Barbara J. Fields defines race as “neither biology nor an idea absorbed into biology by Lamarckian inheritance,” but as an ideology. And, as an
, “lives on today” only because “we continue to create it today.” (1)
While disagreeing with the economic basis for Fields’s theory, I do agree that the concept of race, like that of any political or organizational affiliation, is not biologically determined, and needs to be continually recreated. Further, I consider race to be a subset in a larger arena of differentiation called specialness.
Specialness is the great dictator of . . . wrong decisions. Here is the grand illusion of what you are. . . . He who is “worse” than you must be attacked, so that your specialness can live on his defeat.
Would it be possible for you to hate [a person in the designated group] if you were like him?
Those who are special must first defend illusions against the truth. (2)
If, then, it is not “possible . . . to hate [someone] if you were like him,” and—for whatever reason—there is importance in “hating” him, it becomes crucial
to be like him. We see the results of this “logic” applied again and again throughout history where, indeed, much harm has come from
A member of a
group, protected by his own sense of impunity, is able to do and say certain things without having to take conscious, or personal, resonsibility for them. (“Those who are special must first defend illusions against the truth.”) Furthermore, he is frequently rewarded with the moral high ground, its comforting righteouness yet another buffer from the truth. In U.S. history, political leaders have often tolerated or even encouraged Americans to think they were more “special”—that is, superior—if they were white, or Protestant, or male, etc.
How can this toleration, even encouragement, of certain harmful
groups be understood in view of this country’s stated intention that “All men are created equal”? Are we all absolute hypocrites? As a high school U.S. History teacher I need to address these issues.
Moreover, if this general agreement on
equality is, as Fields suggests, continually recreated, then each of us needs to become aware of his own participation in this recreation if any discussion is to be meaningful. Such an examination would be particularly useful for my students, whose ideas of personal affiliation are either still being formed or so fresh as to be easily influenced.
Another point: Perhaps it is inevitable that a person needs to feel special. If so, then there are two important questions to be asked.
(1) How can we channel the need to feel special into areas that are helpful to others, and to society?
For example, a special talent in science might lead to a useful life as a research physician (as opposed to inventing new ways of torturing political prisoners).
(2) How can we legitimately feel
while also recognizing and respecting the way others are also special?
In other words, how can we teach that ascribed valuations are not absolute?
An additional benefit of discussing racism as a subset of a more general
in a classroom of largely African-American and Puerto Rican students is to place this potentially charged subject in an academically protected environment, precluding both sloppy thinking—I want my students to learn to think for themselves—and knee-jerk hostility. Ultimately, the box of racist thinking can be escaped only, first, from
—from an honest inventory of its contents and, then, from above—with the overview of objectivity.
Accordingly, I have prepared a curriculum unit, “What Am I Equal To?” This unit includes six basic, cumulative themes. The application of these themes is achieved through four specific objectives. Here is a list of the themes and objectives: