When Sexism Makes you Understand the Invalidity of “Race”

by Camille Cournoyer on September 10, 2016 - 5:17pm

Racism and the notion of “race” are two of the various concepts that contributes to divide humans into sub-categories. Some of our actions also help to keeping these terms alive. However, as a community, we should realize that such conduct engenders hurtful consequences. 

Racism in our society is mainly caused by the socially accepted idea that humans are different from one another. This way of thinking results in discrimination between groups who think they do not belong to the same “sub-species”. The claim that there are various human “races” is false and should not be encouraged neither by the population or by anthropologists as this idea supports the belief that some classes of people are superior (Diamond, 1994, par. 6).

In class, I was first shocked by the exercise in which we had to classify people according to their “race”.  Not only did I realize how hard the activity was, I also noticed that people had very different perspectives according to which traits determine whether a person would be Asian or Native American, for example. Indeed, as a class, we never all agreed on someone’s “sub-species”. I understood that an individual separates humanity according to his or her vision of the world, which is probably influenced by one’s environment, upbringing as well as many other cultural factors. Discrimination emerges from the persecutor’s feelings and points of view, not on biological legitimate facts. Also, I clearly remember the picture of Usain Bolt with Ellen DeGeneres on his back we saw the first day of class. I thought this picture was funny no matter the runner’s nationality. However, something happened to me recently that made me realize that, despite its innocent intentions, humor sometimes encourages the idea of “race” and that major differences exist between people, creating discrimination. A few days ago, my friends and I were having a passionate debate. My female friend and I, like the three other males in our little group, were particularly energetic. At one point in our debate, to make her stop talking, one of the males used as an argument the famous sentence: “Just stop with your hormones.” They all laughed, except the girls. As “everybody thinks this joke is funny”, should we have chuckled too even if this joke sounds sexist? That is when I realized that in our everyday life, we often accept behaviors and words that come close to disrespect toward what we consider distinctive groups based, for instance, on gender or skin color. Our acceptance of these actions makes us believe, as a society, that we are different from one another and that some groups (men, white people) are higher-ranked. In my opinion, humans are social animals and it seems to me that we tend to get closer to people who look like us and to protect that group as we are emotionally attached to it. If our eyes tell us that some individuals are different from us, do we feel menaced? Would we segregate only to protect our interests? After all, as mentioned in the play “Les événements” by David Greig: “Exoticism is appreciated. Diversity is considered a threat.”

Word count: 519

Diamond, J. (2016, Winter). Race Without Color. In A. Nouvet (Ed.), Anthropology 381-101-LA: The Myth of Race and the Reality of Racism. Saint-Lambert, QC: Champlain.

Link: http://discovermagazine.com/1994/nov/racewithoutcolor444


You make a strong point on how race and racism is a social construct and how individuals in society should not condone the usage of segregation. I completely agree as well that many of these forms of oppression such as, sexism and racism are intertwined. I think you could further the strength of your position by analyzing the social construct and the systems of oppression alongside racism. Feminists are using the concept of intersectionality (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersectionality), which is the crossroads of many forms of oppression that support each other, to tear down the idea that all people of a group experience the same troubles. For example, not all African-Americans will experiences the same difficulties in life; for instance, a black man will have an advantage over a black woman.
To solve the problems behind social construct we need to raise awareness by showing how racism and sexism, among many forms of oppression, negatively affect our society. People tend to overlook the effects of systemic oppression because we have learned to falsely believe that it is normal. In order to fix this, we must denounce all forms of oppression and make the problem more universal just like feminists today who have embraced all women and minorities. By showing the world there is a universal problem, we would be closer to shutting the system down. After all, the first step to solving a problem is realizing there is one.