How Do We Get Out

of This?

The Klein Bottle, a powerful metaphor for race - and all reductive and harmful identity constructs


Philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, encouraged us to see how our constructs, compelling though they may be, can become prisons. In this spirit he wrote, "What is your aim in philosophy? To show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle."

A fly-bottle lures the unsuspecting fly towards a sweet substance within. Once inside the bottle, the fly is unable to navigate back out. It traps itself as a result of its inability to resist an enticement.

The construct of race is like a fly-bottle on steroids. It's like a Klein Bottle, a topological shape described by the German mathematician, Felix Klein in 1882. Like a Mobius strip, a Klein Bottle is one continuous surface without an inside or outside. Like race, it is an impossible idea, one that can't actually be navigated, but one that we nonetheless traverse endlessly in circles, unaware that we have trapped ourselves.