Rachel Dolezal  and the Myth of Race

©  Edgar J. Ridley 2015

Rachel Dolezal’s identification of herself as Black or African-American has caused quite a firestorm.  That is not unusual, for there is a global obsession with race, certainly highlighted here in America.  Even Dolezal was too confused to properly articulate her rationale for self-identifying as Black.

The reaction among Americans, both Black and those who classify themselves as white, has been in line with the Western educational paradigm regarding population classifications.  It is striking that although Dolezal teaches Africana Studies in an institute of higher education, she does not understand the scientific dynamics of the classification of race among the world’s peoples.  Nevertheless, given the racism inherent within the academy, we should not be surprised at the outpouring of confusion to this incident.

Science has proven beyond doubt that the term ‘race’ is a social construct that has no biological significance.  In other words, there is no such thing as race.  Humans originated in Africa.  It is only the consequence of environment that has caused minute differences among the populations of the world.  Rachel Dolezal is justified by either calling herself African-American or Black, since everyone has African ancestors.

Indeed, people who classify themselves as white are appalled by Dolezal’s choices because of the ubiquitous practice of symbolic thinking.  The consequences of allowing Dolezal’s claims to stand unchallenged would mean admitting the African origins of humanity, at minimum.  Symbolic thinking, informed by ignorance, superstition, and mythology encourages denial of these facts.

It does not help that the scientific community continues to mythologize reality.  Dr. Francis Collins, currently Director of the National Institutes of Health, delivered a lecture at the University of Virginia Medical School.  At the time of the lecture, Collins was head of the National Human Genome Research Institute.  In an unusual opening, Collins prefaced his lecture with multiple confessions of trepidation at his pending message:  that all people in the world have their origins in Africa and are in fact African.  Evidenced by the question and answer period that followed, the audience, primarily consisting of those who classify themselves as white, did not receive that information well.   When I asked Dr. Collins his opinion on the request by the Association of Black Psychologist to consider racism a mental illness, not only did he express irritation, he had no cogent response.  In subsequent interviews, Dr. Collins has underscored that even though race does not exist scientifically, the continual practice of racial classification should remain intact for now.   It is not surprising then, that the NIH under Collins’ leadership was accused of failure to provide African-American researchers grant funding.

The late French scholar, Jacques Barzun, stated “Race is a myth which all intelligent people should discard. Yet the quarrel about race is certainly not between the uneducated, on the one hand, and the cultured elite on the other. Intelligence and education do not prevent a man from holding fast to race-prejudice” [1]   Indeed, the word Black has far-reaching superstitious connotations for those who insist on thinking symbolically.  Most recently, we now have something called a Black Dog Syndrome suggesting that black dogs are negatively stereotyped as overtly vicious.   The symbolic view of black, as applied to people, persists in science.  As noted by no less than the National Research Council of the National Academies, “Americans still see African Americans as somehow different from other racial and ethnic groups. African Americans have the fewest ethnic options of any group in the United States.”  [2]

When explaining her self-identification, Rachel Dolezal should have positioned her decision in scientific reality.  There is an ignorance in the racist attitudes of individuals who classify themselves as white who want to maintain this absurd superstitious attitude of racial classification.  Our educational institutions perpetuate this myth of race, which only continues to cause friction, confusion and unrest among the world’s populations.  It is time for people to get over this myth of race that has caused so much damage in the world today and has denigrated civilization as a whole.

[1] Jacques Barzun, Race: A Study in Superstition, p. 5.  Harper & Row 1937.

[2] Norman Anderson, et al., Ed., National Research Council of the National Academies, Critical Perspectives on Racial and Ethnic Differences in Health in Late Life –2004, P. 48


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