Radio Sandwell African / Caribbean News

Why 'race' is fiction

2013-03-19 10:26:03

Bonnie Greer

"White skin is a moment in the history of human evolution".

Nope, not my opinion, but a fact that Dr. Jill Cook, the eminent archaeologist, deputy keeper of the Department of Pre-history and Europe at the British Museum and curator of the Museum's hit show: Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind casually stated as she walked me around the various objects that comprise the show.

A matter of science to Jill, but a bombshell to me, and all the more powerful for being said inside of this extraordinary show, full of small objects of astonishing power and beauty that shed new light on the 'new art' of over 40,000 years ago.

We know this: that all art is the product of the modern human brain with its beginnings, over 100,000 years ago, in Africa. There, our species Homo sapiens sapiens evolved before spreading out around the globe to become the most successful animal ever. Those who migrated to the icy lands of Europe encountered Neanderthal people who, having evolved there over such a long period, had probably developed fair skin. The dark skinned, fully modern migrants who interbred with them produced the first figurative art in Europe. They themselves, in turn, gradually became fairer as they adapted to life at higher latitudes.

Those are the facts.

This is fiction: 'Race'.

Along with 'race' comes the implied or stated or assumed omnipotent template of white skin... the sine qua non from which all agreement or pushback begins. It is the fount from which 'diversity' springs. It is the 'norm'.

If not, what are we- in terms of 'colour' diverse from?

In a sense, EVERY TIME that we use the word 'diverse' we imply this unquestioned superiority whether intentional or not. The fact that 'race' is a term both unscientific and nuts doesn't detract from its power. It's easy. But it is a myth. And it is a dangerous, virulent, destructive one, the fountainhead of everything in our modern age from Nazism to the unspoken that underpins Fox News' Bill O'Reilly's lament for the loss of "traditional America".

'BME' and other labels have reached a point of automatic response, a kind of decay. Too many people have found refuge and meaning in these terms. They have become political and sociological, journalistic and policy hidey-holes, cul-de-sacs that have too often shut down dissent and wider exploration even amongst the people they are meant to describe. For some- I suspect largely younger people, a lot of these labels/descriptions/explanations are simply pointless, useless and dead. Maybe that's why the dreaded 'vibrant' is often attached to them.

Actually, I've thought about starting a new 'SNCC'. Instead of it being the acronym for that famous 60's Civil Rights organization: 'Student non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee', I thought I'd call my new SNCC: 'Student Non-Vibrant Co-ordinating Committee' and headquarter it in Paris. There they appreciate this sort of transgression. But only, of course, from foreign-born, high Western, non-francophone non-Europeans.

No, we can't ignore the racist crimes, big and small; the insults, big and small; the over-looking; the big and the petty; the overt and the silent cruelty; the invisibility; the ignorance and sheer, utter stupidity. They are all there and must continue to be named, and fought and defeated.

But as we do so, keep in mind that our species- like it always has done- is moving on. And that, as this touching exposition proves... in the beginning it was not the Word...

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