Black and white, rich and poor

Black and white

In the early 19th century, Samuel Morton collected skulls. Filling the skulls with pepper seeds, the doctor was able to ascertain the volume of the brain case. He then classified the sizes into five human groups, the intelligences of which correlates with the size of the skulls. Morton claimed that Caucasians had the highest intelligence, followed by East Asians, then the Southeast Asians, and the native Americans. The group that had the smallest skull size ranked lowest. He called them “Ethiopians, ” or the Blacks. At one time in American history, this classification was used to justify slavery.

In the April 2018 issue of National Geographic, writer Elizabeth Kolbert explains that “race is not a biological construct,” rather, it is a “social construct that can have devastating effects.” According to her, “(s)o many horrors of the past few centuries can be traced to the idea that one race is inferior to another.” 

For her ongoing project “Humanae,” artist Angelica Dass travelled to 18 countries and took 4,000 portraits. She then matched the skin colors of her subjects with the Pantone Color Matching System. The results show that nobody is ‘black,’ and absolutely nobody is ‘white.’ 

Rich and poor

Bill Gates says he talks about “the developed and developing world all the time.” He realized he shouldn’t.

In his very recent blog, Gates refers to the book of his late friend Hans Rosling In Factfullness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World—And Why Things Are Better Than You Think. Rosling states that the binary labels of developing/developed and poor/rich countries are “outdated” and “meaningless.” Using this classification, China, most of the African states, and the Philippines will be lumped together in a group. He offers a framework that describes and classifies world income into four levels. He says that this is more useful and accurate.

On level 1, there is extreme poverty. Most people survive with less than $2 a day and get around by walking barefoot. Food is cooked over an open fire, and water is stored in a bucket and has to be fetched at a great distance. At night, people sleep on the ground. 

On level 2, people earn between $2 and $8. They can afford to buy shoes, and perhaps a bicycle. Instead of working all day, kids go to school. There is a gas stove. And people sleep on mattresses. 

On level 3, there is running water and a refrigerator at home. Earning between$8 and $32, they can afford to buy a motorcycle to move around easier. There is variety in food consumed. Some kids may have started or even finished high school. There is some money for small vacations. 

On level 4, people make or spend more than $32 a day.They have completed at least 12 years of school. At home, they have running hot and cold water. A car is parked in the driveway. They take vacations once in a while. This is essentially what people think of what a “developed” world is. 

The World Bank now uses a similar four-tiered system in classifying income levels.

However, Rosling warned against generalizations. In other words, if one does not belong to level 4, it does not follow that they’re miserable.

The world was divided into the colonizers and the colonized. Natives were pictured as exotics, frequently unclothed. People of color were considered inferior and until today, are often marginalized. Unlike whites, they have limited access to opportunities. As a result, their income is sharply lesser. 

Sadly, the world is still divided between the haves and the have-nots. The perpetual cliché that the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer is proof. The use of the poverty line/threshold as measure is a reinforcement of this binary mindset.

When we see the world in black and white, rich and poor, we miss out on the developments and progress. According to Rosling, “in 1990, more than a third of the global population lived in extreme poverty, today only about a tenth do.” There is an increasing number of people living on level 2 and level 3, the total of which accounts for 70 percent of the world’s population.

In the United States, the white population is on a decline. According to census figures, in the 1950s, whites accounted for about 90 percent of the nation’s population. But in the last 60 years, this figure has dropped to 60 percent. Demographic projection predicts that whites will become a ‘minority’ in 2045.

Should we not change our lenses already?

Real Carpio So lectures at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is an entrepreneur and a management consultant. Comments are welcomed at [email protected] Archives can be accessed at The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty and its administrators.

Topics: Samuel Morton , Race , Society , Bill Gates , Green Light , Elizabeth Kolbert
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