THIS Month’s issue of National Geographic is dedicated to debunking the myth of race.
These Twins, One Black and One White, Will Make You Rethink Race
Marcia and Millie Biggs say they’ve never been subjected to racism—just curiosity and surprise that twins could have such different skin colors.
“It’s been used to define and separate people for millennia. But the concept of race is not grounded in genetics.”
See National Geographics The Race Issue
Editor explains why an entire issue is devoted to race
IN A FANCIFUL piece on the supposed ‘new science of race’ published by Business Day, political commentator David Mathews resorts to long discredited theories of scientific racism, in particular social darwinism, in order to rail against non-racialists, who he says are nothing more than delusional pundits of political correctness.
“The politically correct mantra that race is nothing more than a social construct, and that “there is only one race, the human race” says Mathews “is not only not true, but is deliberately misleading. And not only misleading, but also inimical to any understanding of, or solution to, the major social problem of racism.” Admittedly, Mathews’ scurrilous fudge piece ends by redefining racism, but in order to unpack a pet theory, Mathews must first resort to a strange racist solipsism, a semantic self-induced coma, if you will.
Hurtling off to the dark-side of Darwinism and the survival of the fittest, Mathews says: “There is, as we know, only one human species, but contrary to the politically correct obfuscation above, there are indeed also many human races, when “race” is understood to be what the Oxford dictionary defines as, and Charles Darwin understood to be, “one of the major divisions of mankind having distinct and readily visible physical characteristics, with each group adhering to its own culture, history, language, etcetera”.
That a person such as Mathews so readily resorts to the company of Oxford dons, those like RW Johnson, whose self-referential piece equating ‘black persons and baboons‘ in the London Review of Books, and a controversy predating the Penny Sparrow incident, is really indicative of the general problem with the Oxford dictionary project as a whole, and especially its hegemony over language and meaning. The dictionary itself, is less a provider of hard science than a grab-bag of popular linguistics, off-the-cuff definitions, and semantic quibbles, that have resulted in the inclusion of words such as “conniption” (a fit of rage or hysterics) and “fankle” (to tangle or entangle something).
That Mathews is equally guilty of farnarkling the issues at stake here, can be seen in a popular Newsweek article: “There is no such thing as race” by one Robert Sussman. “The notion of race may be real, but the science is not,” says Sussman, “We are all the same, with no exceptions.”
According to Sussman, who unlike Mathews is not a self-published Amazon author (I admit, to also being one), but rather, the author of a reputable imprint published by Harvard Press, ‘The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea‘, “What many people do not realize is that … racial structure is not based on reality. Anthropologists have shown for many years now that there is no biological reality to human race. There are no major complex behaviors that directly correlate with what might be considered human “racial” characteristics.
Instead of grappling with the science, Mathews offers some ponderous merken of his own: “Why do the apostles of political correctness go out of their way deliberately and pseudo-scientifically to confuse the term “race” with the term “species” in the public mind? Because if people can be deluded into acknowledging that there are no such things as different races, then the concept of race cannot legitimately be introduced when the subject of racism is raised.”
In a review of RACE?: Debunking a Scientific Myth by an anthropologist and a geneticist, Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle, Jan Sapp a professor in biology at York University, Toronto says: “In biology, a grouping has biological meaning based on principles of common descent—the Darwinian idea that all members of the group share a common ancestry. On this basis, and on the ability to interbreed, all humans are grouped into one species as Homo sapiens, the only surviving member of the various species that the genus comprised. Species are arranged within the “tree of life,” a hierarchical classification that situates each species in only one genus, that genus only in one family and so on.”
“Nothing confuses that classification more than the exchange of genes between groups. In the bacterial world, for example, gene sharing can occur throughout the most evolutionarily divergent groups. The result is a reticulate evolution—a global net or web of related organisms, and no species. Among humans, reticulation occurs when there is interbreeding within the species—mating among individuals from different geographical populations. The result of such genetic mixing of previously isolated groups—due to migrations, invasions and colonization—is that no clear boundaries can be drawn around the variety of humans, no “races” of us.”
In raising the debate about species, Mathews is certainly putting the linguistic cart before the proverbial horse. Just as the term Anti-Semitism, a polite academic phrase used to describe Judenhaas (Jew hatred), is all too often confused, (no it is most certainly not the opposite of Semitism), racism, the popular word for one of humanity’s most persistent bugbears, does not require that a science of race exist.
“There is no inherent relationship between intelligence, law-abidingness, or economic practices and race, just as there is no relationship between nose size, height, blood group, or skin color and any set of complex human behaviors,” says Sussman.
“However, over the past 500 years, we have been taught by an informal, mutually reinforcing consortium of intellectuals, politicians, statesmen, business and economic leaders and their books that human racial biology is real and that certain races are biologically better than others.”
“These teachings have led to major injustices to Jews and non-Christians during the Spanish Inquisition; to blacks, Native Americans, and others during colonial times; to African Americans during slavery and reconstruction; to Jews and other Europeans during the reign of the Nazis in Germany; and to groups from Latin America and the Middle East, among others, during modern political times.”
As a recent scientific paper published by the US National Institute of Health cautions:”Races may exist in humans in a cultural sense… Adaptive traits, such as skin color, have frequently been used to define races in humans, but such adaptive traits reflect the underlying environmental factor to which they are adaptive and not overall genetic differentiation, and different adaptive traits define discordant groups. There are no objective criteria for choosing one adaptive trait over another to define race. As a consequence, adaptive traits do not define races in humans.”
If race is merely an “informal taxonomy” and not science at all, then race is a fiction, and a bad fiction at that. Best not to racialise society by invoking discredited ideas of Social Darwinism and thus the theories of scientific racism, consistent with earlier epochs of colonialism and genocide, which carried ideas of inferiority and superiority, survival of the fittest and natural selection. Such ideas may once have been prevalent within the field of biology and evolution, but when it comes to politics and human society, they have proven to be nothing more than horrendous justifications for the system known as apartheid.
THOUGHT I should post some resources for readers after yet another overseas race scandal of Dolezal proportions. (See my earlier post on this here).
First, there is some popular literature on the subject:
Newsweek’s There is no such thing as race
The Guardian’s Why racism is not backed up by science
Check out some books
Everyone is African – How Science Explodes the Myth of Race (Paperback) by Daniel J Fairbanks
The Myth of Race – The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea (Hardcover) by Robert Wald Sussman
The Myth of Race (Paperback) by Jefferson M. Fish
All books available via Loot or Amazon.
Or go ahead and read the scientific literature on the subject.
APARTHEID never worked, thousands of South Africans were reclassified according to the various race categories created under apartheid. It was enough to have just “one drop of niggers blood” reminds Louis Farrakhan to be considered black.
It was enough to associate with black persons via fraternisation and (Lord forbid) fornication for the authorities to take steps. Families were split down the middle. Much the same way the Rachel Dolezal story is playing itself out. Except here, her Christian Conservative family are apparently denouncing their daughter for being a white turncoat, a traitor to the supposed white race.
Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.” – Steven Biko
If Dolezal was passing herself off as blonde, nobody would question her hair colour. If she was a transexual, or became a man ditto, but in an eerie flashback to the scientific racism of apartheid and the race segregation of the American Deep South, the world is now being entertained by the question behind her motives for wanting to be black, or the crass possibility of lucrative contracts.
The Huffington Post’s Zeba Blay has gone so far as attacking Dolezal’s perm for being “culturally appropriative“, and suggests comparisons with transgendered persons are “detrimental to trans and racial progress”. In the process reducing blackness (and race oppression) to some weird physiognomy club, that excludes albinos, Asians and anyone who doesn’t pass the proverbial “pencil test”. The tragic case of Happy Sindane “the boy who tried for white” springs to mind.
The last time I read such an obscene resort to cultural norms, community standards and simple appearances, was during apartheid, when South African ministers routinely trotted out arguments about Christian “good neighbourliness” “own affairs” and “separate but equal.”
None of the accusations conveyed by the press are supported by any science or rational argument, for a good reason, there is no science behind race. Nations are not races. The legal fiction of affirmative action is just that, a fiction. And so what if Rachel Dolezol ended up employed by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) for a decade, doing a sterling job fighting to the rights of minorities as a black changeling? Let’s read that again: National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, for a minute there, I thought it said: African Americans, as in Africa, the continent, not Coloured as in Mixed Race Identity Syndrome.
The NAACP was founded in 1909, is America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, it advocates for rights for ethnic minorities but also fights for social justice for all Americans. The term “Coloured” is anachronistic and harks back to the days of racial segregation, when being a bastard could result in sterilisation.
Scientific racism along with eugenics and the apartheid heresy is a discredited field of research. There are no objective criteria which hold true for all human beings and proposals for such criteria tend to reinforce the problems with apartheid, which was a race-based system which never worked.(1)
Thousands of South Africans were imprisoned for resisting institutional racism, a system in which millions of people were classified by the state, and often forceably reclassified, or forced by the Immorality Act and Group Areas Act to apply for reclassification merely so that lovers and lifetime acquaintances were not separated by the law. One can only wonder at how the lesson of apartheid appears to have been lost on a Post-Mandela generation brought up on ready-to-eat TV meals.
What is irksome is the bald assertion that Dolezal has lied or committed a fraud. In order to lie, Rachel Dolezol would have to assert something which is not true. Her assertions however, are entirely valid and true, unlike the many Ad Hominem objections being raised in the media. (According to Jelani Cobb of the New Yorker, if she was lying, she was lying about a lie, the lie of race.)
We are surely in dangerous terrain if we deny an individual’s right to an identity, to a self-identity, and instead reach out for the jackbooted arsenal of the apartheid-era Population Registration Act (which was abolished in South Africa in 1994), or like so many twitter users, argue for the creation of a new race classification board under some modern schema.
Individual identity or individuation is not reducible to skin colour or even genes. People are exposed to life experiences, and socialisation, (nurture as well as nature). In an interview with Dolezal’s parent’s, her family appear to have Native American heritage and thus could also be “trying for white”. The case also appears to be an abject lesson in what can go right or wrong in interracial adoption, when your “white child” adopts the identity of your “black child”. So much for appropriating oppression, this looks more like being faced with oppression head on.
Dolezal’s complicated background in which she appears to have either rejected, or has been rejected by her family, makes it even more difficult. According to a recent interview on network television, she “identified as a black person age 5, when she drew a self-portrait with a brown crayon”.
Dolazal believes herself to be black, for all we know, she was brought up in a ghetto, and has had a relationship with a black man. It is trite that like her parents, Dolezal “tried for white” in her teens and failed
The laws of gravity apply to all people equally regardless of shape, colour, gender, or sexual orientation. There is no black science or white science, and there should be no legal consequences attached to terms such as black or white.
Any definitions of race are therefore bound to be fictions, and bad fictions at that. Both assertions of whiteness and blackness in regard to Rachel Dolezal are therefore coincidental and also true. The solution is intersectionality, the delineation of race as an oppression, in and of itself, not further racism.
Sadly, as an activist and writer, I face similar accusations by an apartheid-era media company. (This blog has carried my expose of the company and its active involvement in the maintenance of apartheid and also a media cartel covering up the truth)
The ludicrous and incoherent 2010 labour court decision written up by a corrupt labour broker moonlighting as an acting judge of the Labour Court of SA, who I shall call Judge Cheat, states that I am an “absurdity” for referring to myself as a “coloured person”.
I further stand accused, variously in papers and court testimony of a) being a Hindu, b) passing myself off as a Jew, or not being a Jew c) not being an Observant Jew d) de facto fraternising with black people at a mixed race nightclub in breach of my supposed religion.
The courtroom inquiry held in Cape Town was anything but a model of fairness and impartiality (The acting justice faces criminal charges lodged with the NPA of corruption and forging of documents) involved obscene questions about my hair and body features, and exactly why did I say: Jou Ma se Robbie Jansen?
I have a history of involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle. I have been sectioned under apartheid laws and subject to prohibitions on intergroup fraternisation. I even have a Jewish Bobba from Maitland, who grew up with both a white card and the card enumerated by persons such as C Vogel and A Abdhuramen, who illustrate the problems of Coloured identity and the race criteria used by legal authorities. Viva District Six.
For some, I have been assimilated into the “coloured” community of Cape Town. For others, I have “multi-race identity syndrome” or worse “protest psychosis” and the black disease outlined by Johnathan M Metzl, who explains how schizophrenia became a black disease associated with runaway slaves and belligerence against colonial masters.
My petition before the Constitutional Court of SA (lodged with the JSC, not the JSE, but who can tell the difference these days?) for instance states amongst other things, that I am considered a Khoisan and a Griqua by the Griqua Nation. So far as the Khoisan are concerned, if you identify with the Earth, you are a Khoisan. Ditto for the Bantu. A Bantu by all accounts from South Africa is nothing less than a human being and arguing otherwise is likely to result in an assagai being thrown in your general direction.
So far as I am concerned, I am nether black nor white, but rather a member of the species homo sapiens sapiens. This is neither a liberal position, nor a solely humanist assertion, but rather, a plain and simple scientific fact.
So like the controversy over Dolezal, the case against me, (not in the Middle Ages, but in the modern era of democracy, the 21st Century), is rather what is absurd here, that I have somehow “passed myself off as a “Coloured Person” during the struggle to advance the cause of the Coloured, and on the basis of this deception, I have gained employment at a “Coloured” newspaper, published by South Press and then also Grassroots.” And now that bastion of race profiling and compartmentalised racism, the People’s Post. The whole thing stinks.
If people think there is anything to be gained by being a black man or woman, think again. Being niggarised like Jani Allen, or reduced to second class citizenship and labour servitude by white supremacists, isn’t what one could call good clean fun, and all this merely in order to be treated as a bone fide member of some or other dinkum race group?
Get out of here. Nobody in their right mind would think like this, unless of course, you just swallowed a load of bull put out by the Ku Klux Klan and their local offshoots, the AWB.