Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Power of an Illusion

Last Monday night a screening of the film "Race: The Power of an Illusion" was shown in Knott Hall. The film analyzed the origins and implications of the widely accepted concept of race in a unique way, by approaching the problem from an objective, scientific point of view. The main claim of the film was that despite variations in skin color and other physical attributes, every human being shares nearly the exact same DNA. By presenting such concrete proof that racial differences really serve nothing more than superficiality, it is hard to deny that racism has no place in the world. Although many people strive for racial equality, racism and other forms of prejudices continue to pervade the minds of the world. This film is revolutionary in many ways. It provides indisputable evidence that race is ambiguous, something created by humans. In addition to the screening of the film, organizers of the event shared with the crowd some real life stories of how racial prejudices can harm peoples` lives.
The real question posed by the film is whether or not we are going to allow ourselves to be subjected to the illusion that is race while convincing ourselves that certain things (especially negative things) are attributable to race. After reading the opening acts of Shakespeare`s "Twelfth Night" I made a conncection between it and the film. The importance and attention to disguise, or an illusion of appearance, is quickly recognized. When in disguise, the characters act in ways different than they would had they been dressed normally. Although the Clown in "Twelfth Night" is not exactly "in disguise" he is dressed in a manner that causes others to make presuppositions about his character. However, the foolish exterior of the clown proves to be only skin deep. Throughout the play, the Clown continually makes seemingly profound, philosophical or educated remarks. Moreover, it turns out that the Clown is the most truthful of all the characters. From this, the idea that exterior features show little about the true fabric of a person emerges.
The concept of looking past exterior features can be directly and effectively applied to race relations. Someone`s skin color or complexion has little to do with their internal beliefs. There are a number of holes in the logic of race. For instance, how many races are there? Possibilities range from two (black and white) all the way to thousands or millions (1 for even the slightest variation in complexion). Especially in today`s world, it is important for people to be able to look for similarities in people rather than creating differences.
Some striking similarities, on the genetic level, between races were revealed in the film. It documented an experiment in which teenagers if varying sex and race came together and examined samples of their own DNA. Every teen hypothesized that their DNA would be most similar to that of the person who was most similar to them in appearance. To their surprise, and my own, almost every sample revealed the most similarities between people who appeared physically different. For example, a black girl`s DNA was most similar to that of a white boy. A related fact is that within racial populations there exists the same if not more variation than between different populations.
Unfortunately, over the centuries, racism has become ingrained in the world. It seems that people tended to seek explanation to physical differences and make them account for more than what they really are. This film effectively sheds light upon the truth of the matter concerning racial differences. Disguises are all around us, and are sometimes so effective that it takes science to uncover them. Whether it be the false creation of race or Viola dressing as a man, disguises almost always hide people from the truth. No matter the severity of the truth or the magnitude of the disguise, false assumptions will almost always be made based on exterior appearance. I believe that the filmmakers` intent with "Race: The Power of an Illusion" was to communicate that no matter how accepted something may be in society, it may be based on false assumptions. Preventing negative effects of false assumptions can only be achieved by seeing past the disguise.

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