Essays On Understanding Race

Struggling to make sense of this incredible piece of information, the American finally asked Duvalier: "How do you define white?

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It does not bother Americans of the late-twentieth century that the term "black" can refer to physically white people, because an ideological context of which they are generally unaware has long since taught them which details to consider significant in classifying people. Everyone knows, or at least every black person knows, that there are individuals who would be unhesitatingly classified as black in Louisiana or South Carolina and just as unhesitatingly "mistaken" for white in Nebraska or Idaho or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

According to a story that is probably apocryphal but nonetheless telling, an American journalist once asked the late Papa Doc Duvalier of Haiti what per centage of the Haitian population was white.

Presumably, the fact that, while they share a language (no one, surely, would suppose that Hispanics all share a single culture), they do not comprise a single physical type and they originate from different countries.

But, on that reasoning, black and white Americans constitute an ethnic group: they are originally from different countries, they certainly do not all look alike, but they share a language.* What about Asians?

" Receiving the explanation that' in the United States anyone with any black blood was considered black, Duvalier nodded and said, "Well, that's the way we define white in my country." Even in the limiting case of the earliest contacts between Europeans and Africans, when by definition the context was least 147 elaborated, people made use of whatever reference points fell readily to hand in assimilating the new experience.

To this process Biblical tradition, folk superstition, and the lore of the ages certainly contributed.They can no more be the unmediated reflex of psychic impressions than can any other ideas.It is ideological context that tells people which details to notice, which to ignore, and which to take for granted in translating the world around them into ideas about that world.Duvalier's answer, astonishingly enough, was "Ninety-eight percent." The startled American journalist was sure he had either misheard or been misunderstood, and put his question again.Duvalier assured him that he had heard and understood the question perfectly well, and had given the correct answer.Even the peoples of northern Africa seemed so dark that Englishmen tended to call them 'black' and let further refinements go by the board.Blackness became so generally associated with Africa that every African seemed a black man."6 There is no reason to doubt that such a striking contrast in color would arrest the attention of Englishmen encountering it for the first time.They are not of a single physical type and they, too, come from different countries.Adhering to common usage, it is hard to see how they can be classed as either a single race or a single ethnic group: they do not all share either a language or a culture. They do not look alike; they came originally from different countries, spoke different languages, and had different cultures.The first false move in this direction is the easiest: the assumption that race is an observable physical fact, a thing, rather than a notion that is profoundly and in its very essence ideological.A recent newspaper article about the changing composition of the population of Washington, D.


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