In one of my previous posts I mentioned the parallels between this class and a history seminar that I am taking. I was reminded of this this past week in the history seminar when we discussed the theory behind race, reading different scholars from Kant to DuBois. While the idea of race is quite complex, this history of how people have thought about it is clear. Kant proposed the first definition of race – as a valuable way of organizing the concept of distant people. In the work we read, The Idea of Race, the authors propose that other theorists distorted this view and argue that we need to keep this definition in mind when thinking about race now and in the future.
The people who challenge the theory of race the most are those who are mixed race. These people often fit into multiple definitions of race, and as such the categories break down. This reminded me of how transgender people challenge our definitions of gender, and led me to question whether the same types of thinking about race could be used for gender or vice versa. Given this, would the best way to think about gender be as just a means of organizing people? We often talk as gender being fluid – people falling on a spectrum. Could this same logic be used for race? Theorists who argued that race was biological, found their arguments break down with the study of genetics. Similarly, attempts to come up with a definitive genetic test for gender are ongoing. The theories behind race and gender can and should be applied across categories.
The two classes, one focused on gender and one a race, have led me to realize how connected the two concepts. And although they are often studied singularly, looking at them in tandem sheds light on new ways to study and think about the concepts.
Robert Bernasconi and Tommy L. Lott, eds., The Idea of Race (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000).