Race Identity and the Ontology Philosophy of Race Essay

  • Length: 3 pages
  • Sources: 2
  • Subject: Race
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #22653031

Excerpt from Essay :

Race is a philosophical issue because it has a strong bearing on identity construction and metaphysical or ontological self-concept. As long as race remains relevant as a means of constructing personal identity or projecting identity onto other people, race will remain a critical component of humanistic philosophies. A discussion of race as a metaphysical concept is distinctly different from a discussion of race as an ethical concept, even though both metaphysics and ethics fall under the rubric of philosophy. However, a discussion of race as an ontological issue depends on an understanding of race as an ethical issue as race has been socially constructed in status-oriented and hierarchal societies like the United States. Race is socially constructed, but race is also subjectively constructed, which is what Ally's case demonstrates. Ally's case is best understood through the lens of what Mills calls subjectivism, in which race designations and categories are arbitrary and individuals can freely choose their own race.

Ally is consciously passing as white, and admits as much. For this reason, Ally does fall neatly into Mills's Problem Case II: the case of conscious permanent passing. However, Ally is also what Mills calls a racial transgressive, because of the conflicts that exist between the variables linked to race including "bodily appearance, ancestry, self-awareness of ancestry, public awareness of ancestry, culture, experience, and self-identification," (Mills 50). The conflicts between these variables are experienced internally, from Ally's personal ontology, as well as socially, in how others view Ally. More interesting by far than Ally's case is the case of her family members who opt into an African-American identity because their conception of race is realist-constructivist. The family members have bought into the "one drop" mentality that Mills discusses, a mentality that plays on racial binaries. And in spite of the lower social status conferred upon African-Americans throughout United States history, Ally's black-identifying family members embrace their heritage proudly even though they cannot necessarily pass as black.

Constructivism accounts for some of Ally's ontological status. In fact, the Ally story deftly illustrates the ways subjectivism differs from constructivism. Race is constructed both socially and personally. Even though her relatives identify as black, others do not perceive them as black -- because of what Mills refers to as the variable of bodily appearance. Whether others are white or black, the family has white features and only a genetic test would highlight their heritage. They are aware of their heritage, as is Ally, but they react to and choose their identity differently with Ally opting for white privilege and the family members opting to find a source of pride in their African-American ancestry. Their situation showcases the concept of "hypodescent," in which the speck of African-American blood removes one from pure white status, as one is considered to be tainted in some way within the racist, white…

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