Jun 18, 2010

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On the Social Construction of Race

“Race is just a social construction.” We've all heard that refrain touted in textbooks, in the mainstream media, and by little vigilantes with fresh Bachelor's degrees in anthropology, sociology, Africana Studies, or some other field which served to make them experts in little other than racial equality. In fact, we've heard that allegation so often that we've become reflexively defensive toward it. But in this article I would like to seriously treat that claim, to explore its significance in modern discourse on race and racial difference. When individuals from the left assert that race is a social construct, what kind of argument are they making? What is the actual intellectual product of that statement?

There are several ways to examine the claim that race is a social construct. A method popular in our community is to prove by genetics or biology that racial differences are real or immutable; this research has been carried out by numerous scholars whose work is well-known and whose names need not be repeated here. They oppose the theories of Ashley Montagu, Margaret Mead, and other inheritors of Franz Boas's legacy. Yet there is another strain of social construction theory that has not been so thoroughly addressed by those in our community. The academic left, much of it whose power resides not in the sciences but in the humanities, propagates a parallel “race is a social construct” thesis from departments of English, philosophy, history, communication, and allied fields. These arguments, which stand largely unopposed, have less to do with human evolution than with language, stereotypes, and social interaction.

Regardless of what evidence exists for race's biological reality, “race,” because it is a linguistic phenomenon – a word, an utterance – becomes a social construct when it enters the world of discourse, which it must do, of course, in order for us to communicate about it. I hope to show that understanding how language functions socially is vital when developing a robust, meaningful, and comprehensive argument for the reality and importance of race.

To illustrate, I would like to analyze two texts that defend this strange position. Ian F. Haney Lopez, Professor of Law at UC Berkeley, has written extensively on racism and racial constructs in the American legal system. His classic essay, “The Social Construction of Race,” argues that race “must be viewed as a social construction. Human interaction rather than natural differentiation must be seen as the source and the continued basis for racial categorization.” 1 In other words, to that author race is a social construction because we, as social beings, interact about it and therefore constantly construct its abstract significance. To Haney Lopez, because race's definition has varied widely over time, and because it continues to evolve today at both the individual and societal levels, one should not consider “race” to be a meaningful category by which to classify people.2

Haney Lopez proceeds anecdotally, recounting his experience growing up biracial, the son of an Irish father and a Salvadoran mother. (Though, as one might expect, he explicitly writes this chapter “as a Latino.”3) While Haney Lopez's brother identified more closely with his father's white family, leading him to understand and present himself as “unraced,” Haney Lopez himself identified more closely with his mother's family and considered himself a Latino. From this, he concludes that, “in my experience race reveals itself as plastic, inconstant, and to some extent volitional.”4 Haney Lopez, of course, proves very little with his quaint tale, but Critical Race Studies has never required much in the way of academic rigor: its democratic orientation lends itself to evidence based upon feelings and personal convictions. Nevertheless, Haney Lopez's point is well taken: though he and his brother were born of the same parents and can claim the same genetic heritage, they have constructed their racial identities differently. Hence he concludes that race is not biological; it is a set of behavioral expectations chosen and performed by its bearer. It is a social construction.

Obviously, Haney Lopez's biological biraciality, though it is of primary importance to his own refutation of race, is of no consequence to us: the existence of the Labradoodle does not refute the existence of the Labrador. But perhaps this issue of biracial identity does complicate our discussion of race. Haney Lopez's story introduces the important point that a person can “choose” – or construct – his racial identity not only on a census form, but also, more notably, in the wardrobe, in the classroom, and on the streets of American cities. And, as we all known, biracial individuals are not the only ones who must construct their race in this way: a black man must perform whiteness when interviewing for a corporate job, for example, just a white kid in an urban public school must perform blackness when changing in the locker room for gym class.

I think the issue of performable racial identity is vital to explore, for it establishes that there are two forms of useful racial classifications: one that is biological and one that is social – one we are born with and one that is “volitional” (inasmuch as social behaviors can be described as volitional). This second category, the one that is socially dependent, is, according to Michael Omi and Howard Winant's influential Racial Formation in the United States, “a matter of both social structure and cultural representation.” They protest that

Too often, the attempt is made to understand race simply or primarily in terms of only one of these two analytic dimensions. For example, efforts to explain racial inequality as a purely social phenomenon are unable to account for the origins, patterning, and transformation of racial difference. Conversely, many examinations of racial difference – understood as a matter of cultural attributes, a la ethnicity theory, or a society-wide signification system, a la some post structuralist accounts – cannot comprehend such structural phenomenon as racial stratification in the labor market or patterns of racial segregation.

5

Here the authors identify and hope to synthesize two distinct, popular understandings of race based upon social constructionism: one that centers upon the oppression of biased social systems, and another which maintains and marginalizes various race-specific behavior patterns through institutionalized discourse structures. My intent is, like that of Omi and Winant, to synthesize disparate concepts within race theory in order to suggest a more suitable and realistic concept of race – one that seeks to make use of both biological and social race, which, together, comprise our identity as a people.

Hilton and MacDonald's Social Constructionism

In this regard, there is much to say about Anthony Hilton and Kevin MacDonald's Occidental Observer article “Race as a Social Construct? No – and Yes!” The authors admit to “a modest role for social constructs” in the race debate. However this concession is less generous than it might at first seem, because it allows for only a very limited and weak social constructionism – one in which our unconscious minds are influenced by “images of black criminality and poor academic performance,” while our conscious minds are molded by what “the mainstream media like the New York Times tell us we should believe.” Seemingly inherent in this proposed duality is an omnipresent empirical reality, one in which we all directly observe and “unconsciously” internalize images of black criminality and substandard performance. In addition to this “implicit” comprehension of race and racial differences there exists and “explicit” conditioning by the mainstream media that persuades us to consciously accept the socially constructed party line. Then not only do we accept the product of our explicit conditioning, but many of us also participate, sometimes enthusiastically, in its maintenance at the societal level.6

First, I submit that very few whites actually internalize, consciously or unconsciously, unmediated black criminality. For the most part, we might see blacks “act black” and perform poorly in school, and we might even occasionally see blacks commit various petty crimes, but very rarely do we personally experience the widespread lack of civilization which characterizes our individual understandings of black performance in Western societies. In lieu of personal observation, which we must have in order to directly internalize images of black criminality, this understanding comes to us through published statistics, interpersonal communications, and various media (including motion pictures, newscasts, novels, the New York Times, and articles written by writers like Professor Hilton and MacDonald). These media, of course, contribute to a socially constructed notion of how race functions in our culture. The simple fact that most of us derive our racial biases, prejudices, and stereotypes largely, though not exclusively, via mediation, rather than via isolated personal experience (which, I argue, would still leave significant room for social construction), indicates that our individual conception of race are, at their root, socially constructed.

I want to commend Hilton and MacDonald for addressing the relationship between race and social construction within our discourse community for it is a topic we should seriously explore. Yet I would like to go a step further than Hilton and MacDonald and argue that race is a social construct in vastly more ways than they recognize in their article. In order to make my argument, I want to briefly explore the roots of social constructionism and suggest a few ways in which its application might be of use to us as race theorists.

Social Constructionism As Theory

Of course, social construction theory did not begin with Haney Lopez or Omi and Winant; they are only a few of the most widely cited scholars who have related that theory to race. The notion of a socially negotiated reality, as constructed through discourse, dates back to classical antiquity. Cratylus, Socrates, and Hermogenes debate the matter in Plato's Cratyles. Socrates concludes the dialogue by stating

Nor can we reasonably say, Cratylus, that this is knowledge at all, if everything is in a state of transition and there is nothing abiding; for knowledge too cannot continue to be knowledge unless continuing always to abide and exist. But if the very nature of knowledge changes, at the time when the chance occurs there will be no knowledge, and, according to this view, there will be no one to know and nothing to be known: but if that which knows and that which is known exists ever, and the beautiful and the good and every other thing also exist, then I do not think that they can resemble a process or flux, as we were just now supposing. Whether there is this eternal nature in things, or whether the truth is what Heracleitus and his followers and many others say, is a question hard to determine; and no man of sense will like to put himself or the education of his mind in the power of names: neither will he so far trust names or the givers of names as to be confident in any knowledge which condemns himself and other existences to an unhealthy state of unreality.

7

The participants in this dialogue attempt to find a correlation between words and the concepts they signify; Hermogenes finds the relationship to be essentially arbitrary, while Cratylus maintains that words and names naturally reflect the essence of that for which they stand.8 As can be seen above, Socrates concludes the matter ambiguously; the matters of transitory knowledge and arbitrary signifiers are a bit of a mystery even to him. But his verdict is clear: one who relies upon a thing's name (i.e., one who relies upon something as socially contingent as a mere word) to establish transcendent meaning or stable essence might find himself in an “unhealthy state of reality.”

Countless philosophers, linguists, and language theorists have continued this debate since the stalemate between Socrates, Cratylus, and Hermogenes in the fifth century B.C. Yet because of nineteenth- and twentieth-century breakthroughs in structuralist and poststructuralist linguistics, the “conventionalists” – those who find the relationship between signifier and signified to be conventional and arbitrary – seem to have taken the prize. So for our purposes, the implications of their position are worth revisiting: if a word (or other signifier) does not flawlessly and directly communicate the concept it signifies – in other words, if there is not an inherent relationship between signifiers and their referents – at least a certain degree of social construction of meaning must take place between a communicator and his audience. Naturally, this is true even when the conversation is about race or other matters that have a certain empirical basis.

Some modern theorists of social constructionism have latched upon the ambiguous relationship between words and concepts and have then attempted to induce from it a vision of the world in which reality exists only via mediation and construction. This “strong” social constructionism, which gained popularity after the Second World War and which was particularly influential in the 1960s and 1970s, can be exemplified by Richard Vatz, who claims that

Fortunately or unfortunately meaning is not intrinsic in events, facts, people, or “situations,” nor are facts “publicly observable.” Except for those situations which directly confront our own empirical reality, we learn of facts and events through someone's communicating them to us. This involves a two-part process. First, there is a choice of events to communicate . . . The second step in communicating “situations” is the translation of the chosen information into meaning.

9

Readers of The Occidental Quarterly can likely appreciate Vatz's recognition that reality is frequently crafted for individuals by mediating forces; in fact, this journal exists only as a response to popularly propagated myths which obfuscate or invent (socially construct) “truths” about race and other related issues. If these myths were not “the truth” to the masses of the American public, we in the TOQ community would have little to discuss. Yet Vatz goes further in his theory of social construction, deferentially quoting American political scientist Murray Edelman: “language does not mirror an objective 'reality' but rather creates it by organizing meaningful perceptions abstracted from a complex, bewildering world.”10 This dismissal of any “objective reality” is the core of strong social construction theory.

In quoting, Edelman, Vatz aligns himself with an entire tradition of postmodern thinkers from this era – Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, and Richard Rorty are among the most notable – who endorse a position of more or less total social construction: they posit a view of the world – or, more accurately, a view of six and a half billion worlds – that exist only in the minds of their beholders. According to them, a person's linguistic experience constructs for him an unstable and indescribable reality that will inevitably differ from that of all other individuals, each of whom possess his own little symbolic reality. According to this postmodernists, we are therefore only able to use language as a system of symbols that problematically communicate the concepts between our quite incompatible individuals worlds. So to them and their twenty-first century acolytes, race, as an utterance, is meaningless, insomuch as “meaning” implies a social negotiation of fluid, faultless understanding. This extreme brand of social constructionism departs notably from the one suggested by Hermogenes in the Cratylus, and it is one which, in my opinion, fails to realistically address the complex relationship between material reality and social interaction.

Today many others also find this “strong” social constructionism untenable. In the introduction to his The Construction of Social Reality, philosopher John Searle addresses the theories of the “strong” constructionists: “We live in exactly one world, not two or three or seventeen … But the existence of phenomena which are not in any obvious way physical or chemical gives rise to puzzlement.”11 To Searle, language does prevent people from living on the same planet. There is room within social construction theory for a realist vision of a shared world, and though language complicates the matter, it does not totally imprison us isolated within its grasp.

Searle distinguishes between things that can be considered socially constructed and those that cannot. He explains that there is a difference between those two types of reality: first, there is the reality in which the value of a $5 bill is socially constructed, and second and there is the reality that hydrogen atoms have one electron.12 Our society has constructed a system of exchange in which $5 bills, despite their intrinsic worthlessness, are accepted as legal tender and are differentiated from lesser and greater bills only by the ink patterns printed upon them (to Searle, an “institutional” or “social” fact13). On the other hand, that hydrogen atoms have one electron is an empirical fact (or a “brute” fact) that would still exist without human observation or agreement.14

After exploring the significance of these differences, Searle commends many twentieth-century sociologists for attempting to solve the problems of social construction, but suggests that their research perspective was restricted; as scientists, they were unequipped to tackle the problems posed by language and negotiated, contextually constructed meaning. Their tradition of inquiry, while certainly intertwined with that of the humanities, was not accustomed to exploring the relationship between words, signification, and producers of discourse. While they could theorize about the nature of truth and the effects of individual constructs, their disciplinary research narratives did not include Plato, Leibniz, Kant, and the other western philosophers who have contributed over the centuries to our understanding of reality. And if we, as modern day race theorists, are truly interested in understanding the social construction of race, we would be remiss to ignore such a rich tradition.

To constructionists of the above “soft” variety, truth is largely social: often it can only be discovered through discourse, through interaction with other people. For example: we learned that Barack Obama was elected president not by counting votes ourselves, but by watching post-election television coverage. We “know” we has elected only in a very indirect and trusting way; i.e., we “know” it because other people told us so. It is the exact same process by which our peers come to “know” that Nobel Laurete Menachim Begin was a man of peace and that, without George Washington Carver, we certainly wouldn't have peanut butter today. These “truths” are socially derived, and, according to social constructionists, this process by which we negotiate truth can be applied not only to mass mediated reality, but also to local and more individualized realms of discourse: when we talk with friends, listen to lectures, and read novels, articles, and poetry. They argue that in every social situation there is, to a certain degree, an amount of social construction and negotiation of meaning and reality.

Conclusion

So how does all of this help us, as theorists of race? We can agree, I argue, that to a certain degree race is a social construct. If we accept Searle's distinction, we can consider race both a brute and a social fact. On at least one level, it is a set of social conventions, including fashion, art, dialects, mannerisms, and even occupations and pastimes. It can be performed in certain cases, such as the one cited by Haney Lopez. (And I have to point out that we've all bemoaned the sight of those sixteen-year-old white kids at the mall who “talk,” “dress,” or “act black,” not to mention the respectable blacks among us who, as we insist, “act white.”) In addition, I posit it will benefit us to develop a more critical understanding of how society does in fact construct race in cultural artifacts, political discourse, and news reporting, for our people are frequently the victims of a vicious perpetuation of negative stereotypes – what some might call the social construction of the white race.

Moreover, we must recognize that, even among ourselves – even as a community with common goals and values – we will disagree about the boundaries of race and the definition of whiteness. We as individuals do not scientifically test people we meet in order to judge whether or not they are white. We make that decision based upon how we individually define whiteness, and that definition doesn't come from some universally understood essence or an acknowledged set of criteria. It comes from our social interactions with other humans, from our contrastive experiences with whites and non-whites, which have led us to our own subjective and socially constructed definitions of whiteness.

Let us remember that, when Searle and other modern proponents of social construction developed their theories, they were standing on the shoulders of giants – the giants, in fact, of the entire western tradition. So regardless of what I might think of the excesses of strong social constructionism and its lingering, though dissipating, impact upon humanistic thought today, I believe it will be beneficial for our community to consider the traditions from which these theories evolved. I believe it will be beneficial for us to adopt a rational and well-defined theory of socially constructed race, alongside our traditional theories of biological race, in order to come to a comprehensive definition of who we are, what we stand for, and what we want to preserve.

The appropriate way to rebut Haney Lopez and his humanist colleagues is not to compare skull sizes, establish ancestral migration patterns, or cite criminal statistics (regardless of whatever undeniable merit these projects do possess). Instead, we should consider (1) how certain institutions have manipulated negative social constructs in their attempts to marginalize entire classes of academic research and pathologize certain behaviors and concepts among our people; (2) how revisiting our people's traditional mores, ideals, and worldviews can help us reconstruct an ideal of who we are and what we want as a people; and, perhaps most importantly, (3) how our circles' traditional aversion to modern theories of social construction impedes our ability to participate in these reasonable discussions of the issue which we, as readers of and contributors to The Occidental Quarterly, find most essential: race.

John Howard is the pen name of an American author and critic.

_______________________

1 Ian F. Haney Lopez, “The Social Construction of Race,” in Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, ed. Richard Del Gado and Jean Stefancic (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000(, 163-75.
2 To put it crassly: the use of the word “race” has different connotations in the bleachers at the Daytona 500 than it does in Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man (New York: Norton, 1981), though most TOQ readers will likely find both uses to be of equal intellectual consequence. Simply put, the term “race” derives its significance from the context in which it is written, spoken, read, or heard, and from its relationship to the chain of signifiers that precede and follow it. See Kenneth Burke's discussion of “contextual definition” in A Grammar of Motives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 24-26.
3 Haney Lopez, “The Social Construction of Race,” 165.
4 Haney Lopez, “The Social Construction of Race,” 166
5 Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States (New York: Routledge, 1994), 56.
6 Anthony Hilton and Kevin MacDonald, Race as a social construct – No – and Yes!” The Occidental Observer, December, 9, 2008.
7 Plato, “Cratylus,” The Collected Dialogues of Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 474.
8
9 Richard E. Vatz, “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 6 (1973): 156-57.
10 Murray Edelman, Politics as Symbolic Action (Chicago: Markham, 1971), 33-34.
11 John Searle, The Social Construction of Reality (New York: The Free Press, 1995), xi.
12 Searle, The Social Construction of Reality, 2.
13 John Searle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (London: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 50-53.
14 Searle, The Social Construction of Reality, 190-94.

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  1. avatar
    John Drake said:

    “The appropriate way to rebut Haney Lopez and his humanist colleagues” includes
    (3) to consider “how our circles’ traditional aversion to modern theories of social construction impedes our ability to [discuss] race.”

    If that is the case, it might be advisable to distinguish two classes within the class that Searle would call “brute facts.”

    A) There is a class of facts that can be perceived by ordinary sense-perception, e.g. “the sky is blue and the sunshine is warm”;
    B) There is a class of facts that can be inferred from trained analysis of experimental measurements, e.g. “If we regard voltage as a block, there are no statistically significant effects, but if we regard voltage as a second factor, then the only significant effect is that of voltage.”

    This kind of distinction may turn out to be very important for issues in biophysics, genetics, molecular biology, etc.

    “the use of the word “race” has different connotations in the bleachers at the Daytona 500 than it does in Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man (New York: Norton, 1981), though most TOQ readers will likely find both uses to be of equal intellectual consequence. ”

    To the contrary, I find the Daytona 500 to be vastly less repugnant than the writings of S.J.Gould.

  2. This was an interesting and thought-provoking article which definitely helps us to understand where “social construct” ideas come from…

    What politically-correct people mean when they say “social construct” about race is that it is a chimera with no basis in empirical fact. Further, they mean to imply that race was constructed as a concept by evil whites to maintain our power — like different color jerseys and names for sports teams… (now THERE is a 100% social construct!) an artificial division for nefarious purpose. The periodic table of the elements is a construct of data that is nearly entirely empirical, even though chemistry started out as more an alchemical social construct in the sense you mention in the article. The difference is that our symbols come to reflect reality rather than social, wishful, political, or otherwise erroneous thinking. That is the point of science. Political-correctness is exactly the kind of thing that science was invented by Europeans to counteract. Science is the dragonslayer of non-accurate social-constructs.

    The ideas of race 100 years ago were maybe more like alchemy and socially-constructed in this regard (and is the reason why Jews like Boaz had an easier time of it attacking these ideas in their infancy, and why other Jews Stephen J Gould cited 100-year-old studies in his books much later), but now we have essentially a periodic table of races — a vast network of modern empirical information in which denial of racial reality is similar to the denial that the Earth moves around the sun. ALL of the evidence supports the existence of and vital importance of races.

    One area where we constantly fall down in our assessments of the importance of race is in the area of DESTINY. Each race is on a different path — comes from a different environmental and social background which has selected traits around a common theme. ONLY the white race appears poised for something truly different, is actually on a path of change — toward becoming a wholly different species with higher empirical truth as its heart and soul. Other races have individual traits which add up to something else — they fall off the path, and create their own eddies and dead-end trajectories. We see this clearly in Africa, and less obviously among highly intelligent asians until we see their natural deference and stifling conformity unto death — as the Falun Gong movement has felt over there in China where they are being tortured to death, executed, and imprisoned simply for being different and not adhering to the program. The social program. To them, the constructs are the thing–the litmus of worth. Not to us.

    Individual behaviors add up, and when one of our race sees someone of another race acting and perceiving differently, we see the IMPLICATIONS of these genetic propensities for us and our pattern — because they are diametrically opposed — and then we want to separate from them NATURALLY. There is no construct about that — it is the direct experience of reality. That is a big part of my own experience, and why James Watson said what he did about employers knowing what he was talking about too.

    Like I said — a well-written and researched and very though-provoking article. Thank you.

    • avatar
      kathy russell said:

      What is the differences that create race? Is it not the gene Melanin which ties everything that comes from the earth to the earth? How can any people have a future when they are not connected to the source of power.

  3. avatar
    Hengist said:

    What does it matter? What difference can it make? This is just an intelectual exercise, to arm the already converted. The average Joe and Jane simply aren’t capable of complex, or even rational thought. And those who are already brainwashed liberals, are beyond reach, anyway.

  4. Racial diversity didn’t come about as a result of ever-evolving social traits and trends which influence personal taste, aesthetic preferences and lifestyle choices, it is the existence of racial difference in itself which gave rise to the development of individual cultures, beliefs and societal practices.

    The Marxist Liberal invention of multiculturalism and diversity is a clear-cut example of social construct, its particular interpretations of which are unnatural and thus entirely false whereas racial variation is a naturally occurring reality.

    Alluding to the point that because the term ‘Race’ is merely a word and thus allegedly a social construct as far as the Marxist Liberal mindset is concerned, one could equally suggest that a daffodil is not a flower but a social construct, that a Spaniel is not a canine but a social construct, that a dog is not a canine but a social construct, that an ant is not an insect but a social construct AND so on.

    By the time Marxist Liberal doctrine had realized its objectives and reached its intended goal, if we were to foolishly let it proceed unfettered, we’d find ourselves back in our prehistoric past communicating via grunts and growls all over again.

  5. avatar
    Bob in Idaho said:

    A Stanford study showed that the way people racially classify themselves is very close to a set of DNA markers, and is much cheaper than determining the markers by laboratory tests. Yet this is hard science, and not related to “social constructs”. Nevertheless, just for the sake of interesting information, here are two extracts from the article about the Stanford study http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-01/sumc-rgm012705.php .
    “This work comes on the heels of several contradictory studies about the genetic basis of race. Some found that race is a social construct with no genetic basis while others suggested that clear genetic differences exist between people of different races.”
    “But recently some researchers have moved to examining genetic differences between participants rather than relying on race and ethnicity. Their reasoning is that genetic differences may be a more precise tool for tracking groups of patients. Risch points out that this genetic analysis is costly. If people fall into the same groups using self-identified race as using genetics, then that could bring down the expanding cost of medical research.”

    Now going to the subject of John Howard’s article “On the Social Construction of Race.”
    “Their tradition of inquiry, while certainly intertwined with that of the humanities, was not accustomed to exploring the relationship between words, signification, and producers of discourse.”

    What are some of the things being done to us with language? I can think of at least two.
    – any name to use to name ourselves has been ripped away from us. Quite a diabolical accomplishment. It certainly handicaps us in our fight for survival.
    – a broad front of words and concepts that falsely re-cast the giving away of our lands in the US and Europe.

    Coming to the problem of this kind of use of words, coming at it from one particular direction, and a successful direction, is the recent “Racism, Schmacism,” by James Edwards”, reviewed in TOQ http://www.toqonline.com/2010/06/racism-schmacism/

    Clearly the term “social construct” is being used in a certain way, and I think there is no term I would use in such a way – I would call such a usage vague and muddled. But as the author John Howard could be suggesting, maybe we should explore this new piece of language and not be passive in accepting only what the other side says.

    I have a short book which I am starting to look at, “Existentialism: A Brief Insight,” by Thomas Flynn http://www.amazon.com/Existentialism-Brief-Insight-Thomas-Flynn/dp/1402768745 . One part of the book contains material on language and constructs, and contains brief descriptions by many philosophers and philosophies. Does the book give further primary ideas or issues involved with how they are looking at this thing they generally include under the phrase “social constructs”? I will try and report back within a week.

  6. avatar
    james in idaho said:

    bob,

    do you live in central, southern, or north idaho. i’m in central, and if you want, we can maybe swap email addresses (through admin?).

    james

  7. avatar
    Stronza said:

    Octalia said:

    “Alluding to the point that because the term ‘Race’ is merely a word and thus allegedly a social construct as far as the Marxist Liberal mindset is concerned, one could equally suggest that a daffodil is not a flower but a social construct, that a Spaniel is not a canine but a social construct, that a dog is not a canine but a social construct, that an ant is not an insect but a social construct AND so on.”

    Well, the original wild wolf is not a social construct, but your Spaniel is, at least in the sense that it was human beings “breeding” wild dogs that brought about all those different varieties we have today. It is true that there’s only a few landraces who came about without any major human intervention, but the breeds coming out of those landraces are indeed “constructs” in this sense.

    Same with the common garden flowers. You can still get seeds for some of the precursor flowers (“species”) but it was endless human interference that produced the big ‘n’ colourful, Fisher-Price flowers we are all familiar with. Same with the grains eaten all over the world. You would not recognize the original wild corn (maize) discovered by the Mexicans 9,000 years ago, nor any of the others that today constitute a major part of the diet in various parts of the world. Those big and juicy cobs didn’t just present themselves. WE made them that way.

    So my point is that even the purest Russian or Frenchman isn’t so pure. Go back far enough and you will see that we are all stabilized hybrids – some complex, some simple, but hybrids nonetheless. All of which doesn’t mean we have to sit still and be wiped out, but let’s not fool ourselves that we didn’t come about through heavy manipulation.

  8. In the traditional sense, race is merely ancestry. To say that race doesn’t exist is to deny the existence of ancestry.

  9. avatar
    Bob in Idaho said:

    Stronza june 22 gives good examples, but of what? I don’t mean that negatively at all. Sometimes you can see good points or examples, but you aren’t sure how yet to apply them. But examples are always nice for possible future use and for insights and making things concrete.

    And I have to look more carefully at John Drake’s comments involving Searle.

    As my coming post on the existentialism book shows, it is possible to go in a different direction. One of the things about this material is that it can be taken in many directions, that’s its strength for the other side, and strength for our side.

  10. avatar
    Bob in Idaho said:

    James in Idaho, june 22, mentioned possibly swapping emails, maybe through admin.

    Yes. How does that work? Admin has my permission to send the email I give when I post to this thread – to send it to you. I live in southern Idaho.

  11. avatar
    Bob in Idaho said:

    A week ago I said I would report back on the book “Existentialism: A Brief Insight,” by Thomas Flynn http://www.amazon.com/Existentialism-Brief-Insight-Thomas-Flynn/dp/1402768745 The book has an extended section on language (it also goes into social constructions / constructs, which I will not explicitly cover).

    My goal is to take only a very few of the very most important ideas of existentialism, and connect those to the fight for the survival of our people, with however all this done in regard to language.

    Freedom and responsibility are two of the biggest items of existentialism.

    “At issue is the role of the free, responsible individual – the hallmark of existentialist thought.” (7 lines from the bottom of page 135).

    In the opening chapter of the book, page 11, are the “Five Themes of Existentialism.” Theme 4 is

    “4. Freedom/responsibility. Existentialism is a philosophy of freedom. Its basis is the fact that we can stand back from our lives and reflect on what we have been doing. In this sense, we are always ‘more’ than ourselves. But we are as responsible as we are free.”

    For the sake of completeness, let me mention that the five themes listed for existentialism are: 1. Existence precedes essence. 2. Time is of the essence. 3. Humanism. 4. Freedom/responsibility. 5. Ethical considerations are paramount.

    Let me also mention that on the same page 11 are statements to the effect that while many philosophers downplay “the philosophical significance of our feelings and emotions,” existentialism places great significance on such emotions as [and here the book mentions examples]. This sets existentialism in “likely dialogue with creative artists,” because these people are involved in our “emotional and imaginative lives.” I will point out that this statement in the book is itself an example of the issue of freedom, the freedom of the artist to go ahead and choose which and have emotions and feelings, a freedom downplayed by many philosophers and, I will also point out, by science. The statements in the book invoke the idea of the freedom for all of us to have emotions and feelings.

    Parts of the book are leftist, but I will use the rest of the post to discuss our own situation, motivated by the above ideas.

    It is true that the other side uses these ideas – freedom and responsibility – to ultimately assist in the replacement and destruction of our people. But that doesn’t mean we have to passively use them in the same way. Indeed, we can invoke freedom to use them in not their way but ours, and we can point out the responsibility of our people to fight the replacement of our people and the give-a-way of our lands, and we can point out to our people that they have freedom with responsibility.

    We might even stress ideas of freedom and responsibility as a way to bring back some name for ourselves. “Our people” can’t be the only name for ourselves, and “white” has been taken away from us.

    There is another place where we have got unnecessarily caught in issues of language.

    Many of us have been cleverly driven to think that we have no choice but to more and more invoke scientific type explanations, in our struggle, and that we have to try to impose ever more stridently these scientific explanations on those not listening, and we get into this mental state because going round and round in our mind is: more science, more science, more science, that is the answer. And that thought is the only thought going round and round in our minds. Yet many people in our countries would become friendlier to our side if they didn’t feel beat up with science. They would especially respond to heartfelt statements from us about our freedom with responsibility.

    Use ideas like “freedom” and “responsibility” in a manner that is genuine, heart-felt, and honest according to your own lights (and that too is freedom, your freedom to do so), and we will do much good. More people will feel we are talking to them and not lecturing them on science, and they will see us as human beings, which we are.

    I hope the above illustrates how we need not be captive to how the other side seeks to imprison us in a house of language of their making.

    We need people to break out of the prison house of language that the other side has socially constructed for us. We also need the scientific approach. Our civilization fighting for its survival needs these and lots of other efforts too.

  12. I enjoyed the article but please help me understand something. If you say ‘race’ is a social construct and a hard fact, isn’t it easier to simply distinguish those different ideas with different words? For example I find it elegant to continue using race to refer to a set of heritable characteristics and to use ‘culture’ for what I am interpreting you would label the ‘social construction’ portion. It just so happens that there is large overlap between people with certain cultures and people of certain races, for obvious reasons.

  13. avatar
    Holthoff said:

    Liberal have it backwards. It is not race that a social construct, it is societal that is a racial construct!

  14. avatar
    Holthoff said:

    Liberals have it backwards. It is not race that is a social construct, it is society that is a racial construct!

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  16. Perhaps I’m missing a point here, but my interpretation of the term “social construct” is that race only matters to us because we are so conscious of it. No one would deny that racial differences between people are in a large part due to certain genetic factors, but I think the whole “biologically similar” idea simply means that humans are more similar biologically across race than we are different. This means that while yes, there are superficial differences (some would argue that deeper divisions exist, in culture, mannerisms, etc.) they aren’t nearly as important or significant as we think. The overall point being made, and it’s one we forget far too often, is that people are inherently alike, and any distinctions we make between groups of people exist only because we make them, not because a black person is fundamentally different from a white, brown or whoever person. If you spend any time in another country, you’ll realize that people aren’t as different as you’d think, everyone is motivated by the same desires, fears, urges. It’s disingenuous to think that because I do not share a “race” with someone, I am fundamentally different from them. Race is a social construct in the sense that it is only a part of a person’s identity because we make it part of their identity. Ideally, race just wouldn’t matter at all.

  17. You lost me when you said, “individuals on the left” which is a less than scientific classification. If you want to write about a serious scientific topic, you shouldn’t use ignorant ad hominem statements.

    Peace,
    Tex Shelters

  18. avatar
    Lori Lang said:

    Race is biology, and we all share human characteristics. The idea of race being a social construct is not a left or a right concept. We know that we are one biologically in terms of being able to share each others organs and have children with each other. So, our differences biologically are superficial, hair texture, some ailments which tend to be environmental, and skin color. The key problem that we see among many is that race is attributed to pathology especially as it pertains to darker skinned people in the world. Yet, disorder or crime in other parts of the world i.e Europe are rarely cited as due to their pigmentation. Those who want to dismiss the notion of the social construction of race normally do so due to their inherent bias to attribute dysfunctional behavior in minority communities due to a racial makeup instead of addressing more systemic problems that plague these communities. Countless studies reveal that lower income people of all groups tend to follow the same negative trajectory As someone who teaches in an all white community, I can attest that there is no superior race. Clearly, skin color, racial makeup, plays no role whatsoever in positive or negative outcomes. In short, race is biology as is eye color. The rest is cultural and educational opportunities.

  19. avatar
    Richard Herbert said:

    Maybe the issue here is that when anthropologists argue that race is a social construct, they are using wide-spread, and widely accepted, genetic theory. They point out the paradox that differences in the aggregate genotype within cultures is greater than BETWEEN cultures–ie, the classification of race is based on appearance and phenotypic traits mostly unrelated to a person’s overall genotype.

    For instance, the phenotypic difference between the classic white and black stereotype might be skin pigmentation, hair pigmentation, skull size, etc. But, the differences at a GENETIC level between those two will not be anywhere as striking as what you think you see. Anthropologists don’t have much use for post-modern theory or intuitive analysis. Race is a way of classifying people based on ostensible genetic differences, normally invoked by a fearful majority to suppress a minority, that don’t actually exist.

    Furthermore, anyone who claims that different societies are different due to their genetic disparity are wholly unaware of the well-documented universals found in most modern ethnography, as well as the increasing awareness of epigenetics role in social behavior. If people spent more time actually listening to the experts on these matters, of which not all are liberal, you might actually have a grasp on why liberals say that, “Race is a social construct.” Scientifically there is absolutely no doubt that race is a social construct, although lineage clearly is not.

    The only reason you see black people and white people as different is because you are prejudiced, and have bought into the media’s stranglehold on particular methods of representation. If you want to argue that people who look one way, or that the way society has segregated people who look one way, is classifiable, fine. But it has nothing to do with science. It is just, as Sheldon Cooper would say, “hokum.”

  20. Social constructs are not an idea of the left or right, but the application of the idea of social construct to areas like race is most definitely a leftist, Cultural Marxist idea.

    Simply a social construct can be seen as someone having an idea about something and a large enough group accepting that as the way it is.
    So someone had the idea that blue is for boys and pink is for girls.
    There is nothing inherently boyish about blue nor girlish about pink, indeed 100 years ago it was pink for boys and blue for girls.

    So firstly you must define what you mean by race.
    If the parameters of that definition exist in reality rather than just an idea with no concrete basis, then race is not a social construct within the terms of your definition.

    Racial groups have thousands of differences which are developmental. hormonal, psychological, pharmacological, anatomical and so on and so on. If you deny there are races then you deny the existence of these differences. That there are many differences is not washed away by statements like “we all came from Africa” “We all bleed red” ” there is only one race the human race.”

    For me the interesting area is why there are those who deny the existence of race?
    The vast majority do so b/c they were told in what used to be educational establishments called schools but are now institutions for brainwashing and indoctrination.
    Race does not exist b/c to accept it exist would mean an acceptance of differences. Accepting differences means you will have to accept groups (races) are better in some aspects. The nanosecond you do this. the thought police will be on your back crying racist.
    Why has this situation come to pass?
    The actual reality is if there are no races and all “groups” are equal in all aspects and it is only a matter of skin colour means the objections to mass immigration (aka importing cheap labour) is lessened. The globalists can then maximise profits whilst indigenous people have their homelands overrun and wages are driven down.
    Follow the money and you will find the culprits and the reasons.

    The next level of course is that it erodes the respectability of Nationalism. When indeed do we hear about patriotism any more? Homogeneous populations are more cohesive and co-operative. They trust each other more. If you want to dominate the world in this “New World Order.” Amalgamate the governments and legislation of whole continents (look at the European Union if you doubt this happens) a disjointed and non cohesive population is much easier to con into giving up their heritage when there is no uniformity of heritage.

    • avatar
      kathy russell said:

      But only a devil would even think to con a people out of their heritage you have a disconnect from truth the bible says “you are the child of the devil and lust of your father you will do.” the Devil came to steal, kill and destroy sounds like some one you know. (Europeans)

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