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“The English word ‘slave’ is derived from the word ‘Slav’ because Slavic people were enslaved by many different groups of people, including Western Europeans.” (John Biewen, TEDxCharlottesville)¹

RACE IS NOT REAL, BUT RACISM IS

What is race?

Is race real?

These are questions asked by Anthony Peterson in his TEDxAntioch talk, “What I am learning from my white grandchildren -- truths about race.”² While the differences in our skin color are very real, anthropologists long ago rejected the idea of races connected to skin color.


Skin color is determined by the amount of pigment in our skin, especially the pigment "melanin." Dark skin people have a lot of melanin, lighter-skin people have less. That results in different people being different colors.

However, there is no culture in color. There are no muscular or mental abilities connected to melanin. There are no character traits, no virtues, no vices, no values connected to skin color.

Yet from a very early age, when our children are just learning their colors, they pick up that skin color is different from all other kinds of color. Generally, though, we don't tell them why.

Of course, our notions of race go beyond skin color to other physical traits and abilities. Many people also believe that race is somehow connected to bloodlines, and that bloodlines trace back to three or five pure races. But again, the science does not back that up. There are no pure races.

At one time, a number of 18th-century political and intellectual leaders publicly asserted that Africans were naturally inferior and that they were indeed best suited for slavery.³ The concept of “race” – the idea that humans are naturally divided into biologically distinct groups – has been definitively proven false. There is only one race among the peoples of Earth: The Human race. But the 21st century has seen an increase in scientists inaccurately presenting race as the reason for racial inequality, according to Dorothy Roberts, a professor of law, Africana studies and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.⁴

So -- it’s almost impossible to agree on what racism is, since we don't even agree on what race is. We believe that race is the domain of some people and not other people. And we believe that any mention of race only exaggerates our differences, minimizes our similarities and exacerbates our problems.

So even though race is not real, race matters.

And that leads to the need and concept of diversity, and DEI education and training.

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References

  1. John Biewen, TEDxCharlottesville, February 19, 2020, “Seeing White - Who invented the notion of being ‘white,’ or ‘black?’ And why did they do so?” https://www.ted.com/talks/john_biewen_seeing_whiteFor a complete transcript, click here.

  2. Anthony Peterson, TEDxAntioch, November, 2014, “What I am learning from my white grandchildren -- truths about race,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5GCetbP7Fg. For a complete transcript, click here.

  3. Peter Wade, Encyclopedia Britannica, “Human Race,” https://www.britannica.com/topic/race-human

  4. Susan Kelley, Cornell Chronicle, November 20, 2017, “Myth of race still embedded in scientific research, scholar says,” https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2017/11/myth-race-still-embedded-scientific-research-scholar-says

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