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Richard S. Bogartz: Racism is real; race is a fiction

I applaud Querube Suarez-Werlein, a junior at Deerfield Academy, who wrote a column in last week’s Bulletin, “Race is a factor that can’t be denied.” Her position has been argued by more experienced people with more years. She does it as well or better than most. I appreciate her efforts and agree with her facts. I profoundly disagree with her conclusions.

Consider the 15th century. Assume many believed the world was flat and ships might sail over the edge. Call them Flatists and their position Flatism. Assume some people deduced that the world was not flat but globe shaped. Globists believed in Globism. Consider the Globist’s position. It would be an error for the Globist to deny that Flatists exist and that Flatism is prevalent. But it would be no error at all to declare that the flatness believed in by Flatists actually does not exist.

That would be expressing the truth. It would be essential for the Globist to distinguish between Flatism and flatness. One is a reality; the other is a fiction.

This is where I stand with respect to racism and race. The treatment of the president for the last four years and during the election campaign provides glaring indications of racism’s reality. The makeup of our prison populations, hiring and firing practices, steering people of color to certain homes for sale rather than others, the behavior of police, and on and on continually inform us of the reality of racism.

These attitudes and behaviors reflected in myriad aspects of our social lives exist, just as the Flatist doctrine existed. But the world was not flat. And race does not exist.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Human Genome Program, “DNA studies do not indicate that separate classifiable subspecies (races) exist within modern humans. While different genes for physical traits such as skin and hair color can be identified between individuals, no consistent patterns of genes across the human genome exist to distinguish one race from another. There also is no genetic basis for divisions of human ethnicity. People who have lived in the same geographic region for many generations may have some alleles in common, but no allele will be found in all members of one population and in no members of any other.” Because race does not exist it cannot be the “… determining factor in how some people have been treated historically.” as Suarez-Werlein asserts. Where she suggests evidence for the existence of race, she presents evidence for racism. Her declaration that “The effects of race are tangible and real” rests not on the reality of race but on examples of racism that she so ably documents. We cannot be living in a post-race country because race was never real, so post-race is equally unreal.

Certainly we are not yet living in a post-racism country, although in my lifetime the strides have been enormous. I was 9 years old when Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier in 1945 and just before I turned 14, Earl Lloyd broke the color barrier in professional basketball. There were incidents where all-white college teams refused to play integrated or all-black teams as late as the 1960s, but we are past that nonsense. Basketball and baseball without people of color is now unthinkable. Likewise politics, education, courts, the military, etc.

So instead of embracing the unreal race, let us embrace humanity’s diversity which is not only real but glorious. Consider it a civic duty to fight racism and deny the reality of race. Let us stop using ‘diversity’ as a code word for the nonexistent race. And let us continually point to the economic underpinnings of the notion of race, from its beginnings as a justification for enslavement of some people by others, to its present day use as a basis of economic oppression of some of our fellow humans by others.

Richard S. Bogartz is a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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