Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race

By K. Anthony Appiah; Amy Gutmann | Go to book overview

Race, Culture, Identity:
Misunderstood Connections
K. ANTHONY APPIAH

PART 1.
ANALYSIS: AGAINST RACES

Explaining Race Thinking

IMAGINE yourself on Angel Island in the 1920s. You are helping an inquisitive immigrant from Canton to fill in an immigration form. Name, it says. You ask her name. She tells you. You write it down. Date of birth. She gives it to you (according to the Chinese calendar, of course, so you have to look up your table for translating from one system to another). Then there is an entry that says Race. This you do not have to ask. You write “Oriental.” And your interlocutor, because she is inquisitive, asks politely: “What are you writing now?” (After all, until now, everything you have written has been in response to her answers.)

Disingenuously, you say: “I am writing down where you are from.”

“Ah yes,” she replies helpfully, “Canton, I was born in Canton. How did you know?”

I should like to express my sense of enormous indebtedness to Lawrence Blum, Jorge Garcia, Martha Minow, Richard T. Ford, Maneesha Sinha, David Wilkins, and David Wong, for discussions both together and separately; to Houston Baker and Lucius Outlaw for prompting me (in Lucius's case, regularly!) to rethink these issues; to many people, whose names I have not recorded, to whom I have talked about identity and culture at many universities over the last few years; to several generations of students in my Introduction to Afro-American Studies class at Harvard; and, above all, to Henry Finder, on whom I try out most of my ideas first. I delivered a Tanner lecture on these issues at the University of California at San Diego in 1994, and the occasion provided the first stimulus for me to bring these thoughts together; the very helpful responses of many who responded there helped in the preparation of this more extended version of my thoughts. Naturally, responsibility for the opinions expressed here remains mine alone.

-30-

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