Black man, black woman, black baby,
White man, white woman, white baby,
White man, black woman, black baby,
Black man, white woman, black baby.
-- Lyric of a Public Enemy rap recording1
As the twentieth century draws to a close, it is clear that although more overt forms of racial oppression may have declined, obsession with color -- race -- remains one of America's preeminent problems. A belief in the existence of race and a corresponding belief in the possibility and accuracy of racial categorization is, for Americans, as significant and as culturally self-limiting a myth as was the mistaken belief in a flat Earth for many medieval Europeans. In the United States, this acceptance of race has manifested itself as a complex of social and political constructs, all based loosely on selected phenotypic traits. The American racial paradigm utilizes arbitrary somatic differences to separate people into two main groups, one white and one composed of several subcategories of non-whites. This system constitutes a multifaceted ideology, which serves as the engine for a larger system of racial and class hegemony. Its breadth is such that it would not be unreasonable to argue that racial classification is the most important tool of social organization in the United States. At the very least, joined by gender and class, it stands among the top three.
This opening chapter is grounded in two interconnected arguments in support of my main thesis. Together, these two arguments articulate the origin, use, and fallacy of the race construct in the United States and set the stage for an elaboration of federal racial categorization in Chapter 2. First, I argue that race as an accurate and meaningful system of biological classification does not exist. Second,