Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today Inc.
“Coulda come from Europe or yuh come from Africa /… Coulda be a Mexican or a wedda Indian /… one blood.” – (Junior Reid, One Blood)
Mr Reid’s hook is a good place to start our reflection on a world that is under the spell of racecraft (and the Woke Ness Monster); both of which locate our ills in a zero-sum struggle of identity markers, race being the primary one. Others include: sex, gender, and sexuality. Capitalizing on race (usually blacks) is bad enough, and some style guides now insist that we capitalize black, as in: “Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, two Black men who play for the Clippers, combined for 5 points on 2-18 shooting in the second half of Game 7 versus the Nuggets.”
Appalling stuff: aforementioned stats, the Clippers blowing a 3-1 lead, and more importantly, how some people not only capitalize, but capitalize on identity markers like race.
A concept the authors of Racecraft reminds us, “has no genetic or scientific basis. Afro-Americans understood the reason for their enslavement to be, as Frederick Douglass put it, ‘not color, but crime.’” They invented themselves, not as race but nation and “were not troubled, as modern scholars often are, by the use of racial vocabulary to express their sense of nationality.” They continue, “Euro-Americans resolved the contradiction between slavery and liberty by defining Afro-Americans as a race; Afro-Americans resolved the contradiction more straightforwardly by calling for the abolition of slavery.”
The outro to New Portrait by KB, features an excerpt from a conversation between Lisa Sharon Harper and Dr Jarvis Williams that echoes this point. Harper says, “Race isn’t even real. It’s something that we create in order to determine how the polis, the people, will live together on this land […]. What’s real is ethnicity.” She concludes, “If you are human, you are created in the image of God and therefore called by God to help steward the world.” Reading is an act of stewardship, and after reading Racecraft you will never look at race the same again.
As one of the authors note, “Confronted with the intellectual arguments against the concept of race, my undergraduates react by grasping for another word to occupy the same conceptual space. […] Instinctively, they understand that, while everyone has ancestry, only African ancestry carries the ultimate stigma. Therefore, what they are unknowingly searching for is a neutral-sounding word with racism hidden inside, which is what “race” is.” To be clear, this is not a call to colour blind conformity (or uniformity).
Esau McCaulley (Reading While Black) puts it this way, “God’s vision for his people is not for the elimination of ethnicity to form a colorblind uniformity of sanctified blandness. Instead God sees the creation of a community of different cultures united by faith in his Son as a manifestation of the expansive nature of his grace.” The main argument in Racecraft is that race is akin to a mantra that is invoked (daresay mindlessly) as the explanatory factor for virtually every problem, past and present.
Our ancestors knew better. As Mr McCaulley notes, “some formerly enslaved people used the Bible to argue against color-based racism and slavery”, appealing to Acts 17:26 (KJV): God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth.”
Racecraft also explores the blood-as-race metaphor: “Only as metaphor may one speak of ‘black genes’ and ‘white genes,’ or of ‘white’ and ‘black’ blood.” More to the point, “there can be only one race, since the one-drop-of-blood or any-known-ancestry rule applies only to African ancestry; indeed, the rule ceases to function at all if applied to more than one type of ancestry. […] A further sleight of hand defines race as identity, so that “white” also becomes a race. Similar cosmetic embellishments claim “agency” for the victims in creating race or deodorize it by tracing its origin to “culture” rather than racism.”
In Nine Pints, Rose George tells of the early days of blood banking in America, with policies based more on sentiment than science. We rightly scoff at separating blood, genes, and DNA according to “race” (or on shelves) as Ms George details, but we do it in our speech. The Woke Ness Monster is akin to the “modern vampires of the city” Mr Reid mentions in his opening. Racecraft does an admirable job of removing their fangs: “Anyone who continues to believe in race as a physical attribute of individuals, despite the now commonplace disclaimers of biologists and geneticists, might as well also believe that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy are real.”
One final thought from the authors. “It is often said that, both during slavery and after, Afro-Americans had a faith in education that verged on the religious: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of the Book, and all else shall be added unto you.’” What starts out in obscure corners of Academe eventually seeps into the streets. I suggest pairing Racecraft with Cynical Theories by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay. As a reviewer wrote, “It makes what is happening on our streets make sense. It explains the absurdity of things like […].” It is left as an exercise for the reader to seek the kingdom of aforementioned books, complete that sentence and form their own.