I just looked up my Canadian Oxford Dictionary. I invite you to check your favorite dictionary. In a pinch, ask one of your friends or colleagues.
Race(2): (1) Each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics. (5) A group of persons, animals or plants connected by common descent.
Racism: (1) A belief in the superiority of a particular race (2) Prejudice based on this (belief in the superiority of a particular race) (3) Antagonism towards other races, especially as a result of this prejudice.
As far as all this goes, I should be allowed to speak of a race – of people – where I can show that I am isolating a division of humankind based on physical characteristics.
For the race of “white” (actually a pinkish-orange) people, we commonly speak of the race of “black” people, or the “brown” people. That is, we use skin colour to isolate humankind into races.
There is no reason why we should not define a race by the shape of the eyes, or the number of fingers on a hand or toes on a foot. Or by the hair colour. All of those are distinct physical characteristics. In particular they are visually distinct physical characteristics, and the eye-visual part of the brain is the most powerful data gathering sense we have.
It seems to me that it ought to be politically acceptable therefore to speak of “the white race” or the “six-fingered race”, providing that I do so as a means of treating all the people as equal members of human kind. After all, you are really the same sort of person as I am, except that you have blue eyes whereas I have green eyes. I belong to the green-eyed race and you belong to the blue-eyed race.
Note too “connected by common descent”. All members of the human species (eight billion and counting) have a common female ancestor, and all members of the human species (eight billion and counting) have a common male ancestor. So you and I can be said to be members of the Human Race. Hello my racial brother! Hello my racial sister!
All members of the human species share a common female ancestor, and a common male ancestor, with all members of the chimpanzee race. And we all share a common ancestor with all members of the gorilla race, the orangutan race and so on. Hello all by brothers and sisters of the primate race.
Hello all my relatives of the mammalian race – every one of our mothers and fathers had mammary glands, and in the female race - there we go – the mammary glands would lactate after the womb-man gave birth. Thank heavens for members of the female race.
All members of the animal race share a common ancestor that is essentially a plant-with-a-brain, or a plant-with-locomotive-abilities.
Because plants are not locomotive they do not need a brain, so they cannot consult a dictionary, but if they could type they could salute members of the plant race, for the plant race could be said to be that group of living things with a distinct physical characteristic, to wit, they don’t have a brain. (I suppose I should have said “to no wt”).
Using the term “race” is therefore not a bad thing. Using the term “race” badly however might be a bad thing to do.
Which brings us to racism.
Speaking as a member of the black-skinned race of humankind, is it a bad thing if I think and act according to a belief that the race of white-skinned members of humankind are superior to me?
Speaking as a member of the white-skinned race of humankind, is it a bad thing if I think and act according to a belief that the race of black-skinned members of humankind are superior to me?
Speaking as a man, is it a bad thing if I believe and write that I think woman are, in general, superior to men? Is it a bad thing for me, a male, to believe in the superiority of females? If you are male, you might want to pose this question to a female friend.
Note that as a male, I am elevating females. For what it is worth, I much prefer the company of females. Given the choice of spending an hour with a woman rather than an hour with a man, I’d opt for the woman every time. I find that women make much better company, for me, than men. I think of the race of women as superior to the race of males, in terms of enjoyment.
Does that make me guilty of racism? Or is racism only belief in the superiority of my particular race, rather than belief in the superiority of a particular race?
More to the point, should we drop altogether the use of the term “race”, and hence the use of the term “racism”? Have these two words any place in today’s dialogues or monologues?
“Race” and “Racism” can be thought of as the fading echoes of my (English Colonial) ancestors belief that the white man and his missionaries and industrial know-how made the English superior to
If today we can believe that a five-foot trim woman with a cute ponytail is as capable of driving a power-steering assisted dump-truck as the beer-bellied male, if today we believe that a calm and loving male is well-equipped to nurture the hopes and dreams of a baby, then do we have any use at all for the terminology of “race” and “racism”?
If we have no use at all for the terminology of “race” and “racism”, then surely we have no use at all for the rules and regulations that depend on distinctions between major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics.