Letters to the Editor

February colloquy, George Winkel and Charles Michael Byrd

Date: Tue, 15 Aug 2000 21:22:09 -0700 (PDT)
From: George Winkel
Subject: February colloquy, George Winkel and Charles Michael Byrd

February colloquy, George Winkel and Charles Michael Byrd

Rummaging in old e-mails I rediscovered this February 2000 e-mail colloquy. It is Charles Michael Byrd replying to my asking about Jean Toomer’s characterizing “race” as “verbal hypnotism.” This threads our discussing some timeless, very central ideas, and I think maybe Multiracial Activist readers might find our exchange worthwhile.

George Winkel wrote:

> Charles,
> Jean Toomer wrote: “I would liberate myself and ourselves from the entire
> machinery of verbal hypnotism…. I am simply of the human race.”

> I feel these words might convey much more than poetry.
> > I am intrigued with Toomer’s insightful suggestion “race” “exists” as a
> hypnotic suggestion (i.e., a “trance” maybe?). I feel I arrived at this
> thought too (almost independently). Do you know if Toomer had more to say
> about this? Perhaps others have investigated the idea? Do you know?
He most likely did have more to say about it, though I’d have to reread the book “The Lives of Jean Toomer: A Hunger for Wholeness” to be sure. Amazon.com carries it, and their quarterly reports tell me that a few others have purchased that particular book through them.


> I don’t claim to know much about hypnotism. I took my undergraduate degree
> in psychology, but I probably learned more about the subject sitting in the
> audience watching a professional hypnotist named Dean performing his show in
> San Diego years ago. “Hypnotism” is simply a name for the surprising power
> of suggestion. From childhood we hear suggested the “reality” of “race,”
> and we inevitably receive the quiver of little stereotype arrows which get
> shot into each “race.” Probably all sorts of prejudices transmit this same
> way — by suggestion. But with “race,” elements of physiognomy that can be
> seen, pointed too, generate a reinforcing suggestion of substantive reality.
> All of this is repeated (reinforced) in various forms throughout our lives.

Yes. It is reinforced every time the President of the United States talks about improving “race” relations or some civil rights spokesman talks about tension between the “races.” These individuals hold positions of authority, and the average person views them as opinion leaders who wouldn’t possibly lie to them about something this important. It’s like anything else. We believe what we’re told until we open our eyes and see a higher truth. I’ve always believed that those of “mixed-race” are least likely to embrace this hypnotism, because it goes almost completely counter to their personal situations. “Mixed-race” people — especially those who are phenotypically more “white” while being called “black” — are kinda forced by this society to maintain open minds, to develop their intellectual curiosity. We tend to be the first to see the game for what it is.

> I am thinking about possibly a distinction between “racism” and “race,” with
> the latter far more culpable. In a nutshell, “racism” is probably a fear
> response, ranging to repugnant bigotry. But “race” is — frankly — a
> mental disease. And of course, it underlies racism and everything else.

I like to say that “race” is a belief system, almost like a religion.

> The symptom of this mental illness is deluded belief in the existence of a
> set of distinct categories into which everyone must fit. Of course, the set
> of categories are what we call “race.” In fact there are no categories —
> only smoothly ranging natural variations in our human physiognomy.

Exactly. It’s like the old, worn-out yet still appropriate example which follows. Let’s say it was possible to line up every single human (all six billion) on the planet side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, starting with the lightest all the way to the darkest. Now, let’s also say that it was possible for you to walk down that line looking each person in the eye, from number one to number six billion. Would you be able to detect any discernible difference in skin color, hair texture, nose width as you proceed from human being to human being? Of course not! Would you be able to tell where the “white race” begins and ends, where the “black race” begins? Of course not! The media, however, has so brainwashed us that we only “see” representatives of the extreme ends of the color continuum. The average person wouldn’t want to waste time thinking about what I’ve just typed. He’s too comfortable with what he’s been told since childhood.

> (I suppose mixed-race people are perceived as mixed categories in this
> delusional world of “race.” But it’s hard to visualize, since the
> categories depend on indelible separating lines. Does this problem drive
> One-Droppers? A special name helps: e.g., “Eurasian,” “Mulatto,” etc.
> Then the mixed person can be fitted back into a subcategory of the “race”
> system.)

Liam Martin says that “mixed” people use “race” more as language than anything else. I don’t know that I agree with him 100%, and I do agree that “special names” can actually exacerbate the problem. Different people, however, come to this table with varying levels of consciousness, and I believe some are better served in the shortrun with one of these “special names.” Others have totally transcended “race” and reach for spiritual enlightenment. Jean Toomer was such a person. So, at least within the context of a website like IV, you try to understand that we’re not all at the same level, and you try to accommodate those who are just waking up from the hypnotic trance.

> Of course millions of irate citizens will deny with their dying breath being
> “racist,” and perhaps they are not. Another word for it, though, is
> “racialism” (meaning belief in inequalities between “races”). My point is
> you can struggle in your mind ’till the cows come home trying not to be
> racialist, and never banish the hypnotic suggestion “race exists.” Indeed,
> “race” exists for the purpose of implying inequality, difference,
> “divisions,” etc. The bottom line is: hell with “racism,” it is “race” that
> has to go. (Don’t worry, you can keep your eyes.)

Yes. It’s the notion that I’m constantly trying to drive home to people — deconstruct “race.” Once you do that, everything else collapses on it’s own, because there’s no longer the underlying support.

> Perhaps modern mankind is especially vulnerable to hypnotic suggestion of
> “race’s” existence. For one thing, it has a reputation of scientific bona
> fides. Certainly the Government assiduously collecting, tallying, and
> involving itself with “race,” also stands in the way of our debunking the
> myth. But it seems to me the respected institutions of our society have the
> standing to all deny “race” with one voice, and be believed. I feel sure
> the same power of suggestion can be used to break the spell.

Agreed, but they also have too much invested in maintaining that spell. That’s not likely to happen anytime soon. It’s also what infuriated me about Clinton’s much ballyhooed “Race Panel.” IT didn’t achieve a damn thing, and Clinton deliberately missed the golden opportunity of a lifetime to stand in front of the cameras and tell America exactly what we’re talking about. Being the consummate politician that he is, though, he remembered that the Democratic Party needs to be able to count on receiving 90+% of the “black” vote in every election, and so he opted for talking about “improving race relations.” What a crock!

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