Race: a powerful axis of identity

McMaster, John and Austin, Jon (2005) Race: a powerful axis of identity. In: Culture and identity, 2nd ed. Pearson Education Australia, Frenchs Forest, Australia, pp. 49-72. ISBN 0733973299


Some of the most powerful identifiers of race are the so-called biological traits which are used with gay abandon to categorize whole populations of people. Skin colour, eye shape, head shape and overall body shape have been used for generations to stereotype peoples all over the world, into archetypal groups. Mostly, this construction of the 'other' is done out of ignorance and fear of the
unknown, however it is also used to marginalize peoples and has been used, even in very recent times,
as justification for genocide. This type of reasoning associates biological characteristics with cultural
outcomes and so leads to the (mistaken) belief that groups of people can be characterized according to
physical traits, genetically based, which are associated with cultural traits. This categorization is
normally identified as hierarchical and seems to flow naturally out of Social Darwinist views that
create racial hierarchies linking man to the apes, with, naturally, Caucasians being closer to the gods
and Negroes being closer to the apes. This same hierarchy also proposes to represent ascending states
of 'civilization'. Whilst you may be forgiven for thinking that this type of thinking might have been
acceptable in 18th century Europe, the reality is that it still exists and acts as a powerful lens through
which non-Anglo communities throughout the world are viewed and defined.

The Bell Curve (1994) is a report on a study undertaken by psychologist Richard Herrnstein and political scientist Charles Murray, which asserts that intelligence is a highly heritable trait, that plays a critical role in socioeconomic achievement and social pathology, and is becoming increasingly unequally distributed. The authors believe that their work preempts a society that is increasingly stratified by cognitive ability and that interventionist projects such as compensatory programs are
unable to halt or address. Their work stems from earlier similar studies undertaken along these lines by: psychologists such as Eysenck and Jensen in the 1970's. Such studies ~ere t~en and. are still labelled as attempts at scientific justification of racial discrimination and class mequalIty. Whilst these early studies concentrated on the suggested connection between IQ and race, The Bell curve introduces the additional issue of related socioeconomic status, into the debate by attemptmg to
demonstrate a causal link between poverty, race, and IQ. A useful rebuttal of the eugenics debate is found in Measured Lies: The Bell Curve Examined (Kincheloe, Steinberg & Gresson, 1996). In seeming contrast to this view of the world, culturalism proposed the view that distinctive cultural values were transmitted from one generatIon to the next, resultmg m cultural determinism. These cultural determinants were thought to be passed on by socialization and other instinctive behaviours and actively prevented individuals from crossing both racial and cultural boundaries. For useful background reading, see Malik (1996) and Castles et al. (1988).

It is easy to see from both of these perspectives that the notion of hierarchies which relate to ideas of inferiority and superiority is a powerful component of each. To extend this further, discrimination, in this environment, becomes not only a reality but a justifiable reality. Since our racial and cultural dimensions are already determined either at birth or by socialization, it would seem to make sense that racial and cultural groups remain distinct. The reality, of course, is something quite different.

The emperor mqrched in the procession under the beautiful canopy, and all who saw him in the street and out of the windows exclaimed: 'Indeed, the emperor's new suit is incomparable! What a long train he has! How well it fits
him!' Nobody wished to let others know he saw nothing, for then he would have been unfit for/his office or too stupid. Never emperor's clothes were more admired.

'But he has nothing on at all,' said a little child at last. 'Good heavens! listen to the voice of an innocent child, ' said the father, and one whispered to the other
what the child had said. 'But he has nothing on at all, ' cried at last the whole people. That made a deep impression upon the emperor, for it seemed to him
that they were right; but he thought to himself; 'Now I must bear up to the end.' And the chamberlains walked with still greater dignity, as if they carried the train which did not exist. (Hans Christian Andersen, 1873).

As a metaphor for determinism, The Emperor's New Suit is most appropriate. It removes the racial lenses that blind the masses to the reality that confronts them.

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Item Type: Book Chapter (Commonwealth Reporting Category B)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Files associated with this item cannot be displayed due to copyright restrictions.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Education (Up to 30 Jun 2013)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Education (Up to 30 Jun 2013)
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2008 01:29
Last Modified: 21 Sep 2016 01:08
Uncontrolled Keywords: identity; race
Fields of Research (2008): 13 Education > 1301 Education Systems > 130199 Education systems not elsewhere classified
16 Studies in Human Society > 1608 Sociology > 160809 Sociology of Education
20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2002 Cultural Studies > 200204 Cultural Theory
Fields of Research (2020): 39 EDUCATION > 3903 Education systems > 390399 Education systems not elsewhere classified
39 EDUCATION > 3902 Education policy, sociology and philosophy > 390203 Sociology of education
47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4702 Cultural studies > 470207 Cultural theory
URI: http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/4486

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