I categorize you ‘racializer’
The first time I saw the term ‘racialization‘, I was looking over a paper for a friend. I flagged it with the comment: “not a real word.“
She was quick to point out that it was actually a term and I was very wrong, probably stemming from defensiveness about the red in which I’d soaked her paper (for the record, the better a piece of work is, the more I’ll hack it up). Racialization is a thing the sociologists are into these days, and it’s spreading into wider society. Heck, PowerShift 2012 (which I’m incredibly excited to speak at next week, and you should be at) has a caucus for ‘racialized participants’.
What the eff does racialization mean? According to a lecture given at York University:
MANY SOCIOLOGISTS PREFER TO USE THE TERM RACIALIZATION AS OPPOSED TO RACE IN ORDER TO EMPHASIZE THE FACT THAT RACIAL CATEGORIES ARE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONS THAT CHANGE IN TIME AND SPACE AND CIRCUMFERENCE
This makes me feel two things very strongly:
1. Circumference? WTF?
2. I feel sorry for students subjected to lectures with the slides in capslock.
I looked more deeply into it, and found out that the idea behind racialization is based on this: recent advances in biology, specifically genetics, suggest that race is on a spectrum and is hard to define. Genetic markers belonging to one ‘race’ can be found in people perceived to be another ‘race’. Thus, viola! Race doesn’t exist, and it is a social construction. When people are put into categories according to this fiction called race, they are being ‘racialized’. And, it is generally understood, racialization is divisive and bad.
(side rant: every time I see the term ‘racialized,’ it is referring to people who aren’t white. Can’t a person who is white be racialized? What gives?)
Hold up. This doesn’t work. Why, you ask? Let’s do a little thought experiment.
Sexual orientation, like race, is known to be a spectrum. People fall on all sides of this spectrum, from straight to gay and everywhere in between. They are even fluid on this spectrum within their lifetimes. However, just because sexual orientation is a spectrum, does that mean that categories like asexual, bisexual, homosexual, and heterosexual don’t exist? Of course not. That’s just silly.
Just because something is on a spectrum doesn’t mean we cannot apply categories. It only means we have to acknowledge that these categories aren’t mutually exclusive (as anyone who is a mutt of all kinds of racial identities knows all too well). There are lots of places where we apply categories even though we know they don’t work perfectly. All life on earth is on a genetic spectrum, which we sort into groups called ‘species’. There are very rarely discrete boundaries between species. There are subspecies and varieties and all sorts of messy complications. But the fact of the matter is that we arbitrarily decided that categories called ‘species’ existed, because otherwise how would we explain them? How would we study them? How would we understand them? We couldn’t.
Ultimately, there is nothing inherently wrong with categorizing people. Categorization is simply a method of explaining. However, there is something very, very wrong with treating people differently because of the category they are in.
So let’s tackle racism, which is awful and still needs a whole lot of tackling. Mashing this into a term like racialization isn’t going to help anybody… not only is it confused and confusing, but just plain wrong. Tell your local neighbourhood sociologist.
Filed under: biology, race | 3 Comments
Tags: biology, categories, race, racialization, racialized, racism, sexual orientation, sociology