Race: The Power of an Illusion, Episodes 1&2

This film was debunking the idea that race is something biological, and attempts to prove that external differences do not say something about a person’s biology. They talk about the way race is constructed in America, going back to the Eugenics movement and the history of racism in our country. It discusses the stereotypes and perceptions of certain races, explaining that different races develop skills because of environment and location, which affects a variety of different genes. The second part of the film goes through the way America has told the story of race throughout history, by saying that African Americans and Native Americans were “less than human” and a that there was something different about them. This justified years of slavery, oppression and racism – which still exists today.

I thought the film was both eye-opening and frustrating. While I knew that race was not based in biology, but rather was something humanly constructed, I thought the film explained the reasons why we have these differences very well. I was fascinated by the part about how much location affects the way “race” is exhibited, and how environment accounts for most of the difference in traits. I read a book called “Survival of the Sickest” by Sharon Moalem, that talked about how and why certain populations evolve to have certain traits (sickle cell anemia, for example): because of their environment and epigenetics.

While it was an interesting film, it was also very frustrating. It was infuriating to see the way people of color were treated throughout history, just as it is infuriating today. Smedley & Smedley (2005) discussed the same history in their article, starting with Thomas Jefferson bringing science to race. From there, anyone who was not white was too different to assimilate. This happened with African Americans and eventually Native Americans were also considered “different” and “savages”, although at first it was thought that maybe they were close enough to being white to assimilate. It was particularly difficult to know that many of the ideas about race discussed in the film are still present in society today, especially in our current political climate. While much of our racism is more implicit and institutionalized, the sentiment that there is something biologically different among different races is still present.

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One thought on “Race: The Power of an Illusion, Episodes 1&2

  1. I also found this film frustrating and upsetting. A large portion of the episode talked about the history of race in our country and how poorly people were treated based on race, but the sad thing is that unequal treatment based on race is not solely a historical issue. It is not an issue we can talk about as something of the past because the social constructions of race are still very much present and affect many people. It was sad to see the extent to which race is a human construction and not at all a biological idea. The color of our skin should not be a indication of who we are and how we will act and it seems that many people throughout history (and currently) treat it as if it should be.

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