Monday, December 3, 2007


A few days ago I posted an article about racism (November 2007) connected to social class. After some thinking on this I thought it might be worth visiting the topic again.

The idea of passing is something that is often discussed in African American culture. Several of Thomas Jefferson’s children, who were white (one had red hair and looked just like his father) left the plantation and disappeared into white society. More recently, the daughter of New Yorker writer, Anatole Broyard published a memoir about her father’s passing from black to white.

The idea that passing exists tells us that it is a combination of social class and color that sets the divide. If you can’t pass for white, then you are limited to behavior and money, which is often not enough. Think of all the stories of well-dressed black men not being able to catch a cab in Manhattan.

Human beings use visual markers. It can be clothing, but the most obvious is skin color. Even when there is no specific reason to make an “evaluation” (if there is no social contact or transaction between two people) human beings look at each other and think about whom that other person is. Color defines that decision.

This comes about because (especially in the U.S.) in a capitalistic society, worth (in terms of money) increases the lighter the person’s skin. Even when this is not the case, forces of American society project certain assumptions.

In newspaper articles that post certain statistics you will often find the results broken down into race and ethnicity. These are generally income, education, health issues, political involvement, rate of marriage, abortion, rate of illegitimate births, etc.

Generally, the newspaper does not have the space or the time to discuss issues of over or under reporting, biased statistics, unethical scientists (yes that happens too), institutional racism, which may be subtle but still very powerful.

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