Mon 21 Mar, 2011
Tags: Battlestar Galactica, Edward James Olmos, Race, Racial identity, United Nations
This week marks the second anniversary of remarks by actor and activist Edward James Olmos on the subject of race as a social fiction on a panel at the United Nations.
For the third year in a row, and as I prepare to speak tonight on a similar panel at the United Nations, I’m reposting these remarks, because I have still never heard this idea expressed with more power and conviction: the emperor has no clothes. The notion that we as a people are divided into several different races is, and always has been, a dreadful lie.
Despite the danger inherent in advocating what we might call color-blindness, what Admiral Adama of the Battlestar Galactica says here is undeniably correct, both historically and sociologically, and remains true to this day:
There is only one race … that is the human race.
So say we all!
This message says more than merely that we are all equal, regardless of race, or that we ought not to treat one another any differently. It says that race does not exist, except as a shared fiction accepted by society, and that we should not for a moment indulge this fantasy by seeing one another in terms of race at all. Race arose historically as a means of justifying and reinforcing discrimination and oppression, and today we buy into the propaganda of long-dead slave masters and conquerors every time we use race as a way of thinking about ourselves and others.
The fact that race is a myth does not mean that we should strive to be color-blind in the sense of ignoring race entirely, as I’ve written before. Race has been used extensively in the past few centuries as an organizing principle for oppression and discrimination. As a result, racial prejudice still exists throughout our society today, and worse, the tangible and intangible consequences of this history remain with us in the varying degrees to which we inherit wealth, social connections, and other privileges. The experience of race as a social reality over many generations has also ensured that race is deeply embedded in the self-identity of countless members of society. To become truly color-blind at this point in time would mean blinding ourselves to the lingering impact of the history of race, and fooling ourselves into thinking that each generation has had a fresh start independent of the past.
This cautionary note, however, does not diminish by one iota the truth or importance of what Olmos says here. It is entirely possible to recognize the consequences of race for one another without believing, for an instant, in our hearts or minds that we are different, one from another, on account of race.