Cultural Constructs and Nothingness

Richard Cohen had this to say in today’s Washington Post:

“Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.”

If you haven’t figured it out, Richard Cohen is a conservative.

Race is a social construct. It would be the same as if I said I was a “good neighbor.” What does it mean to be a “good neighbor?” Does it mean that I pick up your mail, or come wash your dishes? Or does it mean that my demeanor is friendly? It depends on the cultural situation. In the south (for example) it might mean that I pick up your mail, while in the north, that would be seen as a huge invasion of privacy.

Race works the same way. Why? Because just as we cannot operationally define “good neighbor,” we cannot operationally define “race.” It all means something different to people. The Irish were considered an “inferior race” by both the English and Americans in the 19th Century. Now they’re “white” and have some really great beer.

The only thing that defines “race” is skin color. And if we go by “color” as the direct observable, then I can say that the houses in the southwest are a “race” because they’re a different color than most of the houses in Miami. Race means nothing.

Which only leaves me with Spock.


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