Today, a national holiday in the USA, is a good day to think of such things. Because it's not black and white. The term "white" first appeared in the American colonial laws in 1680, before which time the distinction was between "Christians" or "Englishmen" and, well, everyone else (for a great timeline of changing definitions, see Race: The Power of an Illusion).
The logical and legal contortions of a ruling class trying to maintain power would be laughable, had their ramifications not been so devastating for so many of the "nonwhite" peoples. "Experts" were called to court to testify about various racial groups, leading to strange disctinctions. Armenians (then known as "Asiatic Turks") were declared white; Japanese were refused whiteness. The Virginia Racial Purity Act declared that any person with any African ancestry are considered black. Mexicans were considered white for some time, then "nonwhite," then white again, then spun off as "Hispanics."
Whiteness, then, emerged as what we now call a "pan-ethnic" category, as a way of merging a variety of European ethnic populations into a single "race," especially so as to distinguish them from people with whom they had very particular legal and political relations -- Africans, Asians, American Indians -- that were not equal to their relations with one another as whites.In talk about "improving race relations," this history of the terminology is often overlooked. But it's at the heart of everything. Is race about political definitions? Skin color? Facial features? Ancestry? Class? Some combination of these? There is no biological, genetic, or scientific foundation for a difference among the branches of Homo sapiens. So what is it?
From a talk entitled "Who Invented White People?" by Gregory Jay
Of course we have plenty of social, political, ancestral, cultural, and other differences. Oh yeah, and different skin colors.
While the extremes of human skin color range from pink to blue-black, the vast majority of people have a skin color which can be best described as some shade of brown. (Wikipedia)But skin color isn't a very good indication of anything except, perhaps, what level of sunscreen you might need at the beach. Dig deeper and think about your own issues: how do you label yourself? How do you label others? Why? Does it change anything to think of people as shades of brown?
Musically driving home this point we have the San Francisco band Los Mocosos. It was tough not to choose their song "Shades of Brown" from the album of the same name. But once you've settled on your own shade of brown, here's an anthem that everyone can sing together.
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
[mp3] Los Mocosos:
band site | Buy Shades of Brown
Reminder: SoundRoots' New Year Giveaway
All through the month of January 2006, anyone who leaves a non-anonymous, relevant comment on SoundRoots will be entered for a chance to win the 2-CD set Sound of the World, compiled by the BBC's Charlie Gillett. Drawing will take place 1 February, and the winner will be announced here. If you don't comment, you can't win...
Rain update: Olympia is at Day 30 of consecutive rainfall, and the powers that be have informed me that our record is 33 days, set in 1953. Looks like we'll set a new record, but keep your fingers crossed for us. We might as well get something besides wet basements and landslides out of all of this precip!