The counterproductivity of the terms race and racism

Volt strives to ensure that no one is discriminated against, or subject to violence, based on ethnicity, national origin, descent and/or skin colour. Despite existing legislation, prejudice, unequal treatment and social exclusion are still part of people’s daily lives within Europe.

Volt is advocating for the removal of the following terms ‘race’, ‘racial discrimination’ and ‘racism’ as the concept of race is socially constructed. Indeed, scientifically there is only one human race (Homo sapiens). On this merit, our policy against discrimination shall consist of the following discriminatory basis: ethnicity, national origin, descent, skin colour.     

One of our Volters, Aza Lemmer, went into more details and gave his personal opinion on the issue, which you can read below:

I often read articles about discrimination: the most prominent terms are race and racism, people being discriminated because of their “race”. Even Art.1 GW of the Dutch constitution has the term race cemented, as well as in international law, for example the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights speaks in art.1 about “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” naming one human species as a singular race, although in art. 2 it uses the term race with a plural meaning. We often speak about race and/or racism within legal frameworks and doctrine but why is this so?

A scientific perspective

From a scientific perspective there is only one human race (Homo sapiens). We share the same phenotype yet we still use the terms race and racism in our legal instruments and daily life. Why are we giving validity to a term and definition that has no scientific backbone? Laws exist to be based on facts and not on faulty terms. Though by saying this, the term/concept of race and/or racism does exist in a social construct, thus in social science. It dates way back to the 17th century coming from colonialism to categorize a group of people as a lower “race”. While some scientists believed that there was indeed racial differences within humans in the 19th century, there were also scientist like Dr. Du Bois who believed that it was incorrect from a biological perspective and that the science of racial differences was used for pseudoscience to give validity for the social constructed concept of race.

While we want to end “racism” and have legal instruments and frameworks against racialization they work counterproductive as it actually keeps the term and concept of race and racial categorizing of groups alive. Consequently, giving it validity. From a historical perspective, words have a huge impact on society. Labeling things as good or bad has an effect on how we think and behave because we realize it in everyday life and practice. 

Social concept of race

With the #blacklivesmatter movement we saw some African-Americans defining them self as the black “race” which gives validity to the term and ideology of racial categorizing although it is not their intention to do so. In my opinion, they are not aware of the counterproductivity and are in fact victim of the social construct term of race. Starting in the 1950’s African-Americans fought for their civil rights as they were racialized/discriminated because of their “race” which led to the African-American civil rights movement(1954-1968) and in that context the definition of racism had a good outcome by giving them civil rights which they did not have before based on institutionalized racism. Yet we are living in 2018 and till this day some of us still think there are racial differences within the human race or use the term race in official papers – this keeps the social constructed term of race and racism alive. While in fact in modern day we can speak of discrimination based on ethnicity, skin color, geographic groups and etc. as there is no scientific justification of race within humans. Therefore, such racism is an invalid term. Unfortunately, we have normalized the term race: it is conditioned within our societies. We even call some people black while we all should know the skin color black does not exist in humans, but that is another discussion.

Validity of race in our legal frameworks

There is of course ethnicity as a ground of discrimination and other physical or non-physical attributes. Instead of naming it racism which is in fact scientifically incorrect, we should define the term discrimination better in our legal frameworks and get rid of the terms race and racism in official documents and legal frameworks. As long as we are using the terms for the good or bad we keep categorizing and the concept of race will remain alive. Looking at the UN Declaration of Human Rights it tries to avoid the concept of race. However, looking at the following sentence “without distinction of any kind, in particular as to race, colour or national origin” it is contradicting because it acknowledges the social concept of race within its legal framework and thus gives validity to it. Another example is Art. 1 of International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which also mentions the term race while having the terms racial discrimination in quotations marks for referring to as the concept of race again contradicting use of the term.

Redefining discrimination

Some may argue that you give a free card for “racism” by removing the terms race and racism from the law as some still think that you cannot have a penalty code without mentioning the word race or racism even though the penalty code for discrimination should be sufficient enough. I find that removing the terms of legal instruments will lead to a more refined and socially and biological accurate definition of discrimination. As mention earlier law should be based on facts. Norway is leading the way in this matter by removing the terms race and racism from their national laws. Their Anti-Discrimination Act, which entered into force in 2006, speaks only of discrimination based on ethnicity, national origin, descent and skin color as a substitute of the terms race and racism. As Norway acknowledges that the use of those terms within legal frameworks works counterproductive as it gives an unintentional social side effect by legitimizing and validating the concept of race in a social construct.

If we truly want to stop racism, we should start by not giving it any validation in our laws and remove the terms race and racism. And we can make steps moving forward from thinking in boxes.