Race Doesn’t Exist

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The Trayvon Martin shooting has resulted in predictably absurd conclusions and ridiculous behavior. On first impression, the circus that gathered around the Sanford, Florida, site of the killing (featuring race-baiting clowns like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton) looks and sounds a lot of a scene from the satiric Tom Wolfe novel The Bonfire of the Vanities.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Jackson sputtered that “blacks are under attack,” adding that “targeting, arresting, convicting blacks and ultimately killing us is big business. . . . No justice, no peace.”

This cynical circus is so predictable because it’s based on a false premise. Not that the shooting didn’t take place; George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. The false premise is that the shooting was race-related.

It’s false because there’s no such thing as race.

What we call “race” is a social construct invented hundreds of years ago by slave traders and colonial powers. It’s been kept around because it suits lazy people and statist governments looking for cheap ways to categorize individuals.

It’s time that reasonable people abandon this slothful shortcut.

I make the argument about the falseness of race in detail in my book Libertarian Nation (if you have a Kindle, you can “borrow” the book from Amazon for free). Much as I hate to interfere with commerce that channels some money my way, here’s the gist of the argument.

The pigment of your skin and acidity of your hair don’t have much to do with your personal identity. And they don’t make you similar to or different from anyone else.

Race is a social construct. And an old one. The idea that people can be categorized into supposedly objective — or, more recently, “scientific” — groups has been around for as long as human civilization. It’s always been subject manipulation, usually by the state. And its categories are always shifting, usually according to the political needs of the people running the state.

The libertarian notion of a colorblind society is closer to reality than advocates of identity politics — racists and multiculturalists — like to admit.

So, contemporary notions of race are more . . . contemporary . . . than most people realize. Skin color wasn’t the controlling characteristic of race until the end of the 16th century; and then it had something to do with slavery and something to do with the birth of colonialism. The states that stood to profit from the import of cheap materials and slave labor began a 500-year campaign to convince the world that Africans with dark brown skin were a different class of humans than Europeans with lighter brown or pink skin. The Portuguese and Dutch were especially dedicated to the concept. They defined “race” to suit their needs; but popular culture seems to have forgotten their roles in promoting the fiction.

All people are a mix of genetic traits. This fact raises various questions — and the dread of both hardcore racists who lament “mongrelization” and race-obsessed multiculturalists (who, intellectual brothers of the racists, are heavily invested in the notion of distinct racial identities).

What’s the relationship between genes and race?

Most anthropologists and biologists agree that race is a fuzzy concept. By various estimates, 20 to 30% of the genes in the average “black” American come from light-skinned European stock. As Time magazine has noted: “science has no agreed-upon definition of ‘race’: however you slice up the population, the categories look pretty arbitrary.” And, in a similar vein, the Chicago Tribune reported:

In a 1998 “Statement on ‘Race’,” the American Anthropological Association concluded that ordinary notions of race have little value for biological research in part because of the relatively minor genetic differences among racial groups.

And, the anthropologists might have added, the broad genetic variation that exists within racial groups. In the New Statesman magazine, the often-quoted science writer Steven Rose pointed out:

. . . the idea that there is a genetically meaningful African “race” is nonsense. There is wide cultural and genetic diversity amongst African populations from south to north, from Ethiopians to Nigerians. There are, for example probably genetic as well as environmental reasons why Ethiopians make good marathon runners whereas Nigerians on the whole do not.

The normally statist British newspaper The Guardian has stumbled to the same conclusion:

Other scientists point out that our species is so young — Homo sapiens emerged from its African homeland only 100,000 years ago — that it simply has not had time to evolve any significant differences in intellectual capacity as its various groups of people have spread round the globe and settled in different regions. Only the most superficial differences — notably skin colour — separate the world’s different population groupings. Underneath that skin, people are remarkably alike.

So, the libertarian notion of a colorblind society (often dismissed by statists as an unrealistic ideal) is closer to reality than advocates of identity politics — racists and multiculturalists — like to admit.

These advocates have more influence over mainstream media and popular culture than they should. People like Jackson, Sharpton, and Derrick Bell have devoted their lives to a fiction. That must leave them with a hollow feeling, in their solitary moments or when they look themselves in the mirror.

Derrick Bell may have been the saddest of the bunch. He was intelligent enough and well-trained enough that he should have been able to see through the fiction. Instead, he spent his life popularizing Critical Race Theory — which is the intellectual rationalization of a false premise.

The critical document that stands in contradiction to the ultimately bankrupt rationalizations of the Critical Race Theorists and base manipulations of the race hustlers is Martin Luther King’s rightly immortal “I Have a Dream” speech. To the point:

In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. …We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. …Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. …I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

That speech drew its undeniable moral force, in part, from its recognition of the falseness of the concept of race. The triviality of the color of a person’s skin.

(Take a few minutes to read — or reread — that speech. Would any left-wing speaker today use the metaphor of a bounced check to criticize failed promise? It’s so…bourgeois.)

A side note: I’ve always thought there were two Kings, the libertarian defender of individual dignity who fought for fair treatment and delivered the August 1963 speech and the less-inspiring socialist who muddled through the last years of his life.

Compared to King’s image of free individuals treating one another with mutual respect, the current discussion of race is insect-like. The mainstream media tries to turn Trayvon Martin’s shooting into clicks and readers and ratings. The pathetic New York Times concocts the term “white Hispanic” to emphasize that Martin’s shooter was, er, something different from black.

Race is a dubious social construct that serves most effectively as a shortcut for lazy statists trying to put hard-to-manage individuals into easy-to-manage boxes.

Not everyone is so small. Former NAACP leader C.L. Bryant accused the likes of Jackson and Sharpton of “exploiting” the Martin shooting. “His family should be outraged at the fact that they’re using this child as the bait to inflame racial passions,” Bryant told The Daily Caller. He said that “race hustlers” were acting like “buzzards circling the carcass” of the teen.

Race doesn’t exist. Population ancestry influences the patterns of an individual’s genotypical and phenotypical traits (what people commonly think of as “racial” appearance and characteristics) but single variables — for example, skin color — do not. It may seem counterintuitive, but skin color is actually a poor indicator of race.

Race is a dubious social construct that serves most effectively as a shortcut for lazy statists trying to put hard-to-manage individuals into easy-to-manage boxes. No one who loves liberty should buy into the fiction.




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Comments

Joseph

Jim, here is a great idea: why don't you and I march down to the offices of the NAACP, or La Raza, or any university black studies department, or race-based student activist group such as MECHA, and tell them that since race is just a construct they should dissolve their organization and instead embrace the libertarian notion of a colorblind society. Or that since "racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism," they should end their collectivist based political demands for affirmative action, minority grants, special history months, reparations for slavery, "diversity" indoctrination, speech codes, the DREAM Act, and all the rest.

Then let's see what they do. Heck, I'll even accompany you on just such an expedition (if in the vicinity, I live in southern California). And if you can get any of these groups to agree with your position and dissolve themselves, then I'll cede your points.

The dilemma is, these groups do believe in race, and do act on a racial basis. They believe that race is so real that something that happened to someone with a similar skin pigment four hundred years ago entitles them to the redistribution of other people's property and the diminishing of other people's liberties. This is the position of the current attorney general of the US, and it is perhaps one of the reasons he has gotten involved in the railroading of Mssr Zimmerman--a human sacrifice of sorts for 400 years of slavery and segregation. If Mr Holder is a barnyard collectivist, then what do you propose we should do about it?

(For more on Holder's position promoting affirmative action: http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2012/02/24/holder-talks-financial-crime-affirmative-action-low)

The flip side of the dilemma is that because minorities or people of color or whatever the correct term is these days do organize along collective lines, this puts other groups which do not similarly organize in a real bind. There is no mainstream mass political group which promotes the interests of white people in the same manner as the NAACP, MALDEF, et alia promote the interests of their own race-based popular clientele. Even groups which appear to be largely white, such as the ACLU (and I am a former marching member), inevitably take the pro-collectvist party line on such topics as affirmative action.

Often, when white people do try to organize to defend their rights -- say by opposing affirmative action -- they are the subject of mob violence which goes unpunished. See, for example, the attack on a conservative group which tried running a press conference about discrimination against white students near the University of Wisconsin.

(http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/09/16/321239/wisconsin-students-shutdown-right-wing-press-conference-attacking-universitys-affirmative-action-policy/?mobile=nc)

Maybe I missed it, but has AG Holder gotten involved in prosecuting members of the mob for civil rights violations?

Given all this, what precisely do you propose for white people who are tired of seeing their most basic civil rights (such as free speech) being wrecked by race-based militant groups? Or who do not want to be taxed to support activist groups who promote policies contrary to their own interests? Or who do not want to see their children conscripted into "diversity" indoctrination or forced busing? I don't mean in a theoretical libertarian society. I mean in the real world, here and now, for people who want to end the minority based collectivism.

The only effective way to deal with this in the real world is to get organized. And organized in the same manner as the NAACP, La Raza, and so forth. Because the alternative will be a growing disintegration of liberty.

Here's a last question: do you think that white people have a constitutional right to organize groups to advocate for their own interests?

Doug

I'll try to be as concise as possible. It seems to me that, when people talk about race, they tend to conflate a number of different things--some of which have a biological basis, and some of which are "social constructs". There are genetically-based physical differences between groups of people that allow them to be put into categories that can be easily identified. If we were to put, say, 100 Nigerians in one group, and 100 Danes in another, I doubt if anyone would have much trouble determining which was which. There may well be legitimate scientific and medical uses for such classifications. African-Americans, for example, are more prone to certain diseases than Whites or Asians--and vice versa. Everyone benefits from taking such facts into account.

But other implications of the differences are more problematical. We cannot assume, for example, that a member of any group is more similar genetically to another member of the same group than he/she is to a member of another group. It has been well-documented that genetic differences within groups account for a vastly larger percentage of human genetic diversity than differences between groups. Nor can we be certain that a member of any group is superior or inferior to a member of any other group in any trait or characteristic. So, to the extent it is used to ascribe mental or behavioral characteristics to people on the basis of their physical appearance, race is a "social construct" -- and an extremely harmful one at that.

I believe the question of the relative importance of genetic vs environmental factors in assessing group differences is a scientific one, and should be answered scientifically rather than turned into philosophical dogma, one way or another.

Visitor

I don't want to be long winded so I will just focus on one statement about race and genetics that results from an equivocation of the use of the word "minor". The writer quoted the APA as concluding that ordinary notions of race have little value for biological research in part because of the relatively minor genetic differences among racial groups.

This attempts to show that since the differences in genetics of race are "minor" then therefore the differences in human races are minor (minimization).

The reality of genetics is that "minor" genetic differences can have MAJOR consequences for an organism. Humans and chimpanzees share 98.8% of the genome. Minor difference?

Visitor

Great observations about MLK. He did veer into the popular socialists' views of the day, just as JFK, LBJ, etc. did.

But I will always love him for his stance against US involvement in Vietnam, and his belief that all humans have basic rights. Even Jefferson did not recognize all humans' rights. Just as we must except the founders' faults in terms of liberty, we must also except MLK's faults. But we should also celebrate their core beliefs in liberty. However flawed they were, it was definately a step in the right direction.

Daniel Browning

I can't tell if your post is a fiendishly brilliant trap for grammar nazis or just a run-of-the-mill conflation of except and accept. Well played. Oblig. xkcd.

Henry

This is confusing to me. I get that scientifically race doesn't exist. I mean, no duh, right? But where does that get us? Does coming to that conclusion further the conversation? What conversation? How?

I am certain that racism still exists, so it seems that race must also exist. Maybe not in the way you're describing, but in the minds of everyone in America it certainly does. I don't really think it's about race as it is scientifically defined. I think it is about race in terms of how every individual perceives every other individual, i.e. racism. The question: As a white person, do you act differently when you interact with a black person? Do you compensate in some way? Why? To me, these are the important questions related to race. The scientific question is a no-brainer and doesn't further any conversation as far as I'm concerned.

Bob Straub

Henry, your letter is a well-written and thought-provoking supplement to the article. I think you are onto something with your redefinition of race as an effect of the opinions, ignorance and prejudices of some groups of people about others. I'll be thinking about that. Thanks.

Visitor

Racism does still exist amongst the feable minded. Not everyone, as you claim.

For example, in today's highly mobile world how does one distinguish who to fear? Do you feel discriminatory of a person who is very light skinned, the product of a "white" father and a "black" mother? Do you adopt the one eighth rule of the 19th century?

Living in today's South, I've seen a great many "racist" grandparents become suddenly not so racist when their own grandchildern are born of "mixed" race. True racists are rare these days. But, unfortunately, alot of the racists have been replaced by xenophobs. People who think that because someone was born in Mexico, or China, or Greece, that "they" are out to "take over".

Xenophobia is the real problem these days. Just look at the Republican candidates pandering to that crowd. My fence will be bigger than yours. All immigrants are criminals to them. They are "illegal". Law breakers that must be punished. But let's not reconsider the law.

Henry

I never claimed that everyone was racist. Reread my comment again if you want. Never said it.

I think your question of 'how do we decide who to fear?' is pretty odd. We don't get to decide. It's all in our heads already, that is, the imprint of society, family, upbringing, friends, etc, and we don't get to change that stuff that's already there; our prejudices, that is. What we DO get to decide is how to react and deal with those prejudices, at least to a large extent I think. And it is possible to overcome our prejudices! We just have to be honest about how we feel (how a white person interacts with a black person versus a white person, for example) and go from there. That is, not let prejudice(s) control how we interact with anyone. The fact that you're saying racist grandparents from the South have overcome their prejudice makes me think: how deeply ingrained was their racism? I guess not so deep that they would disown their grandchildren. But still, I think you have to just make sure you're not reacting based on prejudice, which takes some thought and compassion.

I had this thought a while ago and I think it is appropriate to share here: It is every individual's responsibility to deal with his or her own racism.

Van Brunt

You guys are good! This article best represents the reason I come here first thing every afternoon to catch up on "what's happening." Thanks.

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