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Racial Kinship Debate

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When an individual decides to take race into account, there are two modes by which he or she may do so. The first form is undeniably destructive Ð'- for example, a shopkeeper keeping harsher surveillance over Black customers than White customers, or a real estate agent reserving nicer neighborhoods only for his White clients. The majority of Americans would concur that the first form of racism is unquestionably immoral. This method of taking race into account is generally identified as "racism" in contemporary usage, and for the purposes of this paper, will serve as our definition. The second form of taking race into account, called "racial kinship", is when members of a particular race treat members of his or her own race with more benevolence than he or she would treat someone outside of his or her own race. Although both forms of taking race into account involve treating people differently based on race, racial kinship, unlike (our definition of) racism, is not entirely destructive in practice. A prevalent question in the arena of Black philosophy is, "should Blacks treat Blacks with more benevolence than they do those who are not Black?" Philosophers like W.E.B. Du Bois reason that racial kinship is a morally acceptable practice because it is used for emancipatory purposes. Concurrently, scholars like Anthony Appiah completely reject taking race into account on the grounds that race is a social construct that lacks any real definition. Appiah's answer to racial kinship is "to be absolutely clear that race is a human invention and to resist granting race a life of its own" (Anna Stubblefield, 87). He rejects racial kinship because he finds that racial distinctions do not exist independently of human perception and belief, or in other words, race is not "real". In "Ethics Along the Color Line", race philosopher Anna Stubblefield asserts that although race is socially constructed, race still carries very real significance in society. She uses the analogy of how money, although created by human beings, nonetheless has value in modern civilization Ð'- and therefore should be taken seriously. Stubblefield continues on to say that the reality of race is a but a minor issue, because "those who advocate taking race into account must do more than simply establish that race is real. They must give further arguments for why it is morally acceptable" (Stubblefield, 89). As this line of reasoning is understood to be justifiable, we must consider the morality of racial kinship independent of seeing race as a reality. Regardless of whether or not we ascribe race a verifiable existence, it is easy to understand why racial kinship is a morally justifiable practice among African-Americans in an oppressive society.

It is unnecessary to oppose any argument made on the basis that race has no "real" value. Appiah, who argues against racial kinship on the grounds that race is not real is, in effect, saying that if race were to be real, then taking race would then be acceptable. By making the validity of racial kinship dependent on the reality of race, he indirectly undermines his arguments, especially in the event that race is somehow discovered to be "real". In the debate on whether racial kinship is moral, it is important to move beyond questioning race's reality, because any answer would be inconclusive in the philosophical debate on racial kinship's morality.

Nonetheless, we must examine the role that race plays in triggering one's decision to practice racial kinship, and how our acts are based on interpretations of different races. This understanding is important because even before we treat people differently based on race, we must first identify what race someone belongs to. Thusly, at a rudimentary level, racial kinship is predicated on racial classification. The social construction that we call "race", is a classification of individuals based solely, or at least initially, on physical appearance. For example, when we first encounter a person, we attribute them a racial identity based on qualities of their appearance such as skin color, hair texture, facial structure, and more. Because of the apparent superficiality of this practice, it is understandable as to why philosophers would try to move away from using race as a basis for judgment. In his attempt to correctly categorize people into racial groups, W.E.B. Du Bois writes, "all these physical characteristics are patent enough, and if they agreed with each other it would be very easy to classify mankind. Unfortunately for scientists, however, these criteria of race are exasperatingly intermingled" (Du Bois, 229l). However, I argue that the correct classification of an individual into his or her correct racial group is unnecessary. A Black woman (Black by ancestry and/or family lineage) who looks White will be treated as if she were White. Conversely, a man who is technically White but does not meet held standards of White identity will not be afforded the same privileges as a White-looking man would be. With this example, we can see how greatly the significance of one's appearance is underestimated; and that race, in essence, is really based on outward appearances.

Despite racial classification being based primarily on physical characteristics, we cannot simply dismiss racial identity as a practice that lacks substance. From the prior example we can see that the way someone appears influences how they will be treated by others, and therefore, that the way we look is important. Variations in the physical appearance of humans are believed by anthropologists to be an important factor in the development of personality and social relations. Beyond interactions based on race, physical characteristics and human interpretation of them are vital parts of our understanding of beauty, the development of self-esteem, and the formation of our physical attractiveness to potential partners. How a person looks (independent of what race he or she is), already holds a key place in how each person treats another. And so, we can deduce that the inclusion of race as an identification method is legitimate, specifically for Black people. Black people can use race to identify with one another for solidarity. Identifying with people that look like you (whether it's because they have the same hairstyle as you or the same skin color) is a legitimate action. Additionally, identification based on physical appearance is made even more justifiable if you and those who look like you have been oppressed for your physical attributes. If the greater society has stigmatized a group of individuals who share common features, traits, or physical appearances, then solidarity amongst this group is a reasonable means to collectively combating such oppression. Scholar and advocate of racial



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