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Appiah: Race, Culture, Identity
Transcript of Appiah: Race, Culture, Identity
"What has proved especially vexatious, though, is the effort o take account of these social forms we now call identities: genders and sexual orientations, ethnicities and nationalities, professions and vocations. Identities make ethical claims because--and this is just a fact about the world we human beings have created--we make our lives as men and as women, as gay and as straight people, as Ghanaians and as Americans, as blacks and as whites. Immediately, conundrums start to assemble. Do identities represent a curb on autonomy, or do they provide its contours: what claims, if any, can identity groups as such justly make upon the state...What's modern is that we conceptualize identity in particular ways. What's age-old is that when we are asked--and ask ourselves--who we are, we are being asked what we are as well. Appiah is directly considering how the words we use to identify ourselves--straight, gay, white, black--move from simply "descriptors" into "definitions." Think about our current craze with "healthy" and "fat." If someone is "fat" it's different than if they're "curvy." Those two words carry WAY different meanings. Same if they're "athletic" vs. "thin." These are just words that describe how we look--they are words that describe who and what we are. Ideational view of meaning "We can call this the 'ideational' view of meaning...the meaning of a term, like 'race,' with...an 'idea'" (103). An "ideational" view of meaning means considering all the CONTEXTS and IDEAS that go along with a word. In the case of "black" associations of "thug," "gangstar," etc are still a hairsbreadth away in every usage. The word "gay" still carries associations of "pervert," "dangerous," "feminine." The word "feminine," carries associations of "weak," "emotional," "moody," etc. Make sense? Referential View "the 'referential' view suggests that to explain what the word 'race' means is, in effect, to identity the things to which it applies, the things we refer to when we speak of 'races.'" (103). To use a word "referentially" is to use that word as a descriptor: she is a "girl" he is a "boy." She is "black" he is "white" etc. The word differentiates what someone is in reference to what they are not, but is not designed (by itself) to carry ideational meaning. Make sure you think of a word as loaded as "race" The easiest way to understand Appiah is to consider a word in your own life that is so loaded. For women words like "slut," "bitch," and "cunt" are insanely loaded. If you think I'm joking ask your sister, girlfriend, mother, friend how they'd feel about being called a "slut" by the person they love during a fight. For men words like "fag," "pussy," and "girl" are loaded. Now consider the problem with words that describe real people and their body parts--gay people, vaginas, and women--to insult another person. Think about calling someone "retarded." What happens when we use what someone IS to insult someone else? What sorts of ideational meanings do "retarded" and "pussy" now carry? Do you see the problematic nature of all of this? Appiah chooses the word "race" Because by describing ourselves as different "races" it obscures the part where we're all HUMAN. It's all well and good until you're told you're whole life you're "mixed race:" not enough of either? Not quite one or the other? Why if someone has one white parent and one black parent do we define them as "black?" "Race" becomes a word that defines WHAT someone is, not simply how they look. Now pick a word for yourself It should be a serious word. It should carry ideational and referential meanings. It should be nearly as loaded in society as it is for you.