Race, as I and many other academics never tire of reminding people, is a social construct. Many people who say this, however, do so in a perfunctory manner, before going on to treat it as though it were a natural kind, eternal and unchangeable. For me, the point of emphasizing the “constructedness” of race is to emphasize that is it not an inevitable social category. It is a particular way that many people have of framing certain aspects of individual identity and social interaction. It is, however, not the only, and not a necessary way, of framing things. Thus it always makes sense to ask, in any particular circumstance, whether race is the best way of framing an issue. The question is whether race, as a category, is really getting at what’s important in a given situation.
This question has particular salience at the moment, because many social justice advocates in Canada have been pushing fairly hard for a number of social problems that were traditionally framed in terms of immigration and ethnicity (and multiculturalism) to be reframed in terms of race (and anti-discrimination).… Continue reading
There’s a little semantic game that’s being played a lot these days, which seems to me worthy of analysis. (And since philosophers are so often of accusing to getting hung up on “semantic questions,” who better to comment on it?) It has become quite standard in many quarters to condemn Canadian society, along with all of its institutions, as being thoroughly and systematically racist. There is however an important ambiguity in the way that the term “racist” is being used, with critics often shifting back and forth between two quite different meanings of the term, in a way that vitiates the force of their criticism.
When most people hear the word “racism,” the way that they understand it is in terms that would have been familiar to civil rights activists of the 1960s. This type of racism was interpreted first and foremost as a derogatory attitude certain individuals have, that leads them to engage in discriminatory behaviour – treating some people better than others based on their racial characteristics.… Continue reading
There’s been a lot of chatter about the recent interview with Rachel Dolezal by Ijeoma Oluo, published in The Stranger. Here’s a sample of some of the response that it has generated. Most people seem to regard it as having buried Dolezal, once and for all. I found it rather mysterious. To see why, imagine that someone did an interview with Caitlyn Jenner, in the same tone, making the exact same arguments. It would instantly have been denounced as transphobic, everywhere but in the furthest reaches of the alt-right. What I don’t understand – I have no axe to grind here, what I really don’t understand – is how people can view the two cases, of people opting to change race, and people opting to change gender, as so very different, or how they could regard the former as more dubious than the latter.
For instance, before even getting to the interview, Oluo spends two entire paragraphs mocking Dolezal for having changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo.… Continue reading