Michael Banton, Racial Consciousness

By Sutherland, Marcia E. | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, January 31, 1991 | Go to article overview

Michael Banton, Racial Consciousness


Sutherland, Marcia E., Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


Michael Banton, Racial Consciousness

The consequences of the partitioning of humanity on the basis of racial classifications are certainly of human concern. In Racial Consciousness, Michael Banton contends that the boundaries that exist between people varying in skin color must be destroyed. To that end he advocates "permitting or encouraging an increase in the number of people of intermediate appearance so that differences of complexion follow a continuous distribution." He believes that this would lead to a decrease in the awareness of physical features as socially significant. Concomitantly, this lower racial consciousness would facilitate racial equality.

In the first section of this book, Mr. Banton attempts to show the difficulties inherent in relying on popular consciousness and the mass media to understand race relations. He then presents an unsystematic and flawed account of the origins of race-related words including "race" and "racism" in European languages. "It is only in the past two centuries" he postulates, "that physical differences have been conceptualized as racial." However, there is convincing historical testimony that by the fifteenth century Europeans had emerged as the chief architects of a world view in which black and dark skinned persons were viewed as inferior to the white and superior race. The author also fails to address how early European philosophers and scientists supported the myth of white superiority.

Most disturbingly, Mr. Banton appears to embrace a social Darwinistic perspective in his inadequate treatment of European imperialism and colonization and racial relations. For instance, one of his contentions is that "under white rule, political structures were created that enabled Africans to form political parties and acquire political experience." He ignores the strong supportive evidence of the long standing democratic political structures of traditional African societies.

One major strength of Mr. Banton's book is the discussion on the multifarious factors which hinder transformation of a racially divided society into a more just one. Yet, even here he attempts to have historical and contemporary realities fit his personal wishes. For example, in examining the progress of race relations in the United States, Mr. Banton writes that "blacks and whites are roughly equal or the distinction has ceased to matter." Yet, several studies conducted on this topic show that in virtually every indicator of social status blacks compare poorly with whites. In A Common Destiny: Blacks and American Society, published in 1989, the authors conclude that economic stagnation and persistent racial discrimination allow African Americans to lag behind whites on economic, health and education indicators, among others. …

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