Athletics and Recreation

Let’s Talk About Race | Jennifer Chernega | TEDxTrondheim

Let’s Talk About Race | Jennifer Chernega | TEDxTrondheim

Translator: Karolina Deryło
Reviewer: Denise RQ Please hold up your thumb. Hold it up nice and high.
Take a look at it. Compare your thumb to those around you. I specifically want you to look
at how bendy the tip of your thumb is, whether it bends back very far or not. Now, my thumb doesn’t bend very far back,
kind of like this thumb. But some people have thumbs
that bend much further back. Like this one. This is a trait called hitchhiker thumb. (Laughter) And like a lot of physical traits, skin color, hair texture,
eye shape, eye color, it’s a trait that’s controlled by a set
of genes that we inherit from our parents. And like all of those other traits,
it is not in any way connected to more important underlying social traits
like intelligence, agility, or strength. But thumb bendiness, or hitchhiker thumb,
is also different than these other traits, and that’s because we don’t give it
any social meaning. We could though. Let’s imagine a world for a moment
in which your thumb bendiness matters, in which we would assign you
social hierarchy based on the bendiness of your thumb. In that world, maybe a picture
of your thumb would have to accompany a picture of your face on your ID. Can you imagine people
unhappy with their status and unhappy, therefore,
with what their thumbs look like, doing dramatic things to change them? Perhaps people
would surgically alter their thumbs in order to change their social status. As an aside, did you know that the number one most common
surgical procedure in some countries today is a surgery on the epicanthic eye fold? It’s designed to make
Asian eyes look less Asian. But if we go back
to this thumb bendiness-based world, imagine being a child
growing up in this world and understanding your position in it. Perhaps you would try to change that by bending your thumb backwards,
by stretching it and straining it. Maybe you would injure yourself doing so. In a documentary called “Dark Girls” a young woman talks about the first time
she realized that her dark skin mattered. And she begged her mother to pour bleach,
laundry bleach, into her bathwater. She said she didn’t care if it burned
as long as it lightened her skin. So we don’t connect meaning
to thumb bendiness. But we do connect social meaning
to other physical characteristics. And that’s what race is. According to American sociologists, race is the connection of meaning
to inherited physical characteristics like skin color, hair texture,
hair color, eye shape etc. The choice of which characteristics
we have is arbitrary and the meanings connected to them
are relatively arbitrary as well. We made this up. It is what we called socially constructed. But if we made race up,
does race really matter? In some countries it’s very easy
to see how race matters. I’m from the United States,
and there it is clear that race matters. Every 10 years, the US government collects
data in what’s called the U.S. Census about everybody residing within the US. Then researches, like those
at the Cooper Center at the UVA, can take that data
and map it onto geography. In the map I’m about to show you,
each dot represents one person, so a blue dot is someone
who identifies as white, a green dot is someone
who’s African American. When they do this,
this is what Chicago looks like. Race clearly matters. We could draw lines
around some of these neighborhoods and encompass mostly people
of the same racial group within those boundaries. Where you live in Chicago isn’t just
a matter of who your neighbors are, but it creates the underlying foundations
for the racial inequality in the US. Where you live in Chicago affects
what kind of job you have access to, and therefore, what income you bring home. It affects how much wealth
you can accumulate through home ownership. It affects the educational opportunities
your children have, the health risks you might be exposed to, even whether you have access
to fresh, healthy food or not. So in the US, race clearly matters. In some parts of the world, it’s
much more difficult to talk about race and that’s the case here in Norway. I realized this
after my very first lecture here. Afterwards a couple of students
came up and talked to me. The first one said that it was hard
for her to listen to my lecture because every time I said the word “race”
it made her heart hurt. Her friend said, “As soon as you started
talking about race I thought, ‘Oh no, she’s a Neo-Nazi.'” Which is the first time
I’ve ever been called a Neo-Nazi. Luckily, she said by the end of my lecture
she wasn’t sure that was true. (Laughter) Later on though, I was talking
to a master’s student who’s been studying social science
here in Norway for seven years. And he said not once in that time has that idea of race
ever been brought up in his class. So race isn’t talked about
in higher education, how it’s socially constructed,
what the impact it has on our societies. Even researchers are hesitant
to talk about race. I was at a research
presentation in January, where the person presenting
was talking about work he was doing about prejudice
against immigrant groups in Norway. But when asked if he was looking
at all immigrant groups, immigrants from Sweden,
immigrants from Germany, or Poland, he said no, that he was only looking
at folks who were visibly non-Western. Even researchers are hesitant
to use the term race, while they are clearly acknowledging that there’s meaning being connected
to our physical characteristics. Now maybe this is because race
doesn’t actually matter in Norway, but I suspect
that’s not the case, unfortunately. During my time here I’ve been spending
a lot of time talking to folks in Norway who would be considered
visibly non-Western. And I’ve heard
very difficult stories of discrimination. Imagine an Asian American woman
married to a Norwegian man who chose to move back to the US because of the discrimination
she experienced here. It finally culminated
when a couple of people wondered out loud if her husband had bought her. Young people
who legally changed their names in order to avoid discrimination
in the job market. Or a young man born in Norway
to parents from Somalia. He was interested in studying in the US and I said, “That would be
a great idea for you, but I warn you, people will be
surprised you’re from Norway.” He said, “That’s OK, Norwegians
don’t believe I’m Norwegian neither.” But can you imagine
what it must feel like to be him? In the only country you’ve ever known
you’re still seen as an outsider. In the US, we collect
a lot of data about race, and this has become
controversial even there. There are folks who argue that asking
people about race makes race important. But I would say that race
is clearly still important. If we stop asking about it,
it doesn’t make that inequality go away, it just makes it harder to study,
harder to understand, and therefore, harder to combat. Like most of Europe,
Norway doesn’t collect data about race. The Norwegian National Registry
collects data about immigration status and nation of origin. But your nation of origin
isn’t the same thing as race. The Asian American woman I referenced
earlier, her nation of origin was the US. And being from the US does not explain
what she experienced here. Certainly, I’m from the US and nobody has
ever asked me if my husband purchased me. I want to return to that phrase
“visibly non-Western.” And I want us to think about
what this really means. The idea of being visibly non-Western. In 2012, the city of Stavanger
put out its own map, a report about where people of non-Western
origin were living in the city. When they defined
what they meant by non-western, they said that they were counting folks
who lived in parts of Eastern Europe. They specified Turkey. But also Asia, Africa,
Central and South America. In order to be considered Western
you had to be from the US or Canada, Western Europe, or Australia. (Laughter) Now, it becomes really clear that we’re not talking about
a geographic kind of Western, right? We’re talking about something else. And I suspect it’s about
these visible characteristics that mark people as different, as other. I’ve had people tell me that the only people who talk
about race must be racists. But I would argue that we can’t counter racism
without a good understanding of race. And there’s a challenge in Norway. There’s a linguistic challenge here. The term for race in Norwegian is “rase” and it is the same word
that’s used to describe animal breeds, like “hunderase” for dog breed. And this is a terrible
linguistic equivalency. We shouldn’t refer to groups of people in the same way that we refer
to groups of animals. That doesn’t mean that we should abandon
the concept entirely though. Instead, the challenge to us is
to come up with language that will allow us to more comfortably,
more effectively study the idea of race, about the meanings attached to the inherited
physical characteristics that people have. This is perhaps a painful leap because it means admitting that race might matter
and it might matter here. But the first small step
toward combating racism is to fully understand race,
and we cannot do that with silence. We have to do that with language, by listening to one another,
and talking about the idea of race. Thank you very much. (Applause)

Reader Comments

  1. Oh my beloved Christ what has been wrought against your glory? "We" made race up. Who is "we"? Do you mean to blame every man woman and child that ever existed? Or just the 'white' ones?

    You have no substance.
    The wild manner in which you jump between anecdotes that are doubtfully relevent, related, or true makes difficulty for anyone trying to understand your point of view.
    You do not link your anecdotes to your opinions of the state of things.
    Your opinions are not supported by anything similar to logic, rationale, or evidence.
    Your speech is wholly empty; like a mixture of unintelligable echoes from those who promote the blind acceptance of an arbitrary world-view.
    It seems like you've made the mistake of thinking the intellectual refuse you force-feed your unaware students is pallatable to an educated crowd. How embarassing for your institution.

    Opinions that hopefully appeal to common sense:

    Nearly all people (and animals) throughout all time have been living in ethnically homogenous communities. It seems unreasonable to expect them to adapt to "multiculturalism" instantly. Traditionally when one ethnic group settles in a territory dominated by another ethnic group it is in the context of a violent invasion (see: human history since the dawn of time, European history is especially accessible). Also, what is supposed to be the rationale for the necessity of "multiculturalism"? To provide equal opportunities for all races out of human-heartedness? What about the people who are left behind in their lands without opportunity? If there was a sincere care about the plight of the poor around the world there would be efforts to invest in and improve conditions in poor lands. Instead the west tries to lure people away promising a better life while sending the profits from their foreign ventures back to the 1st world (imperialism). In example: Could the crops that are processed for ethanol not alone feed every starving person in the world?

    The only way in which "we" "created race" is by the decisions throughout the many hundreds of thousands of years of history of the modern human that led to actual genetic differences in people. Different lands call for different lifestyles and the land imprints itself upon everything that lives on it in the most profound way. People know their own people instinctively just as every other living creature instinctively knows its own.
    Have you ever heard of "imprinting"? The first form grasped by the perception of an animal as responding to it's expression is the form the animal builds it's identity around. In other words: whatever a creature percieves as providing nourishment is what it identifies itself as. (See: geese following humans in aircraft, infant lab monkeys growing attached to milk dispensers made of wire, or try to revive your 'common sense'). Obviously, as humans are not from outer space, they have this in common with all animals. People are '"racist" for very deep reasons and this will never change. Even if you somehow brainwash the entire world to ignore race their instincts to discriminate on a superficial basis will find other ways to manifest. You can't undo what humanity is without destroying it, so kindly, stop trying.

  2. One last thing because this is the most dangerous and foolish idea you put forward: race has nothing to do with the ability to accumulate wealth. 'Whites' were born into the empires that were recently consolidated into the global empire (around the first world war~second world war). Opportunity to profit from the empire was theirs first because the empire began in their lands.

    The simple fact about greed is that it is blind. An employer who never sees his or her employees doesn't mind any aspect of them except those aspects which pertain to their ability to do their jobs. In other words, since race doesn't affect people's ability to do jobs (the only thing remotely true in your message, but there are exceptions: off the top of my head, the Spanish had to take native wives in their Andean colonies because Spanish women couldn't reproduce due to the altitude), the only trait that matters is submissiveness. Poverty is meant to be punishment for those who will not submit. There is poverty among all races in all corners of the world. Regardless of race, workers are subjected to vicious superficial evaluation. It seems likely that relieving people of their prejudices based on race only encourages them to judge more cruelly based on other criteria.

    Because the empire started in "white" lands, the expectation of "white" mannerisms has been inherited. Obviously the tendency toward "white" mannerisms is most dominant in "white" people. If other races are being turned down for work more so than "whites", it is because of a percieved lack of assimilation to the culture of the empire in almost every case. This, not 'racism', is mechanism for the destruction of every culture in the world.

    The only problem is the ignorance of the many caused by the manipulation of the few. Maybe it's time for us all to stop watching YouTube and make a sincere effort to educate ourselves about worldly matters so we can rein in the mad dogs before they rip the world to shreds.

    Also anyone who uses the term "white" without qualifaction is among the worst of racists. People with little skin pigmentation come from distinct racial backgrounds, such as the Celts, Germanics, and Slavs, and there are further subdivisions in these extremely broad groups. By using the word "white" you belittle their unique histories in a grievous manner.

    Some doctor of sociology.

  3. Thanks for all of the views and "likes" on this video! Of course, TEDx talks are only 11-15 minutes long, so its impossible to address everything in such a short space. If anyone is interested in further information on this topic, you can check out these sources:

    "Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century" by Dorothy Roberts

    "Planting the Seed: The Invention of Race" by Abby Ferber- found in her book "White Man Falling"

    "The Race Myth: Why We Pretend Race Exists in America" by Joseph L. Graves

    "Race the Power of an Illusion"– a great documentary by PBS

    The topic of race and ethnicity in Norway is also addressed in various pieces by Mette Andersson and Katrine Fangen, both of the University of Oslo.

  4. What a fascinating and powerful speech. I had no idea Norway is hesitant to use the word race. This is so important to discuss openly, because race does affect our experiences in society and we must be willing to listen to the experiences of "Others". Thank you for lending your compassionate, well-informed voice to this discussion, Dr. Chernega. Your studies help open the way to deeper exploration of this important topic.

  5. I thought race was a social construct and therefore how is it possible to be racist if the concept doesn't exist?

  6. People will continue to believe in race as they place HUGE IMPORTANCE on INSIGNIFICANT PHYSICAL and GENETIC differences. It is that simple. It is a cognitive error. Race is a socio-political term. Races came into existence as we have been living in a racist world for centuries.

  7. "Race" has NEVER been genetic. We are all one <3 America needs to wake up and stop treating humans different. I never put a "race" down on any documents.

  8. World-wide, race doesn’t have social restraints if you’re rich. Discrimination only deprives the working class.

  9. Why talk about race? There is only one accepted view. Everybody MUST agree. Deviating views are persecuted. What's the point talking then?

  10. What she says is quite paradox on one hand she gives the correct example with the thumb, that variaties are social choosen and not given,. Nur then she talks about races as if they were existing scientificly. But they are not. The Problem she talks about is in fact xenophobia. Everyone WHO is different to us (WHO ever this might be) is not welcome.
    Using unaccurate subjects like race will not solve the Problem. Kind regards

  11. 03:02 19/08/2019
    Some people just can,t help themselves.
    people just make life too Complicated for anyone who would like to get to know you better. I suppose you would go up in the air if someone asks you [ What is your nationality ] This seems to be the up and coming big issue of late. It happed to me when I ask someone the same question she went nut,s. I was gobsmacked. I just had to tell her she has a chip on her shoulder. SO, GET RID OF IT. I meant nothing by it.
    Oh by the way if you look at your thumbs closer you will see one thumb looks like your dad's thumb and the other looks like your mum's thumb. Malc UK.

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