Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Quick repost of something I posted at Alas. I realised that I'm carpetblogging, as Arwen puts it, again, so I thought I'd move the conversation back over here. The topic at hand - race as a component of identity. I need to go to bed soon, but I'll come back and tidy this up tomorrow.
I really do think that Americans are insane on the topic of race, by the way. A few months ago I had a fellow leftist feminist call me a racist because I said that I was attracted to Asian men. Not "I love the culture because I have some ignorant idea that it is X, Y and Z" or "I think that men from Asia have X characteristics", just that I tend to find Asian men in general more physically attractive than other demographics, although not exclusively so (I was talking about a particular group of Japanese rock stars, FYI). Only in America could that be construed as racist.
Anyway, re-post below. Thoughts?

Also, this was interesting (about the idea of in-groups)“Now, people are not necessarily naturally racist in the sense that they are hardwired to define “their own kind” in terms that are based on race; generally it is based on whom they associate with; however, for most of human history people were a lot more segregated by race than they are now, so “their own kind” was determined racially. Moreover, as the preference for “one’s own kind” is related to the biological imperative to spread one’s genes, “nature’s intent” as it were was for the preference to be racial (i.e. to benefit those in the same extended family) and race is probably the easiest category for people to develop the sense of “ones’ own kind” with.
Just look at how many “primitive” tribes’ (i.e. not integrated into modern civilization) names for themselves are “the people”? or “the true people” or something like that.”
//My comment begins here///
Here’s the thing. More and more as time goes on and mass communications, cheap and frequent travel etc become factors, what people see as signifying “one’s own kind” may be changing.Take me as an example. When I think of “my kind” race has nothing to do with it. I’m much more likely to identify people of a different race who belong to the same subcultures as me (goth, BSDM, artsy/creative) as “my kind” than people of my own race who look superficially like me but do not share my subcultural identifications. So, for example, a white Evangelical soccer mom with 3 kids who is as conventional as can be and has never left the town in Arkansas she grew up in? Not “my kind”. Someone involved in the Japanese visual kei scene with a creative job? “My kind”. Bill O’Reilly? Not “my kind”, even though we’re not only both white but both Celts who were brought up as Christians. The woman I met last week on the train who is trying to carve out a career for herself as a dancer who I spent half an hour talking leftist poltitics with, who happens to be from Brazil? “My kind”. Race is only one of the factors that make up identity.Of course I had a wierd upbringing (ex-pat/Third Culture kid) and that may have something to do with it, but I think that outside the poisonous racial politics that still prevail in much of the US, the idea of race as one’s primary marker of identity is on the wane, at least for a certain (admittedly elite) section of society. Honestly, I think that most Americans don’t realise how much more blatantly racist than most other societies their country is. I’ve never been anyplace as race-concious as the American South.Which is another relevant point. The idea of race in most societies is intimately bound up with the idea of class. The higher up the social ladder you look, the less race matters. This is true in every country I’ve ever lived in, and I’ve lived on 4 different continents.
I’m probably getting a bit off topic so I’ll quit now, but I do think it’s worth noting that the obsession with the idea of race as the one and only way to classify people, and the refusal to recognise how class is tied into that, is somewhat of a uniquely American issue.Also, I’d argue with the idea that people always historically defined “their own kind” by race. If a population was geographically isolated and had no contact with other racial groups, how would that even be possible? the idea of race is oppositional in nature - how would people define themselves that way if they had no outside group to compare themselves to?
This part in particular freaked me out.” Moreover, as the preference for “one’s own kind” is related to the biological imperative to spread one’s genes, “nature’s intent” as it were was for the preference to be racial (i.e. to benefit those in the same extended family)” If you’re suggesting what you seem to be suggesting, I can only point out that in every society in which people of differing races have co-existed, they have had sex with and had children with each other. If your idea that a “preference for one’s own kind” is related to the imperative to “spread one’s genes” was true, that wouldn’t happen, and yet it does, every time. Proving, once again, that there’s nothing inherant about racism.


Arwen said...

Did you get my email re: the last post? I tried to comment but kept crashing. My laptop's having a bad month.

Arwen said...

AAARGH! Any idiot with a preference these days likes to name their preference as an

evolutionary byproduct. It makes me insane. So someone's claiming that their "genes" want

them to only reproduce with kind?

Actually, their "genes" want the exact opposite. Otherwise, we'd be in an evolutionary

situation of non-sexual reproduction. We have sexes IN ORDER TO mix it up with those unlike

us. If we can breed with them. We are built to attract to pheremonal markers LEAST LIKE US,

which puts our attraction outside our immediate family, barring socialized issues, culture,

or mutation on those sexual habits (which I could see happening, since "evolution" works by

constantly spinning the wheel: but that doesn't mean incest since there's a fairly wide pool

of potential mates, and it will, eventually, lead to point mutations whose prevention is the

POINT of binary sexual interactions, biologically). Culture is a different issue. Marriage

or pair bonding is a different issue. What you like personally is a different issue. It's

not as easy as evolution: our brains evolved to create the FORM but not the content of

culture. That's why cultures are so different. Our brains may be afraid of the unknown for

evolutionary reasons, but your BODY will tell you to hump wit' it if it's human and smells


On Hugo Schwyzer's blog, someone was defending his preference for hairless women (shaved) on

the basis of evolution: for hygiene reasons. Shit, and we were trepanning mental patients

with rusty, dirty awls just a couple hundred years ago, and mucking around in their blood. Hygiene. Snorf.

Evolution only works if a person dies before breeding or has less kids than his or her

genetic competitors because of some inherent flaw. It has nothing to do with attraction to

race. Crying out loud. Right now, "evolution" is selecting against "wealth", since rich

people have fewer kids, and the kids of the poor are living long enough to have kids of

their own. Otherwise, evolution is being muffled by medicine in the "First World".

Evolutionarily speaking, you'd be better off mating with someone from the poorest, highest

mortality statistic parts of Africa: they're only alive because their systems are bad-assed,

not because of medicine. So if this guy's white, he's barkin' up the wrong evolutionary


I have to second your notion that race is tied so deeply with class, and class is often the

underlying issue. Of course, it's handy for some people who need their issues kept simple:

easier to judge skin colour than brand of watch from 40 paces, I guess.

I do think there's other factors in play which I wrote about on Blog Against Racism day: I

think "white" is the predominant "brand" in North America, and that our brains are more amenable to that which we recognize. (Which doesn't mean we won't hump with that which smells hump-able.)

FoolishOwl said...

One of the things I like to bear in mind was Howard Zinn's point that the very first of the Jim Crow laws was one prohibiting white and black men from playing checkers together.

Before the rise of capitalism, most people lived their entire lives within 50 miles of where they were born. If you look at the features of people from different geographical regions, you don't find sharp discontinuities that you would expect if "race" was a meaningful category, but rather a fairly even variation. Intermarriage between adjoining villages has generally been the norm.

It's only when you started to have people from widely separated geographical regions suddenly living next to each other that a concept of "race" was even possible. And who's interests does it serve to have people who basically live together and live similar lives distrust each other?

My first real relationship, while I was at UC Berkeley, was with a Chinese-American woman. This was just as there was a widespread uproar, centered upon UC Berkeley, about the phenomenon of Asian women dating white men. There is, of course, the racist "Asian fetish," and that could have an influence on otherwise healthy relationships. There was a simple reason I tended to be attracted to Asian women -- a lot of the women I met had Asian ancestry. Still, somehow, I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that somehow I was in the wrong for being attracted to them.

Limited as my relationship history has been, at one time or another I've dated someone from every "race," and frankly, their ethnic origin had very little to do with my initial attraction to them or the nature of our relationships. I'm much more at ease with someone with similar temperament and political views and pop culture tastes, and I've found that none of these three things seems particularly tied to what part of the world someone came from.

FoolishOwl said...

Oh, speaking of Asian women and white men, I just read a long lost interview of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in Red Dwarf by Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn, in 1971. I've gained a lot of respect for Lennon and Ono after reading it.

"Power to the People," The Lost John Lennon Interview

Cassandra Says said...

Precisely - from an evolutionarly point of view the last thing that would eb desireable would be for people to continutally mate within their own small group. That's how you get people like the British royal family, with ears that stick out like the handles of a Grecian urn and various cousins that are so insane that the family feels the need to hide them away in an attic. Inbreeding is not a good thing, which is why we are programmed to be able to detect those whose genetic makeup is too similar to our own via pheremones, so that we can avoid shagging them.
The "I can justify all my personal preferences via evolution" thing is a riot. So, my preference for men who're kind of skinny is clearly an evolutionary byproduct because in the Neanderthal era seeking out skinny mates would leave more food for the kids? Or because sniiy men can run faster and so they would be better hunters? See, if you just use your imagination you can use pseudo-evolutionary theory to explain EVERYTHING!
Arwen, can you expand on your "branding" theory? I do believe that people can be brainwashed into finding just about anything attractive given enough advertising and peer pressure. How elso to explain Paris Hilton, or Justin Timberlake?

Tuomas said...

To be the devil's advocate in this, I think many racists make the claim about preference for own kind to be not about sexual selection. Instead, they make it about extended nepotism: If people of "my race" get more children, and I share some genes with them, I benefit via proxy. Whereas if people not of "my race" get children, I don't benefit via proxy. And if people cross-marry, the benefit is halved, thus less genes like me around. This does not apply to me, indeed, it would be in my genes benefit to select someone very unlike me. Thus everyone is 'naturally' a hypocrite (others of my kind shouldn't cross the racial barrier, but I should).

Of course, any talk about what is natural or not bears no resemblance at all to the discussion about what is right or wrong. If something is natural, it doesn't tell me much. Societies and cultures arise from the very human nature to form them, and thus it is quite hard to declare anything at all to be completely unnatural. Nor do I disparage the preferences that people have, wherever they may be directed (obviosly preference of children etc. consent issues are an exception).

Tuomas said...

Just to be clear: When I played the devils advocate here, I wasn't expressing my beliefs about how things should be. I am sceptical about the biological existence of race (the social existence is undeniable), altough there are some subtle differnces between differing populations.

One concept I've always found to be quite blatantly racist in the American society is the fact that a person with, say 1/8 African ancestry 7/8 European, is called black (or officially African-American, if you will). This stems from the ugly assumption about white being the 'pure color/race', that any drop of 'colored blood' would soil this whiteness. The existence of this cultural attitude speaks highly against the race is biology -meme. , and strongly for racism is unscientific bigotry -meme.

belledame222 said...

Yeh, well, that one's about not only our fucked-uppedness about racism but our weirdness wrt desire as well. You know, finding someone physically attractive and wanting to fuck him or her because of it, no more, no less, is somehow degrading and awful in itself. I bet a lot of people who think they're above such puritanical nonsense would be surprised at the contortions it can make before popping up in them, too.

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