Some evidence that race is more than just a social construct

The irony of g--k being used to describe the Vietnamese is that in Korean, han-guk literally means "a Korean person."  According to Col. Hackworth's war memoir About Face, the term was hijacked during the Korean war and eventually transferred to East Asians in general — a bastardization that stuck unfairly, and seems to have become permanent.

Asians have long complained that they "all look alike" to us, but Jennifer Eberhardt writes in Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes What We See, Think, and Do that people of all races have difficulty telling the differences among people of other races, and that this is a result of neurology — not racism, as the "anti-racists" lazily suggest.

She knows this at least partially because she's black.  In fact, she was raised almost exclusively around black people until she was about 12.  At that point, her parents scraped together enough money to move her into a white neighborhood, where she could go to school with white children.

Contrary to the usual horror stories paraded by "anti-racist" authors, Eberhardt says the white people were nice.  But there was a big problem.  She couldn't tell one white person from the next.  Who'd invited her out?  Who'd given her which gift?  Who was it she'd talked to last?  She could catch a name and link it to clothes or the way hair was done.  But this link went down the drain after friends went home and changed, and then Jennifer would confuse names again the next day.  This daily mix-up changed her from an outgoing and happy girl to being shy and eventually reclusive.  She got over it, but it took time, and she says she isn't alone.  What she experienced is what whites experience in an Asian neighborhood — and Asians in turn experience with blacks.

She confirmed this theory while studying criminals in San Francisco, where black teenagers had been going into Chinatown and robbing the Asian women willy-nilly.  Ivory-tower experts were dumbfounded about why (because experts are stupid), but the police were able to figure it out.  After getting lots of arrests, perps started talking, and it turned out Asians couldn't identify robbers in a lineup.  The police would round up suspects, and the Asian victim, trying to tell them apart, would get frustrated and give up.  Blacks all looked alike to Asians, and blacks knew it, and they walked away free.  The chance of getting nailed for a robbery was almost nil, unlike robbing in a black neighborhood, where a lineup for them was a fast-track to conviction.

Eberhardt says that even as children, our brains fire up when we see people of our own race.  This allows us to distinguish lots of little features the other races miss.  So the black criminal walks out of Chinatown free.  Eberhardt doesn't know Stacey from Tracy.  The Vietnamese guy gets labeled a g---, and the people who say race isn't real are wrong.  Race may not mean that black men are all basketball stars and white men are all Beethovens.  But race is psychological and hardwired.  It means we identify us and them from the cradle to the grave, and that because of it, racial harmony takes time, and a lot of hard work

Jeremy Egerer is the author of the troublesome essays on Letters to Hannah, and welcomes followers on Twitter.  Email him at to get a free copy of his essays or to see what he says next.

Image: ElisaRiva via Pixabay, Pixabay License.

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