Race: The Power of an Illusion - Essay Example

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Race: The Power of an Illusion Introduction The purpose of this essay is to critically examine the documentary Race: The Power of an Illusion. The three-part educational series was directed by Christine Herbes-Sommers and produced by California Newsreel. It analyses various aspects of race in society, history and science and is divided into three chapters…
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Race: The Power of an Illusion Introduction The purpose of this essay is to critically examine the documentary Race: The Power of an Illusion. The three-part educational series was directed by Christine Herbes-Sommers and produced by California Newsreel. It analyses various aspects of race in society, history and science and is divided into three chapters. First, this essay will provide a brief summary of the movie, and then it will be explored how race has been historically defined and understood. Moreover, the biological arguments concerning the validity of race will be outlined. Furthermore, it will be explained how the film impacted my personal perspective on race. Brief Summary As outlined, the movie is divided into three chapters: The Difference Between Us, The Story We Tell and The House We Live In. Chapter One investigates the concept of race from a scientific point of view and concludes that race is not biological, but a social construct. In the first chapter, a group of students is portrayed. They compare their own DNA to their fellow students and find out that their DNA cannot be classified according to their different “races”. Race is a biological myth that assumes that simple external differences rooted in biology are linked to other more complex internal differences, such as athletic abilities. However, genetics is telling us that there are no genetic markers that define race. As a matter of fact, genetically we are among the most similar species, compared to other species. Furthermore, genes that are common in some populations, such as skin color, do not represent race, but ancestry. Chapter Two illustrates how the idea of race is a recent creation, which was created to portray social inequalities in the U.S. as natural. Race served as a powerful tool to justify slavery and the ill-treatment of Native Americans. The historian James Horton argues that inventing race was the only way that the founding fathers of America could justify slavery and promote liberty, freedom and democracy at the same time. By the same logic, Thomas Jefferson could justify being a slave owner. As a consequence, the idea of “race” became commonly accepted by white Americans in the mid-19th century to explain social inequalities that were beneficial to them. Chapter Three demonstrates how our past still haunts our present, due to the fact that inequality still continues, due to past discrimination. For instance, a clear sign of inequality can be found in the housing market, because houses in neighborhoods with mostly white people sell for more than houses in neighborhoods with mostly black people. In addition, it is argued that people to this day are given different opportunities according to their “race”. This Chapter finishes by stating that equality cannot be created by pretending “race” does not exist. Observations The film has several observations and criticisms about how race has been historically defined and understood. To start with, the idea of “race” is a fairly modern concept, because ancient civilizations, such as the ancient Greeks, did not differentiate other people by “race”, but according to other features, such as religion or language. The idea of “race” was constructed to justify slavery for Blacks on the one hand and freedom and democracy for Whites on the other hand. Popular opinion and “scientific” documents differentiated between Whites and Blacks and attributed certain features to a certain “race”. According to historian Mia Bay, a racial divide emerged and people started to see it as natural. The tendency of seeing existing power relationships has having some sort of natural quality to them, created the idea of “race”. Validity of Race With regard to biological arguments concerning the validity of race, the film was very clear: Not only is there no genetic evidence for the existence of “race”, but genetic evidence proves that there are no human subspecies. Contrary to many animals, human populations have never been isolated long enough to form subspecies or “races”. Consequently, humans are one of the most genetically similar species in the world. Furthermore, the genes that define skin color are not connected to genes that are responsible for blood type, eye shape or level of intelligence. Therefore, knowing somebody’s skin color does not allow for any other conclusions. It is thus wrong to assume that just because somebody is black, he or she is a good athlete. Impact on Personal Perspective Some of the information presented in Race: The Power of An Illusion, was surprising and some of it definitely changed my perspective on race. Although I was aware of the fact that race is a social creation, I was surprised by the overwhelming genetic evidence supplied in the movie. As mentioned in Chapter I, there is no genetic basis for “race”, because there is not one genetic marker that differentiates all the people from one “race” to all the people from a different “race”. Even more surprising for me was that most variation can be found within a certain population, not between populations, which means that two Polish people may be as genetically different as a Polish person and a Chinese person. Read More
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