The Categories Of Race Led Us Here

It’s come to this. Everyone locked inside, anticipating the spread of a virus whose job is to infect. No matter what political affiliation, nationality, or racial category you might be, the Coronavirus will find its way throughout the world. Leaving personal and economic havoc in its wake.

And while the virus has no regards to how we think of race. I would argue that the categories that were created to define individuals by their “race” is a large element of brought us to this moment.

Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

As humans, we have always found ways to divide ourselves. But the way in which we’ve done it in America is truly unique. While there were thought to be different races of people based upon ethnic features going as far back as the Middle Ages. The colonial era was the first to tie it to not only biology but also citizenship. In part a way to exploit the labor of slaves, but also to keep the indentured class from noticing their own bonds.

Your ethnic features determined what tier in the class system you belonged in, and also what (if any) rights you had. And your facial features and skin tone were used by external bureaucrats to determined where you fit in this tiered system. And this concept of racial categories was then exported almost globally.

Photo by Chichi Onyekanne on Unsplash

Through several moments over the centuries, we’ve fought against this system. And it’s only been since the movements during the civil rights era that ethnicity was something that was not solely something to be overcome. It birthed the idea that your race was something you could take ownership of; that is was a source of pride.

But as we grapple with controlling the outbreak, these categories are contributing to the misinformation. There’s a false theory, mostly in the African American community, that if you have dark skin then it won’t make you sick. Which Idris Elba has kindly rebuked with his very own diagnosis. And there’s also the beginnings of rage and violence against anyone with Asian features as being responsible for this disease.

The categories we created are blinding us to the truth – we are all the same. Our DNA has only the most minute of variations from one another. After all, if we were so different then the virus would not be spreading so quickly.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

But there still remains a problem. While we are now given license to feel pride in our differences. Many are still subconsciously looking through the lens of racial categories. And the tiered system exists in their minds that some are higher up than others.

You can see this in the language. We speak to different ethnic groups being “allowed” or “given” rights. As if these were privileges they weren’t entitled to before. They are still the “other” being “allowed” to share in the rights of “normal”. And be grateful for their twisted benevolence.

This is what white privilege is.

The presidency was won on this privilege. It exploited the age old perception that an “other” would take away the American way of life. Turn it into something chaotic and unrecognizable. Policy was formed in a fashion to protect us from this “other”. And when the virus began, it was seen as a problem in Asia. And since they don’t look like us, surely it couldn’t affect us – it’s a “Chinese virus”.

That dismissal of the other led to false confidence. That false confidence enabled our leaders to rebuke the calls for action. And that early inaction has left us all scrambling to make preparations that should have been in place weeks ago.

Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash

Across the world, we are all fighting the same battle physically. We must take precautions to be careful with our hygiene, maintain social distancing, and look out for those most vulnerable. But we also have to fight against the mindset that has plagued us for centuries:

That the differences in our ethnicity are both societal and biological. And those differences determine how deserving of treatment we are worthy of. It’s a chaos that has been controlled for centuries, but now threatens to spill over. An enslavement of the mind that clouds our ability to think.

Unless we band together and see each other for who we are – one species whose goals are to love, laugh, and celebrate our minor differences.

I hope this time spent apart from each other physically brings us closer to the way we need to be. So that we can create a brighter road ahead.

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