recent African ancestors. As Dr. Laura said, she was talking about "black people." 
In conclusion, all I know is that I tend to use peach and brown instead of black and white, I prefer to use peach and brown, and I will probably continue using peach and brown. Maybe it's because peach and brown are a lot more closely related to each other than black and white. You know? Black and white are opposites. Peach and brown are just spots on the spectrum.

If you find Harrison's assertions about race implausible, I encourage you to read the book, in which Harrison does  a far better job defending his position than I would.

On a completely unrelated note, the cat is laying across the entirety of one arm and hand as I try to write this. It's hotter than hell in this apartment, and Puck thinks this is snuggle time.


Anonymous said...

Interesting George Hamilton trivia: He's Puerto Rican and started the over tanning thing in his early Hollywood days to hide his Hispanic heritage because he didn't want to be typecast. Possibly the only useful thing ever to come from Dancing With The Stars.

Anonymous said...

My dad makes it a point every now and then to say that he believes that there is only one race, the human race, and there's a huge variety within that race. I tend to agree. I don't know when Harrison said what he said, but it's nice to know that it's not an idea that is only held by a few.