July 6th, 2016

radiolab race 160707

I stopped using the word terrorism a little more than four years ago because I finally came to grips with the reality that the word was without objective meaning and therefore worthless in intelligent conversation.

When I was an undergraduate at Ohio University during the first Reagan administration, I had taken a University Professor course—courses, often multi-discipline, taught by student-selected professors seen as particularly interesting who were given time and free rein to teach the unusual—on Terrorism. This was the first place where I encountered the phrase: one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. That stuck with me.

For sometime now I have been wrestling in the same way with the words racism. Race is an artificial construct created by white men seeking to provide a pseudo-scientific veneer for their perceived superiority over non-whites. In biology all life is categorized using a taxonomy of eight ranks: domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. There is no rank for race. Since all humans are biologically capable of sharing DNA, biology makes no further distinction.

Neither should the rest of us.

The catalyst for this post was listening to Radiolabs broadcast this week on race and reading about the fallout from Brexit. This latter we now know was driven in no small part by xenophobia: the hatred or fear of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture. That says what I want to say much better than racism.

Henceforth the words I intend to use to describe the various forms of bigotry expressed in my country and around the world that are driven by hatred or fear of the other will derive from xenophobia.

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