Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Myth of "Race" and Remedies for Past Harm--Part II.

The New York Times published the complete "Sunday Dialogue" yesterday online and today in print, titled "The Meaning of 'Race'" (link). This consists of my initial letter (also posted here July 16), five responses from readers, and my response to the readers.

My response is reprinted here:

The Writer Responds
Most responders would seem to agree with Mr. Rumbaut: “ ‘Race’ is a social status, not a zoological one.” But, as Mr. Bennett suggests, rational arguments are not enough to change our societal reality.
That reality is not changed by a “full mixture of genetic pools,” as Mr. Bennett proposes, because that mixture already exists. The idea of “race” prevents us from seeing it. As Dr. Monac points out, people we identify by a “race” are mixed with other “races.” Anyone who observes people riding the Manhattan subways sees a broad range of mixtures.
When we cannot tell what “racial” category a person fits into, we say the person is “mixed race.” But when you mix two myths, you get a third myth. The mixing of people we now identify as of different “races” is as old as the migrations of Homo sapiens out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago.
“Race” is a mental construct, not a physical reality. It is false construct that should be abandoned, not redefined. But while discussing the construct like academics, we have avoided discussing how to remedy the harm it has caused.

Boston, July 19, 2013

I address remedying the harm racism has caused in Chapter 5 of my book, How We Are Our Enemy--And How to Stop, in the section titled "Go Beyond Affirmative Action to Eliminate the Effects of Past Discrimination--and Poverty."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Myth of "Race" and Remedies for Past Harm

My letter below was published in the New York Times (online today; in print tomorrow) criticizing the concept of "race" while affirming the need for remedies for past harm. This is an "Invitation to a Dialogue" which requests responses to NYT by Thursday. On Sunday (according to the normal procedure) NYT will reprint my letter along with responses and my reply to the responses. 


Invitation to a Dialogue: The Myth of ‘Race’

To the Editor:
What should we do about “race”?
Over many decades, those who study genetics have found no biological evidence to support the idea that humans consist of different “races.” Based on such scientific data, Ashley Montagu published “Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race” in 1942. New discoveries have confirmed what he said then. So why, over seven decades after his book, do we keep talking and living as though biological “races” exist?
Not only are certain “racial” classifications flawed, as suggested in “Has ‘Caucasian’ Lost Its Meaning?” (Sunday Review, July 7); all “racial” classifications are inherently flawed, because they are based on the false idea of “race.”
The myth of “race” has supported the horrors of slavery, apartheid, segregation, eugenics and the Holocaust. It continues to support racism. We cannot simply ignore the harm this myth has caused and pretend that the myth never existed.
The scientific, democratic and ethical goal should be to eliminate the false idea of “race” completely. But how do we both destroy the myth and remedy the harm it has caused?
We can begin by mentally changing how we see people. When we look at someone and automatically think about that person’s “race,” we must realize that we are not seeing “race” but instead seeing an arbitrary and harmful societal classification imposed on a continuum of physical differences.
When we want to ask how someone is classified by the myth, we should always put “race” or “racial” in quotation marks (as I have done here). Such questions still need to be asked, for example, on applications for college or a job, or for the census, for the answers provide the data needed to maintain diversity in education and the workplace and to monitor and remedy the harms the myth has caused and continues to cause. The long-term goal, however, is to make these questions obsolete.
Boston, July 15, 2013
The writer is a retired lawyer, former professor of philosophy and the author of books, essays and a blog on democracy, ethics and human rights.
Editors’ Note: We invite readers to respond by Thursday for the Sunday Dialogue. We plan to publish responses and Mr. Hodge’s rejoinder in the Sunday Review.

A version of this letter appeared in print on July 17, 2013, on page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: Invitation to a Dialogue: The Myth of ‘Race’.

Florida wild-West law gives freedom to Zimmerman

The reason George Zimmerman was recently acquitted for killing Trayvon Martin is the consequence of Florida law. In accordance with this state law, the jury instruction at Zimmerman’s trial stated, “A person is justified in using deadly force if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself.” This means that in Florida, if you have good reason to fear that someone is going to rob you or assault you, even if they are unarmed, you can shoot them dead and not be prosecuted.

In accordance with this law, the jury instruction went on to state, “If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in anyplace where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” This is why he was acquitted.

As today’s editorial in The Boston Globe stated, “Zimmerman’s acquittal reflects a presumption that, in Florida, one can pick a fight with a stranger for entirely dubious reasons, and if that stranger seems to be gaining the upper hand — as Martin did, in Zimmerman’s account — it’s acceptable to pull out a gun and shoot.”

This kind of law is commonly referred to as “stand your ground law.” As stated by Curt Anderson in the March 22, 2012 Huffington Post, “Florida is among 21 states with a ‘Stand Your Ground Law,’ which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight." In other states, the law generally is that if you can safely escape from harm, you should do so, and if you cannot escape, you can only use as much force as is reasonably necessary to protect yourself or another. “Stand your ground law” is the law of the wild West that is not appropriate for civilized countries. Combine this law with the lack of gun regulation, and you have murders like that of Trayvon Martin where the murderer goes free--not because of racism in this case, but because of the law.

The only way “stand your ground” laws can be changed is by the state legislators or state courts in the states where such laws exist, or by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Like marriage, the law of self-defense is a matter for states. Such laws are most likely protected from federal oversight by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States [i.e., the federal government] by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

As with marriage and health care, the sanctity of your life still depends on the state in which you live.