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Race – an outdated concept? January 29, 2010

Posted by Sverre in : Human rights, language , trackback

Great controversy has apparently arisen in the US over the inclusion of the word “negro” in a national census. Once again I am reminded of the different reality I live in. Where I come from, Norway, race isn’t a concept we’re familiar with neither in social science nor politics. Nationality (including second and third generation immigrants), religion and cultural heritage are certainly issues, but genetic “race” alone is an alien concept. We do have some dark blotches on our record, most notably treatment of Jews before WWII and the Rom and indigenous Sami peoples until far too recent years. In present day Norway, I perceive the concept of race as one that belongs to the extreme right fringe of society.

This might be the result of a Scandinavian (possibly harmful?) naivité about such issues, possibly brought on by a very homogenous ethnic makeup.1 It may also be the result of a society that has been able to advance beyond a harmful focus on race. I saw an example of the opposite up close when living in Malaysia, a thoroughly race-focused country where race and religion ar important for official categorization of people. It is the story of a massive affirmative action programme that has spiralled totally out of control and become the basis for widespread discrimination in society.

I may be wrong, but my impression as an outsider is still that focus on the concept of race appears to bring more harm than good. The problem in the US is as I understand it that large groups have low income, low social mobility, language problems, high unemployment et cetera, not that the members of these groups have a different skin tone. Language holds power, and official contributions to keeping racial divisions an active part of the language may be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Am I just an naively idealistic Scandinavian with an unrealistic view of the world?

  1. The CIA World Factbook lists the 2007 estimate as: Norwegian 94.4% (includes Sami, about 60,000), other European 3.6%, other 2% []

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