Heng and I Notice, Will You?

The definition of notice is “ the fact of observing or paying attention to something.”While reading “The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages: Inventions/Reinventions” by Geraldine Heng, I’ve used this ability to absorb all she has to offer in this powerful text. While reading this work, one can immediately grasp the many historical instances of race profiling from the 1200’s. Jews and muslims were to be set apart apart from Christians by dress, or Jews were to wear badges to be able to be identified amongst a crowd of people. Her definition of race pertains to the lasting impacts our “pre modern” acts of racism have left on today’s society without ignoring the events of the past. The events that occurred in a time where no definition of race was present doesn’t exclude them from pertaining to the definition that we have today. They were “legal” acts of violence and could be considered a form of terrorism by more modern standards. Heng talks about how race merges with a kind of hierarchy system that includes class, gender, and sexuality. It is no longer epidermal, it morphed into a bigger monster that is even harder to unravel and beat down.

Race has become a type of, as Heng puts it, “empty vacuum” that can change figure in every instance engulfing other ways of categorizing people and raising the white privilege pedestal influenced by all ranges of past pressures and occasions in history. There is no singular point in time where the origin of race emerged and that contributes to it’s successful succession through time. One instance in recent history, the 9/11 attacks of the twin towers of New York City, Muslims were further alienated as an inferior “race” following this day. This shows the development of an ethnoracial categorization, one made out of ignorance and fear. This category can be compared to others present in today’s society such as “Middle Easterners” and “Arabs.” These labels simply group very different people into one large group that continues to culturalize race and its definition. Muslims reside in a range of, in Heng’s terms, “ethno-races” and national origins that after the 9/11 attacks, have been put together into one people. In the 1200’s “pre modern” times, Muslims were ostracized and grouped with the Jews. This formed the foundation of where we validated them being a homogeneous group once more after the attacks. Heng argues that people must recognize the medieval past and that it will always exist as a basis for modern acts of racism, even though the vocabulary didn’t exist.

A quote from Dionne Brand, written down in Professor Beth McCoy’s notes reads, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” Although many would think in the previous analysis that a lot was noticed during this close read, most would neglect to notice what Heng has noticed as well. The key to gaining the most from any interaction you have with a text, is you must notice each other. Although the ability to meet Geraldine Heng as a student reader of her work is slim to none, one must notice her notice on a deeper level. What stood out was this quote, “Current masks of race are now overwhelmingly cultural.” The obvious meaning of this is where race and culture mesh and force otherwise unlikely people into a single inferior group. While coming back to this quote in my notes I “noticed” the word mask in a different light than previously before. After gaining all of Heng’s knowledge by the end of this paper the word mask spoke volumes. It embodied everything in the paper in one single word. This interwoven beast called race that we as people have created is all based on each other’s “masks.” Superficial characteristics have shaped the entire dynamic of race as we know it today. All people are born the same with the same innocence, ready to start life, and then you are given your “mask.” One that decides how you will be treated and viewed before you’ve had the chance to create your own. Black is damned, white is saved. Black as cowards and white as brave, the hero. Until we learn to delve beneath the mask made of skin color, culture, sexuality, and experience and realize underneath we are all the same, history will continue to repeat itself.           

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