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Racial Identity and Racial Identification by Anthony Appiah

Appiah helps the readers see the more fundamental problems that stem from racism in the chapter ‘Racial Identity and Racial Identification’. These are the problems of the effect on people as they see themselves and consequently the paths of action that are open to them in life. Racism becomes the tip of the iceberg that exposes existing problems, but solutions must be sought precisely in the fundamental causes of its appearance.

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It is generally accepted that racism has mainly negative social consequences, but much deeper aspects relate to psychology. Belonging to a particular race is defined by people as belonging to a specific group of people and not belonging to another. However, much more important is not belonging to these social groups by skin color or knowledge of a certain language, but psychological belonging. Racist prejudice influences how a person deliberately makes plans for his or her life. Among the concepts that can shape someone’s actions, there is the concept of a specific type of people and behavior corresponding to this type. We expect people of a particular race to behave in an appropriate way. This happens because attribution of racial identity is the process of labeling people. Thus, if a person wants to avoid the imposition of these labels on them, they will have to hide their own identity and become a completely different person. These old restrictions suggested life scenarios to the carriers of these identities, but they were always negative. In order to build a decent life, it seems natural to take a collective identity and create positive life scenarios instead. This concept seems not to place racism at the center of the definition of racial identity, but it is not entirely true: racism has played a central role in race theory and cannot be dismissed.

The short story Summer in Rouen by Shusaku Endo is a great example of how labels associated with racial discrimination affect identity. The story is set shortly after World War II; the main character follows the recipient of a church-sponsored scholarship that has brought him from Japan to France to study Christian literature. His interest in the West is returned by his well-intentioned hosts paralyzing inability to view him as more than a blank canvas for their own designs. The main difficulties in the character’s life are that the owners perceive him as their dead son and even call him by his name. The hero falls into hopeless melancholy: at first, the East and West seem irreconcilable to him, but later, he leaves the struggle and resigns himself to his fate. The imposition of a particular behavioral paradigm leads the protagonist to lose his own identity.

The main moral offense of racism is the continued use of labels. Society is not free of racial prejudice at the moment, as new labels and new demands are put on to meet standards; this is just a new form of tyranny for certain groups of people. The existence of ‘rules’: how to be a real African American and our expectations of this conformity prevent people from ceasing to conform to them, even for themselves.

Thus, the underlying problem of racial bias lies deeper than hatred or racial prejudice; the psychological aspect is much more important. It lies in attaching certain behavioral labels and forming of expectations within different groups of the population. They form patterns of identity within themselves, and the mismatch between reality and expectations can lead to the loss of identity.

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StudyCorgi. (2023) 'Racial Identity and Racial Identification by Anthony Appiah'. 15 January.

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