Friday, May 07, 2010

A Case Of Race Is A Matter Of Error

 A Case Of Race Is A Matter Of Error
by Rep. Barbara Cooper
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Rep. Barbara Cooper

Rep. Ulysses Jones Jr.

The Cooper/Jones Initiative reflected in this column was started nine years ago by Tennessee State Reps. Barbara Cooper and Ulysses Jones Jr. to highlight and focus on the need for truly educating the citizens of Tennessee.

What if you discovered that you were not white or black? What if you were given empirical evidence that the term “race” was a hypothetical, erroneous assumption? What if it were proven that the divisiveness caused by race is at best, an exercise in unfounded cynicism and a catalyst for self-perpetuated inferior thoughts of self?

That is exactly what the Cooper/Jones Education Initiative set out to present on April 17, 2010. Close to a hundred people gathered on Saturday morning at the Memphis City Schools, Teaching and Learning Academy on Union Ave. They were from all walks of life, and several “so called” races were represented. Black, white, Latino, Trinidadian, African, and mixed is how some introduced themselves.

The showpiece of the summit centered on a presentation on the origins and root of race facilitated by Dr. Clifford Black, a noted expert on the application and impact of language, and Al Lewis, co-founder and chief architect of the Underground Railroad Training Odyssey.

Using etymology, the highly touted yet underrepresented learning technique, Dr. Black pointed out to the audience that there was no scientific basis of race predicated on skin color, hair texture or skull structure. One of several highlights of the workshop came while projecting on the overhead screens the definition and origin of the term Caucasian from a 1957 edition of Webster’s dictionary. Black established that the term was known to be in error without any scientific or rational foundation. It was traced back to a German anthropologist, Johann Blumenbach, who in 1795 using a collection of skulls, created the term race and divided mankind into 3 major divisions. Most noteworthy, according to supporting documentation, Lewis and Black also presented to the symposium that Blumenbach later recanted his original supposition.

The question that permeated the audience was why was race still used as a determinate to categorize people?

“Stunned” was how Charlene Trammel of Memphis described her reaction.

Sara Lewis, former school board commissioner, sat on the panel that was convened after the presentation. “Legislation needs to be enacted requiring children from grades 1st through 8th to take etymology,” she said.

“Race, as it has been presented to the American public over the past centuries, has had a devastating impact, especially on children of color”, said David Muldrow, a co-facilitator of the workshop and a clinical psychologist from Southbend, Ind.

The term causes cognitive dissonance, Muldrow said.

Knowledge seekers in the room – quickly making the association between underrepresented learning processes and the impact of race on education, health, and economics – wanted to know why such an important discipline as etymology, the study of the origin of words, had been systematically removed from most required public school curriculums.

Responses ranged from “it’s political, since school districts respond to school reform strategies that have the loudest bells and whistles to blow” to “it’s economics as larger states like Texas influence what goes in text books, and publishing companies respond to the largest number of buyers.”

“There will be a follow up to this summit in mid-summer,” said Dr. Black.

For more information on race, visit

Contact District 86 Rep. Barbara Cooper at 615-741-4295; Contact District 98 Rep. Ulysses Jones Jr. at615-741-4575;

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