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February 25, 2005

Racial Identity vs Racial Consciousness

(from the boohabian archives)

June 1996
Boohabian Provocation:
disempersoned ideas! humbug!

someone asked about the observations of those to whom race is a non-issue.

on this question, i make the general assertion that in a racist society, colorblindness is the moral equivalent of racism. if a judge declares integration the rule of law and all the white kids leave the city school, it is immoral to say 'all i see are children going to private school'. but even in situations which are not so drastic, the specificity of racial consciousness must be considered.

one's own individual experience does not take place in a vacuum. to 'objectify' one's experience is to deny individuality. to disembody experience is to dehumanize. if i say 'i am x and i feel this way', to create a forum in which x cannot be discussed is to take away a part of an individual's weight. it also cheats from the observers point of view. if an observer only hears 'i feel this way' and has no experience with an individual who claims to be 'x', the observer can deny the fact that being 'x' can lead to that feeling.

fill in the blanks. i pursued a phD in engineering because when i was 15 and black in highschool, my white counselor told me that black folks can't do engineering. so every time i hear 'black folks can't do engineering' i know that somewhere people who don't want to hear about blackness are denying black individuals who are enigneers to say 'im black and im proud and that's why i am an engineer'.

sure you can say that race is a non issue regarding what an engineer does, but in effect you are using the passive voice. it's like saying 'the hoover dam got built' without a whit spoken about *who* built it or why. 'the civil rights bill passed', 'the revolutionary war was fought', 'some churches burned', 'shit happens'...

hmph again i say.

how is it that when we shed race and gender we become pure? what a farce! this experiment of pure revelation has already been done. it's a failure in general and has grave consequences for civil society.

you can take note of my black identity in cmc page and take special note of heidegger's observation in the 'it could happen' section.


I find it interesting that you can make the argument that one's racial consciousness is somehow intrinsic to one's identity, while this Jamaican fellow i know (and an awful lot of Indian people, African people, and Muslims i've met) of the same "race" laughs at your suggestions. Seems to me that there are an awful lot of people in the world (even with the same color of skin as you) who consider "race" to be nothing more than an exotic quality. For them, "race" is primarily an aesthetic issue -- except when they hafta deal with racists.

I find your idea that "racial identity" is somehow intrinsic to one's character insulting. Furthermore, it is "racist" (in the sense that "racist" simply means "one who believes in/supports the ideology of 'race'). I am not a racist, and i think those who are are silly, dangerous people. I have a father who is French/Amerindian, and a mother who's English/Scottish. What am i?

Who are you to tell me?

Noone has ever suggested that with the shedding of race and gender one becomes "pure." The suggestion has been made, however, that perhaps the idea of eliminating the names from these posts would be an interesting experiment. I agree. Not because it would negate anyone's sex/gender -- all would still be free to say, "i am a black american, and my experience here is...." Rather, it would eliminate the ego that goes with seeing one's name in print, while making distinctions between who is saying what unclear. Thus a conversation could be carried by four different entries, four different people, but still give the illusion of a "dialogue." It would be an attempt to see a sequential process of thought be supported through vastly separated, different minds.

I totally agree with your second paragraph. It has, however, no bearing on this conversation. The only way i know that you're a "black" man is because you say so. And noone has ever suggested that we take that power away from you.

Boohabian Followup Answer & Snark:
well, i am not saying what i think you are saying that i'm saying. but let me say it in another more basic way.

first of all, if you read any of my background material, you would see clearly that i beleive there is no essential character to any racial identity - that racial identity is a social construct. i have a racial identity because there are laws and social customs in this country which said i must. into that identity are poured any number of ideas which are mine to accept or reject. i am conscious of that racial identity and in order not to be subsumed by any negative or positive idea associated with that racial identity, i must make individual choices. my racial consciousness means i know that i am african-american as society and law dictate. my individuality has to do with what i do about that, in the face of those societal and legal definitions.

as a white american, you must do the same thing. as an asian american you must do the same thing. americans have racial identities, period. americans have racial identities whether or not those identities are positive, whether or not they are accepted as face value, whether or not they are scientifically proveable, and whether or not they believe it. that is nothing more or less than a description of the racialist nature of american society. race exists.

most adults are conscious of their racial identity. just as they are conscious of their gender identity. but i'll leave all analogies there, because i am speaking specifically about race.

now, you claim that i imply that racial identity is intrinsic to one's identity. if i do imply that, it is only to the extent that racial identity is a given to be dealt with and as a result one's individuality can be discerned. what i am not saying is that one *is* of necessity what one's racial identity connotes. a person who takes a look at his skin and seeks to fulfill a role presented in strictly racial terms, is making an individual choice to be that thing. a weak choice, but an important choice nonetheless. but hear me out. nobody has *no* choice. american society always has a racial bucket for you and no-one is excused.

let me put it in other elementary terms. king said one should be judged by the content of one's character and not by the color of one's skin. without deconstructing that too much, you can see how it implies that the color of one's skin can substitute for a character judgement. it also means that how one decides to deal with the fact that they may be judged by the color of their skin has a direct bearing on the content of their character, and that applies to all americans. so i say again. one's own individual experience does not take place in a vacuum.

now exactly what does this have to do with jamaicans, and who are you to compare them with me?

your simple definition of 'racist' is in error. let me correct you. with the following pointer.

Posted by mbowen at February 25, 2005 04:50 PM

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