Racial Classification Conceptual Analysis II

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The previous post lists the questions that are prerequisites for this post. Don't read further if you don't want the exercise spoiled. The first post contains a number of cases and asks questions about the race of the person involved in each case. The idea is to draw out what people's first thoughts on classifying people racially who might not easily fit the most obvious ways we classify people. Once you've gone through the cases without looking at what others have said, you can see how my students answered these questions.

I'll repeat each question and then list how the student responses went before moving on to the next question.

Case 1: Someone with some black ancestry and a white appearance decides to live in two worlds, so to speak. When in public, he never draws attention to race, and people assume he�s white. No one knows of his ancestry. When he�s with his family and their friends, he acts as part of the black culture and considers himself black. Is he black, as he claims? Is he white? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

Both/mix/part each -- 16
Black -- 5
White -- 2
Neither/ no race -- 2
Hedging/two answers -- 3
No answer -- 1

Case 2: Someone with some black ancestry and a white appearance decides to live in two worlds, so to speak. He considers himself white, and people believe him. No one knows of his ancestry. Is he white, as he claims? Is he black? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

Both/mix/part each -- 10
White -- 7
Neither/no race -- 2
Black -- 1
Not white but no positive claim -- 1
Hedging/two answers -- 5
No answer -- 3

Case 3: Someone with some black ancestry and a white appearance was adopted by a white family at a very young age. He considers himself white. No one, even him and his family, have knowledge of his ancestry. Is he white, as he claims? Is he black? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

Both/mulatto -- 9
White -- 8
Black -- 3
Possibly white -- 1
Hedging/two answers -- 7
No answer -- 1

Case 4: Mr. Oreo has black ancestry and appearance and knows of it but considers himself white, has adopted white culture, and has experiences more in line with the average white person, though he also has experienced some racism because of his appearance. He considers himself white. Is he white, as he claims? Is he black? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

Black -- 12
Both/mix/some of both -- 9
Neither -- 2
White -- 1
Hedges -- 4
No answer -- 1

Case 5: Mr. Oreo has black ancestry and appearance and knows of it but considers himself white, has adopted white culture, and has experiences more in line with the average white person, though he also has experienced some racism because of his appearance. He considers himself white. He takes advantage of a new device that can change someone�s appearance so that he now even looks white and moves where no one knows him. Now no one knows his former appearance or ancestry. Is he white, as he claims? Is he black? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

Black -- 10
Both/some of both -- 8
White -- 2
Neither -- 2
Mostly white -- 1
Hedges -- 3
No answer -- 3

Case 6: Two children are switched in the hospital. A child of white parents is raised by a black family, adopted black culture and experiencing what black children experience growing up. He considers himself black, and so does his community. No one knows his ancestry is white, including him. Is he black, as he claims? Is he white? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

White -- 16
Black -- 5
Both -- 5
Hedges -- 2
No answer -- 1

Case 7: A white man decides to identify with the oppressed black community as much as possible. He goes to live among black people, marries a black woman, adopts black culture, and eventually begins to consider himself black. He still is treated as white by people who don�t know this about him, but many people begin to see him as an adopted black person. Everyone involved knows his ancestry. Is he black, as he claims? Is he white? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

White -- 16
Both -- 6
Black -- 3
No race -- 1
Hedges -- 2
No answer -- 1

Case 8a: What if the person in Case 7 did have black ancestry, but no one knew it? Is he black, as he claims? Is he white? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

Both/mulatto/Part black -- 16
Black -- 8
White -- 2
Hedges -- 1
No answer -- 2

Case 8b: What if he then discovers it and makes it public? Is he black, as he claims? Is he white? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

Both/mulatto/part black -- 15
Black -- 9
Mostly black -- 1
Hedges -- 2
No answer -- 2

Case 8c: What if he discovers it but keeps it secret? Is he black, as he claims? Is he white? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

Both/mulatto/part black -- 14
Black -- 7
White -- 4
Hedges -- 1
No answer -- 3

Case 8d: What if he discovers this information and makes it public, but it turns out to be misinformation. He really doesn�t have any black ancestry. Is he black, as he claims? Is he white? Is he both? Is he something else instead?

White -- 15
Black -- 4
Both -- 3
No answer -- 7

Case 9: Someone is biracial, the genetic product of a black person and a white person, raised in both communities, taking full part in the life of both families. Is he black, as he claims? Is he white? Is he both? Is he something else instead? Does it get more complicated with multiple mixings? If your answer is �it depends� then what does it depend on?

Both/biracial/mixed/partially each -- 20
Can choose -- 1
Hedges -- 5
No answer -- 3

Case 10: Someone gets fed up with racial classification after looking at all these examples and doesn�t want to endorse any such system, so he says he has no race as an oppressive cultural convention. On census forms, he writes in: �none� on the race question. Is he right about himself, or does he have a race whether he wants to admit it or not? Is your question different if it�s a clear case than it would be if the person is one of the problematic cases above (e.g. what if someone in category 9 did this, as Naomi Zack does)?

Has a race -- 9
No race -- 8
Hedges -- 4
No answer -- 8

Some of what I've above called hedging was avoidance of answering the question, often by trying to have it both ways and leading to a contradiction but sometimes by presenting the seeds of s sophisticated theory about why one answer might be right under one description but a different answer under a different description. Some of the "no answer" answers did have writing but a deliberate avoidance of addressing the metaphysical question, sometimes focusing on ethical matters.

I'm in the middle of typing up my affirmative action notes into a carefully written and argued statement of my views on the subject. I'm also supposed to be writing about this stuff, and I have a nice presentation of all the arguments all worked out in my head, but I haven't gotten any of it written yet. I'm not sure whether to get that stuff all done first and then come back to affirmative action or whether I should finish the affirmative action stuff and then come back to this. Either way, look for those two things in the near future.

Any thoughts on this would be welcome in the meantime. I've deliberately not drawn any conclusions in case people want to offer their thoughts without being influenced by mine.

1 Comments

I receive one student's answers later. Here are those.

Case 1: mixed
Case 2: both
Case 3: both or mixed
Case 4: hedges
Case 5: white
Case 6: black
Case 7: white
Case 8a: white
Case 8b: no answer
Case 8c: white
Case 8d: mixed
Case 9: black
Case 10: no race

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