Friday, November 25, 2011

What Is Race?

Having had my umpteenth argument on another blog about how Islamophobia is a form of racism, I ran across this clip on the "We Are Respectable Negroes" blog. It's an excerpt from a talk last year by Dr. Charles W. Mills of Northwestern University at the University of King's College.

This fairly short clip is incredibly rich with ideas. I post it here because it addresses how race itself is a social construct and not a biological reality. The identities of race are determined by the lens of cultural dominance: Professor Mills gives an example of how his own mixed national heritage would be determined completely differently depending on who gets to make the rules. This is so key: when I say Islamophobia is racism, those who say "Islam is not a race" are erasing the systems that inform social dominance and prejudice. This becomes easy to see when one considers Hitler-era Germany, where racist laws and racial prejudice were applied by one group of white people sharing overwhelmingly identical genetic makeup with the white victims of their repression. Although religion was the window dressing, be sure that the holocaust was not the product of German Christian theological difference with Rabbinical interpretation of the Old Testament. Anti-Semitism is a clear example of how divorced racism is from actual human biology.

Professor Mills concludes with the idea of racism in society being a product of cultural racial dominance not just the race of individuals, another key concept in the age of our first black American president.


  1. Thanks for the link.

    You are spot on. Groups can be racialized without being a "race" see Jews, gays and lesbians, hispanics (a complicated story for sure, and in the U.S. context Muslims.

    There is a great book called Racism: A Short History which I always recommend as a great beginning on these matters.

    You will like it.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation and for stopping by, WARN posse. Your blog is always top shelf 'net reading.