Indiana University professor talks about race and racism

Timothy Sandoval

Dennis Senchuk, associate professor of philosophy at Indiana University Bloomington, told Sacramento State students today that “race is a little more than an illusion.”

In his lecture titled “The Peculiar Unreality of Race” held in the Redwood Room, Senchuk explored common considerations on what make up racial groups. He explained that race is constructed by humans and their prejudices.

“Race is a theoretically incoherent creature of racism. I think the construction needs to be knocked over,” Senchuk said. “It’s prejudice leading to race, not race leading to prejudice.”

Senchuk said there is a broad-based scientific consensus that there is no biological or genetic basis for race. He said that at face value there are many differences among individuals in the same racial category, citing the differences between basketball player Wilt Chamberlain and actor and singer Sammy DavisJr., both of African descent.

“The difference in height was significant, let’s put it that way,” Senchuk said.

Senchuk pointed out that many ethnic groups simplify the way they see other ethnic groups to fit into one category.

“(Whites) may look different to one another, but Asians may think all whites are dog faced.” Senchuk said. “Can we really believe that other races are more alike than our own?”

Senchuk said he disagrees with early anthropologists who grouped races into three categories: negroids, caucasoids and mongoloids. He said their findings were based only on observational data and not genetic data.

He also disputed the idea that race depends on geographic setting, or common traits.

Senchuk then offered a hypothetical situation, in which all red-haired people, whom he called “rustoids,” moved to Iceland.

They would meet every consideration that would be required for race, Senchuk said. They would live in a certain geographic area, and they would share common traits.

Most would not consider them a race, however, he said.

Russell DiSilvestro, associate professor of philosophy at Sac State and organizer of the event, said he was happy with the event’s turnout.

“We were very privileged to have him,” DiSilvestro said.

DiSilvestro said he organized the event because he thought the diverse student population at Sac State might be interested in the topic. He said there are many racial overtones present in American society today, especially with President Barack Obama’s election and the concept of a “post-racial nation.”

“Race has been in the air in the nation,” DiSilvestro said.

Timothy Sandoval can be reached at [email protected].