How to Respond When Someone Tells You That Race Is a Construct
You have nothing to prove. Sometimes, the best thing to do is walk away.
A couple of months ago I wrote an essay about my experience growing up as a light-skinned Black woman in the United States.
I wanted to speak honestly about internalized racism and how it has manifested throughout my life. My hope was that by turning a critical eye inward and engaging with my flawed journey — still flawed, by the way— I might be able to offer a road map for people working through similar issues.
It was a tough piece, and I received a wide variety of responses. Some were complimentary. One of the first was from a mother who said she was excited to share the essay with her teenage daughter. That melted me completely.
Some responses were questioning. One reader asked how I could side with Blackness without reinforcing the same binary value systems I was critiquing. It was a wonderful question that I gave a very brief answer to, which the reader seemed pleased by — I’m planning to write a more comprehensive response soon.
Then, of course, there were other less productive responses. For the most part, these were personal judgments phrased as inquiries. Example: “Why are you such a bad person?”
Generally, these responses were such transparent projections that I didn’t give them a second glance. These people were really asking: “What gives you the right to imply that I’m a bad person?”
The simple answer, had I chosen to give it, would have been that this piece wasn’t about them at all. It was about me. If someone gestures to a wound and says “This hurts,” and you respond with “How is that my fault? Stop attacking me!” then a nuanced conversation just isn’t on the table. It was easy to skip over those responses.
Then I received one that, for whatever reason, I couldn’t skip over. One that was so absurd that it warranted several glances. Unfortunately, I decided it also warranted a response.
The message, from a person we’ll call “Harold,” started by asserting that “race was an archaic construct which has been dismissed by the scientific…