Pardon the clickbait headline. The actual title is “you do not deserve your ethnicity.” But How am I going to get Americans to read that?
“Race” is not a biological fact, it is a construct. And yet, millions of people are treated worse than others because of their skin colour and associations with that skin colour. How is that just?
Every single one of us is an accident of birth. As I have argued elsewhere, it doesn’t matter the intentions of your parents, the unique you that is reading this is an accident.
But if there is one thing that people suffer for – or are rewarded for – other than gender, it is the colour of their skin. (And to a lesser extent, other physical features associated with “race,” such as hair, eye shape, physique.)
At some basic level, this actually makes a lot of sense: It makes perfect evolutionary sense that human beings would be prejudiced against people who don’t look like them. Trusting someone with different physical features may have been extremely risky throughout most of human history.
But humans with different physical appearances have been intermingling since humans evolved different physical appearances. If there’s one constant of human history it’s sex – humans love to have sex, otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. And more sex has been between ethnicities than most of us realize.
It’s the 21st century. We don’t need the prejudices that kept our tribes safe. Moreover, they actually do us more harm than good.
Race is Not Real
Races don’t exist and they have never existed. Instead, “race” is a social construct that is still somehow extremely popular.
There is only one human species.
But there are thousands of ethnicities.
Think of an ethnicity as the combination of physical features and cultural features we associate with someone from a particular area of the world.
“Ethnicity” is more accurate than “race” for any number of reasons:
- According to people who believe in “race”, there are only a few (“White People,” “Black People,” Asian People,” and sometimes one or two others), which cut across language barriers, national borders, religious beliefs, and so much more.
- Race is based on vague observed physical similarities and, occasionally, behavioural traits, whereas ethnicities are based on shared history, languages, cultures.
- “Race” predates genetics and there is no genetic support for it – people are more similar than they are different (it would be rather shocking if old-time people had miraculously guessed who was genetically closer to whom without understanding genetics); ethnic groups have closer genetic relations because they have mostly bred within those groups.
- Racial purity does not and cannot exist (humans have way too much sex for that and people can claim many different ethnicities).
Think about “race” as an explanatory concept: what does the concept of race explain about humans? Does it tell us anything we wouldn’t know without it? Why am I supposed to believe that someone from Korea and someone from Japan are the same? How would categorizing them in the same group explain their behaviour better?
Wait, aren’t black people dumber?
People will say, “Yeah but look at IQ scores. There’s nothing more robust than the relationship between “race” and IQ.”
So let’s take that strawman as our target:
When you claim that there is a strong relationship between made-up categories of people and intelligence, you aren’t claiming anything because those categories are made up.
What does it actually mean to say that black Americans have lower IQ scores overall than white Americans?
Who is included in “black Americans”? Well, at least colloquially, anyone with the slightest hint of “African” ancestry. I have no idea if these studies attempt to control for ancestry but, given that these studies have existed long before the genetic knowledge necessary to actually prove a relationship exists, I highly doubt it.
The argument here is actually something quite preposterous when it’s pulled apart: when you claim that one non-existent “race” has a lower or higher IQ than another, what you are actually saying is that there is some combination of genes that work together to lower or raise intelligence, which is directly correlated with physical appearance (such as skin colour, hair colour and degree of curl and, in the case of “Asians”, eye shape).
The studies claim a relationship between observed race (or self-identified race) and IQ. And observed race, or self-identified race, would in no way be the same thing as genetic race. (And, again, there is no such thing as a “race” from a genetic perspective. It’s a social construct.)
Is the evidence of a link between innate intelligence physical characteristics associated with “race” actually in the studies that claim to show a relationship between “race” and IQ?
Every single person on the planet has African ancestry. The idea that having more African ancestry decreases the chances of being smart – or that having more Asian or European ancestry increases those chances – should be an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence. It shouldn’t be an assumption.
If there’s a correlation between self-identified “race” and IQ, the explanation for that correlation is likely something very, very different than genetics.
The reason we can’t see this problem we learned about all of this backward: we encountered physical differences hundreds of thousands of years before we learned about genetics.
So it’s the thing that we’re used to, that we’ve learned from our ancestors and society, that we believe must be determinant, even though that makes zero sense from a genetic perspective.
The IQ “argument” is only the latest in a long line of baseless claims about racial differences that are based upon this fear of people who look, sound, or act differently than us.
Correcting Systemic Racism is Unfair
Observed difference is one reason why so many people object to policies designed to make life less unfair for minorities – they strongly believe those minorities are deserving of different treatment because that’s all they’ve known. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, difference does.
But the other reason we believe “others” – people who don’t look or talk like us – deserve different treatment (posing as “neutral” treatment much of the time) is because we believe the world is fair. We believe that those who don’t look or sound like us have done something to deserve their lot. Especially if our government has the appearance of a “neutral state” (which cannot exist), we think that their outcomes are a result of the fairness of the universe (or a deity, or what have you).
(Aside: The “neutral state” is a nice concept in theory, but human history has proven pretty definitely that it is only aspirational. Moreover, pretending the neutral state can exist is a mask to hide unequal treatment.)
- So we have observed differences of behaviour and physical bodies,
- we have learned ideas that people who don’t look like us or talk like us are inferior,
- we have learned ideas that “justice” entails treating everyone exactly the same regardless of difference,
- and we have a strong believe that outcomes in the world are a product of merit, not luck.
The combination leads to us not only believing that systemic racism cannot exist, but that trying to correct for it is inherently unfair.
And so we defend the status quo.
A status quo in which people without the right skin colour, hair colour and shape or accent are treated far worse than the rest of us.
And we think it just.
But it’s exactly the opposite: it’s completely unjust. Birth is a lottery. Nobody deserves their “race”, or their ethnicity. It’s only a fact of existence, and nothing more.