Race.” I really can’t understand it as anything other than something people say. The people who have said that you and I are both “black” and therefore deserve a certain kind of interaction with the world, they make race. I can’t take them seriously. Not beyond the fact that they have the ability to say that you and I are a single race. You know, a piece of cloth that is called “linen” has more validity than calling you and me “black” or “negro.” “Cotton” has more validity as cotton than yours and my being “black.” It is true that our skin is sort of more or less the same shade. But is it true that our skin color makes us a distinctive race? No.
The people who invented race, who grouped us together as “black,” were inventing and categorizing their ability to do something vicious and wrong. I don’t see why I have to give them validity, or why I have to approach that label with any kind of seriousness. We give the people who make this category too much legitimacy by accepting it. We give them too much power. They ought to be left with the tawdriness of it, the stupidity of it. It’s a way of organizing a wrong thing, it’s a way of making a wrong thing easy. It’s too easy to say this or that is “race,” and that has been a vehicle for an incredible amount of wrong in the world. (...)race as a subject only comes about because of what I look like. If I say something truthfully, people say “Oh, she’s so angry.” If I write about a married person who lives in Vermont, it becomes “Oh, she’s autobiographical.” Norman Mailer stabbed his wife, and was not ever described as angry, and nothing he wrote was ever described as autobiographical. And all of these things are, in some sense, ways of diminishing my efforts.
If I describe a person’s physical appearance in my writing, which I often do, especially in fiction, I never say someone is “black” or “white.” I may describe the color of their skin—black eyes, beige skin, blue eyes, dark skin, etc. But I’m not talking about race. I’m talking about a description. What I really want to write about is injustice and justice, and the different ways human beings organize the two.
I agree with Kincaid.