If I asked you, “How does someone find out your race biologically?” what would you answer? Blood type? Bone structure? How is it possible to know someone’s race without looking at their skin?
Apparently, the answer is that there is no biological way to know. Underneath our skin there is no difference.
I am currently taking a class named Culture Wars of America: Past, Present and Future**. Today our professor, Jonathan Zimmerman, asked us the previous question. The past week the class had been reading Hellfire Nation, focusing on the section of abolition. In the 18th century, Americans believed that there were clear differences between whites and blacks. That biological difference was what justified slavery and made blacks inferior; back then it was thought by some that blacks were simply created to be slaves. But there is no biological difference between us and them, no matter who the “us” or “them” is.
According to my professor, the term ‘Hispanic’ first appeared on the 1973 United States of America census. The ironic part was that it did not include Spain and a few other Latin American countries. Before 1973, there were no Hispanics. He also discussed the idea that in early 20th century, Jewish was a race. The professor noted that today if asked his race, he would say Jewish and the questioner would be taken aback. However, if the questioner was from the early 20th century, there would be no discussion over the fact the Jewish was a race.
The professor had me asking myself: What distinguishes a race? We all get a little darker over the summer from hours in the sun and a little lighter in the winter from staying indoors for hours at a time. There is a constant ‘othering’ in the history of America: Puritans versus Catholics and Quakers, whites versus blacks and immigrants, us versus them. Do humans create race? Is that why we, not just Americans but humans, create race? It serves as a distinguisher between you and me, us and them.
I leave you with the same question my professor left me with: is race simply a created, imaginative thing?
**I recommend the course Culture Wars of America: Past, Present and Future, to all NYU students who want to broaden their knowledge of controversial topics ranging from abolition to abortion and who also want to challenge their ideas of right and wrong.