June 17, 2004

One curious thing about eliminating specific words - symbols for concepts - is that we seem to believe that eliminating the word magically also eliminates what is described by the word. (The corollory also holds a powerful place in our belief system: that only those things for which there are words can exist.) The word "race" makes a nice case in point.

It is no longer accepted among anthropologists - has not, for some time - that "race" is a useful concept in any genetic sense. Between that consensus and the parallel rise of political correctness, the word "race" has gradually been purged from the vocabulary of the mass media. For some reason, we seemed to believe that this gradual elimination would also purge its derivative of racism, not as symbolic construct, but as an actuality.

How have we managed to completely forget that "race" was not originally a genetic construction but a societal one, and that society roots in the individual?

Removing the word only removes the symbol by which we recognise its existence. Without it, the actuality of racism continues - but since we have consciously ceased to have a meaningful word to describe it, we can no longer see it.

Smile of the day:

A man, entering a bar with his dog, is stopped immediately by the bartender: "You can't bring that dog in here!" Thinking quickly, the man says, "This is my seeing-eye dog." The bartender is embarrassed, and quickly apologises.

Comes in another man, overhearing, with a chihuahua. The bartender blinks: "Now you can't tell me that is your seeing-eye dog. They don't have chihuahuas as seeing-eye dogs."

The second man is stopped only for a second: "Oh man, they gave me a chihuahua?"

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