Synthetic Race and Modernity (Part 1)

It has been a long time since I have written something on here, and I have been scratching my head as to what I could possibly write after having taken such a long break due to school. Well, school provided me with the answer. I’ve decided to post two of my favorite papers from the end of this semester. I will publish them in parts, since they are fairly long. Without further adieu, here is the first part of my Advanced Social and Political Philosophy paper, which analyzes race, its role in modernity, and how a synthetic concept of race can be used to alleviate lingering racial injustice.

Legally speaking, all people are considered equal, and thus any member of any racial group may attain citizenship and possess the same rights as their white counter-parts. Even though our perspective on race has changed to some degree, racial injustice persists, and thus our perspective must be altered further. In this paper, I will explain the synthetic paradigm of race; this concept conceives of race as artificial, culturally mixed, and basically aesthetic. However, the social and philosophical implications of this concept turn out to be antithetical to modern thinking, which emphasizes a socially independent identity, individualized merit, and economic competition. Although we may be reluctant to relinquish these ideals, I will demonstrate that retaining them has a cost: the perpetuation of racial injustice. Although adopting the synthetic concept of race requires us to ground human identity in diversity and necessitates corrective egalitarianism in politics and business, it yields a greater amount of racial justice socially, politically, and economically.

The synthetic paradigm provides tools to critically analyze the concept of race as it has evolved throughout history. Under this critical framework, race is recognized as a concept that was invented during the period of the Spanish colonization of the Americas (Vacano 157, 158). As such, the analytical aspect of this paradigm recognizes that race is first and foremost a socio-political concept used to do two things: first, organize the world according to somatic classifications; second, the use of somatic classifications to organize social arrangements (Vacano 145). The first way this is done is through polity membership: one’s race determines one’s civic and economic standing (Vacano 143, 153). Furthermore, race is a concept that shapes social interactions between citizens. This is accomplished through moral evaluations about somatic traits which are determined via an aesthetic lens (Vacano 145, 151).

Additionally, power relations and political goals play a powerful role in shaping how racial interactions ought to proceed (Vacano 146). For instance, Vallenilla Lanz believed that a central government and a strong sense of national identity could resolve racial conflicts and transcend particular racial identities (Vacano 84, 88, 89, 101). This later changed with Jose Vasconcelos, who saw regional multiculturalism as the true means for achieving racial harmony (Vacano 126-129). Lastly, race is a flexible concept which can change over time. For example, there was a period of time in America when the Irish were not considered white. Only after setting themselves apart from other non-white racial groups through certain behaviors, and through the political actions of the powers that be to make it easier for the Irish to become naturalized, were they considered white. Thus, we see that race’s social role and inclusiveness is flexible and changes given certain socio-political circumstances.

This critical view of race also opens up the possibility of creating a substantial racial lens that is different from the traditional understanding of race. Under a traditional understanding of race, where biology and moral value are metaphysically linked together, miscegenation is seen as a negative process. In racial intermixing, the substance of the “bad”/”inferior” race dilutes the substance of the “good”/”superior” race. The critical-synthetic paradigm of race bars us from seeing biology and moral value as being metaphysically linked, and instead commits us to understanding race as a cultural identity (Vacano 154). As such, miscegenation is not only a neutral event, but potentially positive (Vacano 149). In addition to the mixing of phenotypes, cultural mixture occurs in the process of raising a child with a mixed origin. As such, miscegenation becomes a creative process which gives rise to new modes of living.

Even so, it is still possible to see miscegenation as negative, since there would be no way to classify people. As such, a positive aesthetic worldview would have to be adopted, where diversity is seen positively. Such a worldview implies a theory of human identity which emphasizes diversity and change as being fundamental to human nature. If diversity and change are actually what make us human, then there is no such thing as an inferior race. Subsequently, moral worth cannot be metaphysically connected to one’s biology, at least not as in the traditional understanding of race. Equal, positive moral worth instead rises from the diversity of one’s existence. Not only is it therefore wrong to exploit another human being in virtue of their differences, but it is right to encourage and allow for differences between people and groups.

The synthetic concept of race may also allow for the autonomy of racial groups. This means that racial groups ought to have the freedom to define themselves, rather than allowing some “superior” race to impose definitions on them, which has usually been the historical case (Mills 13, 14, 16, 20). Indeed, since racial stereotyping has caused terrible suffering throughout recent history, racial groups must be afforded the autonomy to define themselves. Since race plays out in socio-political realms, racial self-definition would require that the various racial groups in a society be enabled to invest in any social region that interests them. In doing so, they take charge of their own racial identity and discourage oppressive stereotypes.

In my next post, I will briefly analyze modernity, and how racism fits into it. Especially for this series of posts, I strongly encourage feedback and critiques, whether positive or negative.

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Mills, Charles W. The Racial Contract. New York: Cornell University, 1997. PDF.

Von Vacano, Diego A. The Color of Citizenship: Race, Modernity, and Latin American/Hispanic Political Thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.


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