Speech: Categorization Equals Racism

Speech: Categorization Equals Racism

by Lisa Nelson
June/July 2003

Editorial Note: This commentary has been adapted from a speech presented in May by the author. In order to maintain proper context, visualize the words “Tiger Woods” written in blue on a white board with a star symbol before his name.

I’ll begin by asking, “How many golfers do we have here?” Knowing that I have one student who is an avid golfer, I will call upon him, gesture to the white board, and ask him, “What color is Tiger Woods?” Then asking the same person “What color is the star?”.(while pointing again to the white board.) I anticipate this student to answer without hesitation, that Tiger Wood is “Black”.

Then I will say, before I asked you “What color is “Tiger Woods”, I pointed to the board. I didn’t ask you “what color do you think HE is, I didn’t ask you, “What race is Tiger Woods.I asked you, “What COLOR is “Tiger Woods”.

We’re taught to identify people by color. Tiger Woods isn’t simply known as a great golfer, he’s known as the first great “black” golfer. “People of color” has typically referred to Negroes, Blacks, and presently, African-Americans. Regardless of the label, we still tend to think of a race based on color.

About thirty years ago, if you were filling out an application, you would typically come to the part in the application where you had to select your race. You could pick from “white, black or other”.

White has only seemed like the majority because people have not been given appropriate categories from which to choose. “White” is very generic. It disposes of ethnic backgrounds, of nationalities and cultures. Originally, we took all these diversities, lumped them all into a category based on color, and called it a race of people. At least “Blacks”, based on color only, haven’t been forced to be labeled “White”.

“White” is defined as an achromatic color of maximum lightness, the complement or antagonist of black (how ironic). I have never seen a person as white as this paper, nor have I seen a person the color of my husband’s combat boots. White and black make gray, and I have definitely never seen a gray person. I have never been able to buy any “white” make-up. There is, however, honey beige, golden beige, neutral beige, rose beige, linen beige, suntan bronze, and a range of shades to complement darker skin tones or pigmentation as well.

When my children are asked whether they consider themselves to be black or white, they respond that they are “both” to those who are identifying them based only by physical appearance. If they are asked which “Race,” they’ll inform you that they are simply “human, just like you.” They will also be quick to point out that their skin tone is realistically tan or brown, not black or white. My youngest will propose the purple analogy. If red and blue make purple, it is no longer just red or blue; it is recognized as its own color.

If children can understand the difference between red, blue, or purple, why can’t adults.specifically, the ones who are enforcing federal regulations? More categories are not the solution. After all, there’s red violet, plum, grape, periwinkle, lavender and an infinite array of colors in the purple hues alone. Color is just one of many physical characteristics that people use to visually categorize or separate groups of individuals.

Do you know your true genealogy.how pure is your ancestry? People mistakenly use the words ethnicity and race interchangeably. If you have Italian heritage and are categorized as White, do you then concede that you are the same race as a Jewish person? You certainly don’t have the same ethnic fibers, unless you have a menorah sitting on your table.

Race is defined as any of the different varieties or populations of human beings distinguished by a) physical traits such as hair, eyes, skin color, body shape, etc.: b) blood types, c) genetic codes, d) all their inherited characteristics which are unique to their isolated breeding population. It is also described as: a) any geographical population, b) any population sharing the same activities, habits, ideas, etc. Any group of people having the same ancestry, family, clan, or lineage are considered to be of the same race.

My mother is brunette, has olive complexion, hazel eyes, AB negative blood type, and has German, French and Danish ancestry. My father is tall, freckled, blue eyed, with O positive blood, and is of Dutch decent. I am tall, blonde, freckled, blue eyed, and have just A negative blood. My husband is visually “Black” with dark skin, brown eyes, black hair, and his blood type is O positive. Our racially mixed children’s blood types are all O negative. They each have a different shade of brown eyes, and complexion. Their hair is also different color and textures. Doesn’t that invalidate the definition of “race”?

How about this, now “whites” can classify themselves as “Caucasian”.

Ironically, “Caucasoid”, (as defined in Webster’s New World Edition), means: [from the erroneous notion that the original home of the hypothetical Indo-Europeans was the Caucasus] designating or of one of the major geographical varieties of human beings, including peoples of Europe, Africa, the Near East, India, etc., who are generally characterized by tall stature, straight or wavy hair, etc.: loosely called the “white race” although it embraces many peoples of dark skin color: see race. What does this mean?! Are short people with very curly hair really Caucasian?

If you believe in Adam and Eve, then aren’t we all related? If we’re all related, then how can we have evolved from “isolated breeding grounds”?

Ethnicity and nationality are characteristics which have been falsely used to determine different categories for establishing races.

When I applied to college and had to fill out the racial information boxes, I did not find a box to check that included, Dutch, German, Danish and French. I had to settle for Caucasian instead.

How many people that check the “African-American” box when applying to college have ever been to Africa? How many of them truly know where their great great grandfather’s came from?

We keep inventing new labels to categorize people of different ethnicities. The population estimates for the 2000 Census changed for Hispanics. There are now two Hispanic origin categories: Hispanic or Latino, and Not Hispanic or Latino. Race and Hispanic origin are considered two separate concepts and therefore Hispanics may be of any race or races. There is still no such category as “Mexican-American”, nor is there “German-American”.

In Iowa there are 19 racial categories. The National Census contains 63. Evidently that means we have only 63 kinds of people in the United States.

How can we teach our children not to see color and not to be prejudiced, when we continue to categorize them? When you enroll your child in school and the form does not provide an appropriate choice to reflect your child’s true ancestry, do you know that if you leave it blank, the school makes the decision for you? Schools are required to report the ethnicity of our child to the state in order to receive federal funds. Based on the federal guidelines, there are five recognized racial categories: Hispanic, Asian, Native American, White and Black. If your child is half White and half Hispanic, what code do you use? “W” represents “White, not of Hispanic origin.” If you attempt to declare “other”, the school will implement the code “W”.

The government says it is making certain that “minority” children are not being discriminated against in the schools. Yet, in the equalization process, schools track academic achievements based on factors such as ethnicity, household income, and the neighborhood. To impose a separation (be it race or class) from the rest of the people, is segregation. Isn’t segregation, racism?

As parents in a racially mixed marriage, we have had to explain to our children that we are required to choose a non-applicable racial category for them because of government rules and regulations. We believe funding for schools based on ethnicity or race is wrong and needs to be rethought and restructured for the benefit of all children. The Census continues to spend thousands of dollars collecting data so that it can create more categories, instead of putting that money to good use – education.

Several years ago, at the University of Michigan, it was discovered that minority students were being given extra grade points for entrance. Instead of being admitted based on merit, they were accepted based on their race or ethnicity. It implies that minorities are not as smart. Issues like this still exist thanks to categorization.

Children are very trusting, innocent, and naïve. We teach children what we want them to believe. At a certain age, you learned the truth about Santa Claus. It made you realize that there wasn’t any Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy either. Whether you found out on your own, or someone told you, the truth caused confusion, sadness, embarrassment, and possibly, it hurt. There is a difference between being naïve, and being ignorant. Ignorance: without knowledge or education, unaware or uninformed.

It’s time you faced the truth about how you see others? Either you’ll need to insist that they change the definitions in Webster’s dictionary, rename America “the Nation of Categorization”, or demand that this country stops labeling people

How proud are we? Stop the division of the people of the United States and embrace the one definition that fits all citizens of this country: American.

I leave you with my motto: You can’t tell the color of a man, by his footprints in the sand.


Copyright © 2003 Lisa Nelson and The Multiracial Activist. All rights reserved.

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