“The truth is that there are no races” Kwame Anthony Appiah controversially wrote in 1985 launching him into fame and notoriety among his professional peers.
In this fascinating conversation between two of the most esteemed and provocative thinkers on racial identity, Appiah sits down with Professor Priya Gopal to unpack the philosophy of race, it’s historical development and why it’s not a ‘biological category.’
For both, race should be understood as a historical categorisation usually used to otherise people by physical characteristics or geographical location.
One of the most interesting talking points of the conversation is the question of “mixed-race” identity. Taking the example of Barack Obama, Gopal explains that despite having a white mother and black father Obama does not walk in the world as a white man. He is racialised as black and American society categorises him as if he had two black parents.
Similarly Gopal is racialised as “minority ethnic” in the West and as “upper caste” in India. The key point is that for both Obama and Gopal, historical categorisation not biology determines how they are racialised.
Appiah argues if we want to eradicate racism we must begin seeing race through this lens of constructed rather than fixed reality. Once we see that having different skin colour is as unremarkable as having different hair colour, we will undermine and immobilize those who wish to exploit imagined divisions between us. Is he right?
- ‘Racial identity is a biological nonsense’ Kwame Anthony Appiah
- Intelligence Squared Podcast: Mistaken Identities: The Conflict Over Culture, Class, Gender and Nation: