Labels

This started out as a comment to Adrian, but I it got so long it may as well be a post on its own….

The significance of racial labels is not in identifying the genetic makeup of individuals. The significance is in how the labels were used to enforce segregation long before the American Revolution. Before slaves in the United States were freed in 1865, defining who was Black was to identify who was eligible to be held in slavery and have ownership of property. There were grave concerns about mixing owners and slaves resulting in slaves gaining their freedom, especially once capturing them from Africa was no longer allowed. Defining race was about control then. Even in the more than one hundred years after the slaves were freed, defining who was Black was about control. Instead of who could be forced into slavery, the definitions of who is Black identified who could be excluded from power.  The fear was mixed people using the laws to somehow get access to power. Only since Affirmative Action has it become in any way beneficial for others to have less than pure European descent.

Adrian remarked many of us have ancestors which keep us from being purely from one or another group. Chatting with George and Lorenia yesterday, George pointed out even in Europe, southern Spain and Italy confounds the stereotype. Our increasing understanding of genetics and culture invalidates race as a useful means of describing individuals. Individuals have genetic markers linking them all over the globe. We are one species. My favorite example PBS show indicating the women described as Amazons moved to western Mongolia.

“The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.” – Baha’u’llah

2 thoughts on “Labels

  1. I guess I’m trying to figure out how the labels are used today. The labels of power and control have diminishing legal significance, fortunately. Could the intentions of the simplified labeling of Sen. Obama be negative? — hearkening back to the days when any African blood was cause for segregation — or an attempt to be positive? — a celebration that someone of African descent has been nominated as a presidential candidate.

    To me the significance of the labels is also about recognizing culture. Choosing a simplified label tends to elevate some aspects of one’s cultural heritage over other. This is so even though, of course, we well know that identifying culture with race is also oversimplified.

    But after looking back at our cultural heritage, can we also embrace and shape the new culture we are forging? That Baha’u’llah quote looks like the ideal that should be kept in mind as we reexamine our cultural places in the world. Yes, it is interesting to find all the genetic links across the globe despite all the differences among races that have been perceived. In fact, there are theories about how there may have been a bottleneck in the history of the human population that would have reduced differences.

  2. Outside of anti-racism movements, I don’t think people think much about the meaning of the labels. They unknowingly walk into mine fields of meaning.

    I think most people today intend a positive connotation when they apply African American to Sen. Obama. In order of preference, I’d like to be identified as multi-racial first, but I would accept African American as an alternative. Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Asian are not labels I’d accept.

    Caucasian is what I identify most with in terms of values. However, I would be confused if anyone attempted to label me as such.

    Someone asked me once, “What tribe?” I was impressed. Much better than, “Why do you look like that?”

    Many populations were much more mobile than people consider. For example, pockets of the Diaspora dot cities from Spain to India and still exist mixing with the groups around them.

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