The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

    Race does not suppose value

    While shopping at Wal-Mart the other evening, my wife was in need of assistance. After approaching a sales clerk, she was informed she needed to speak to the manager of that specific department, who was last seen somewhere in the near vicinity. When asked for a description of the manager, the clerk gave the person’s name, gender, build and hairstyle. Then she leaned over and in a barely audible tone whispered, “He’s a black man.”
    She spoke as if she’d said something she shouldn’t-as if the very mention of race had racist undertone.
    On several occasions, I have witnessed similar circumstances. Such attempts to maintain a “political correctness” are ridiculous and counter-productive to racial equality.
    Race is the identification of ethnicity; racism is making unsubstantiated inferences based on such identification.
    Too often the distinction between race and racism has become clouded in people’s minds. Consequently, the very mention of race makes people uneasy. In fear of being labeled a bigot or racist, people avoid the subject beyond the limits of rationale. Sen. Trent Lott and, more recently, Rush Limbaugh have learned firsthand the consequence of careless discourse.
    Almost instantaneously (given adequate light source), I can identify differences in color tones, size, shape and texture through visual observation. By doing so, I can distinguish between and thus identify any object of interest. No amount of training or conditioning can reverse the instinctual nature of these observations.
    Nor do my values, morals or ethics have any impact on my ability to do so. Given that members of a particular ethnicity often share similar physical characteristics, race as an identifying feature is, and should be, perfectly acceptable.
    Colleagues have argued that a racist connotation derives from the fact that one is more likely to hear minority ethnicities used as description.
    During a previous employment, I found myself in the minority ethnic category. Consequently, it was common to hear other white co-workers identified as, “the white girl/guy over there.” At no point was offense taken or intended. Ethnicity was simply used as a means to quickly narrow the field of potential candidates.
    It is obvious that the effectiveness of such a description depends on the size of target population relative to the overall population.
    Imagine two ethnic categories A and B. Group A composes 75 percent of the population while B composes the remaining 25 percent. To identify an element as a member of group A, the size of the group of candidates has only been reduced by a quarter.
    In contrast, to identify an element as a member of group B eliminates three quarters of potential candidates. Likewise, other characteristics such as size, gender and dress can substantially narrow the field, but all relative to situation. In the name of efficiency, descriptive elements should exhaust those characteristics that most effectively reduce alternatives.
    To illustrate with another example, imagine being asked to pick out a specific item from a group of random shapes. I can provide description such as the measure of the area inside it. Perhaps the length of its outside perimeter can be helpful. Maybe the number of interior acute angles will help zero in on the right one.
    Now I tell you it’s a square. By doing so, I have merely communicated an easily distinguishable feature that you yourself would have discovered independently upon finding the selected item. The simple mention of a particular trait in no way implies value, rank or inference.
    The wisdom of our mentors and teachers holds true-a book should not be judged by its cover. But that is a far cry from “Don’t identify a book by its cover.” The solution to racism is not making the subject of race taboo.
    Joshua Welch is a graduate student in industrial engineering. He can be reached at [email protected].

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    The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
    Race does not suppose value