Sunday, June 3, 2012

It’s Past Time to Relegate “Race” to History

A conservative columnist for the Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby, got it right (for a change), when he said, “Perhaps by then [a generation or two down the road] the very idea of race -- white, black or anything else -- will finally have been discarded, and American children will marvel at the idea that color of skin or shape of eye could ever have mattered so much to their forbears.” (“When ‘white’ is a trick of definition,” Boston Globe, K9.)

Only 45 years ago, when I was twenty-seven years old, lawyers defended a Virginia law that banned “interracial marriage” on the grounds that the law prevented pollution of the “white race.” The U.S. Supreme Court, in a landmark decision (Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 [1967]) overturned the Virginia law, and since then no laws banning “interracial” marriage could be enforced in the U.S.

Those laws banning “interracial” marriages, which several states still had in 1967, relied on a concept of “race” that has no scientific basis. Ashley Montagu pointed this out in his book, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, first published in 1942, 25 years before the decision in Loving v. Virginia. As I pointed out in How We Are Our Enemy -- And How to Stop, “ ‘Race’ is a mythical creation of the human imagination, having no basis in biology. There is no ‘race’ gene. It is long past the time when the concept of ‘race’ should be totally extinguished from our way of thinking” (p.136).

Yet, science is continually ignored when we talk about “mixed race” couples, etc. There is no such thing. If you mix nothing with nothing, you get nothing.

It is still necessary, of course, to recognize racism and the reality of different ethnicities and cultural groupings. These are observable phenomena. “Race” is not observable. It is a concept inferred from observation -- and a concept that observation and genetics do not support now and never did.

In my rare support of Mr. Jacoby, I wrote a letter to the editor, which the Boston Globe published today (6/3/2012), with minor modifications, in its “Opinion” section. Here is the letter as published (the misleading title is the Globe's):

Time at last for us to become post-racial

Jeff Jacoby effectively makes a case for getting rid of the very idea of “race” (“When ‘white’ is a trick of definition,” Op-ed, May 27). I fully agree. Not only is “white” a trick of definition. So are all of the other terms used to designate race. But for these tricks, President Obama, given his biological parents, is as much “white” as he is “black.” Yet we try to fit him and everyone else into so-called racial categories that make no sense.

“Race” exists only as a mythical idea created centuries ago by people who wanted to affirm the superiority of those who looked like them. It is past time to get rid of this false idea.

Whenever we use the term “race,” we should put it in quotation marks as a way of recognizing and affirming that it is primarily an idea that exists to support racism.

John L. Hodge
Jamaica Plain