Writings and Letters

A blog oeuvre… a "bloeuvre"

Tag: racism

Race and Truth (Or… More Bullshit Science is Supposed to Prove…)

PREVIOUSLY on Iaian’s Brain:

“Christ, I haven’t been paying attention to current events too closely. What have I missed? Let me just check what’s going on at The New York Times Op-Ed, that usually gets my blood boiling. Oh, what’s this? ‘How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’‘? Yes, yes this’ll do.”

And now the exciting conclusion:

Folks. There’s just no such goddamn thing as Race. Good night!

I really shouldn’t have to go further, but apparently scientific racism just never dies. (Andrew Sullivan certainly doesn’t seem to want to let it.)

So let me try to briefly roll up my sleeves and handle this. Because… nobody asked and it’s my site, I can do as I damn well please!

Firstly, what do I mean by Race and why capitalize it? I’d like to distinguish “Race” as a Platonist-like concept of something that exists in itself outside human intervention, as opposed to “race” which is a social construct that has deep historical and cultural roots. I flatly reject Race and any attempts to prove its existence through biological (or any other) means. Though I still recognize race as a real theory made by humans from beliefs and events with real-life consequences.*

In Dr. Reich’s first piece, he would like to have the reader believe: “it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among ‘races’.” Furthermore, the consensus to the contrary held amongst those in the genetic and biological and sociological and humanities circles is dangerous because it: “denies the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations.” (Italics mine)

What’s it all mean? Well, basically, Davey here wants us to believe that our genes can signify certain Truths about our Races—even when it comes to intelligence. (If your ears are already tingling, that’s because you’re picking up on the dog-whistle racism.) How does he reach such a “seismic” conclusion? You see, kiddo, he did a study a bit ago where some folks with prostate cancer had genes that linked back to West Africa. If genetics can be signifiers for certain things like diseases, why not intelligence? he says.

Hmm… there’s already a few problems. 1) There’s no such thing as Race. 2) Genes are simply an instruction manual to tell our body how to work; this runs the gamut, but they do not tell us to “be white”… that’s the job of society. 3) There’s no such thing as Race. 4) Simply because some gene(s) is found in West Africa does not mean it cannot be found elsewhere and the fact that Dr. Reich has not looked into this (or at least did not share his findings in his op-ed) and is quick to want to call this a racial trait should cause the reader’s bowels to inflame with dubiousness! 5) There’s still no such thing as Race. 6) Genes can be influenced by their environment. So even though a gene can be traced back to a certain region, it might not matter when the there and then of West Africa and the here and now of the United States are so vastly different and have different impacts on said gene. 7) Say it with me: “There’s no such thing as Race.” 8) Let’s jump to the glaring dissimilarities between using genes to track diseases like cancer and drawing the conclusion the same can be said for the social construct called “intelligence”. How does one describe intelligence? Is it like the lump of malignant tumor in your prostate, or more so a language classification of how society describes certain people with certain abilities in certain categories that are (to say the least) limited in their scope (I’m looking at you IQ tests!). Is racism a sign of intelligence? Are we more-intelligent white European descendants genetically predisposed to thinking we are racially superior to the rest? Dear Brutus, was it actually written in our stars all along? 9) There’s no such thing as Race! 10) The reader should be highly skeptical of anyone who tries to synthesize the very complex interplay of genetics into old social, historical tropes like “race” because… 11) And this is the most important point, there is no such thing as Race.

Now. I want to say I don’t think Dr. Reich is a eugenics-thumping racist. In fact, he really tries to distance himself in his second article and lame mea culpa/attempt to save face. He attempts his best to state his case again that he really doesn’t believe in the kind of old-fashioned Race all those Nazis and white supremacists were talking about. He’s a different kind of racist—I mean!—he sees a very narrow and specific understanding of how genetics can point to something he’s calling Race… but he doesn’t want us to worry about it. He makes this most breathtaking claim at the end: “…we do not need to be worried about what we will find because we can already be sure that any differences will be small…”

Uh-huh. Well, David. If your foregone conclusion (which has not been verified or agreed upon by any respected person in any related field) is so small and need not worry us (gee, one might want to say it’s… “negligible”), then… WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU WRITE THIS HUNK OF INCHOATE, UNSUBSTANTIATED DUMPSTER TRASH IN THE FIRST PLACE?!

Why, why you see it’s because Dr. Reich wants to protect us… from the racists!

The problem with this logic is that you’re continuously going to have to find buttresses against racists as long as they are still around. Racists gonna be racist. And if you say something like: “Actually, I think genetics do prove ‘natural’ disparities between human groups—like Africans and Europeans, etc.—and we can call these different groups ‘races’. And even though the results aren’t back from the lab, and might not be in for a while (or if ever), and even when they do come in, the disparity will be insignificant, and though I’m going off a very myopic sample base and drawing large conclusions my body of evidence can’t cash, I feel comfortable presenting my opinion and using my title of ‘Harvard Geneticist’ in The New York Fucking Times**… and also plug my book.” you are doing a real shit job of what you are purporting in the first place.

Case in point, Dr. Reich’s article was picked up by Andrew Sullivan, who then began soft-pedaling his eugenics claptrap again. I’m sorry, Andrew, black people just aren’t innately inferior to whites. I know your (and my) ancestors raped and pillaged and exploited nearly all of Africa for a few centuries, but that doesn’t lead to any useful conclusion of European (aka white) supremacy over Africans (aka urbans, err, I mean blacks), unless the conclusion you are trying to draw up is a racist one. Then, yes, I suppose I see how that’s quite useful. But you really have to work hard to make a whole group of human beings seen as lesser than you. It just doesn’t come naturally!

To let my pragmatic self take the wheel for a moment, what’s the cash value of an article like Dr. Reich’s? What use does it have for our social project? If one purpose is to engender a social imaginary that sees people of all colors as equals in an effort to combat the awfulness of racism, how does an article like this, supporting an unproven half-thought really get us there? As it stands, I don’t see how Dr. Reich’s stated opinions can help anybody but those who believe in some essential qualities of certain human beings that can be distinguished and help reify their imagined prejudices.

Ladies and gentlemen. Children and gimps. I know we all long for some answers in this deeply irrational world. I know we’re all just looking around, trying to make sense of why things are just so, and how incredibly easier and more satisfying life would be if we just had some core truths we could rely on. Sadly, it just doesn’t work that way. And when we lean too heavily on a tool of understanding like science to try and prove something True like Race, we’re only inviting ourselves to further bathos, disillusionment, and frustration. And more importantly, we’re elongating the agony of those who have socially and historically suffered for long enough.

I’d like to recommend a few books for Dr. Reich and anyone else out there that might be curious to learn about how silly, but violently dangerous, the concept of Race is. These books have helped me along the way.

  • The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter
  • Racecraft by Barbara J. Fields and Karen Elise Fields
  • Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

*It was brought to my attention that my use of Race in the original version of this piece did not offer a clear explanation of what I meant. This paragraph is an attempt to rectify that mistake.

**And shame on The New York Times. They pulled this kinda shit about fifteen years ago when they released some useless chart that misrepresented our genetic differences and ignored our overwhelming similarities. This kind of half-assed journalism really takes the wind of the Integrity Sails. [Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People, New York: W.W. Norton, 2010), p. 393]

Dash the Eidolon

[This is a continuation of my piece “Jumping Before the Bulls” which was featured in the Cigale Literary Magazine]

I found myself back in the Greenbelt, sitting atop the rocks watching the water pass. Melissa was there, too. Her lovely legs, starting to turn pink from the sun, sat in the creek and we watched as the flow washed over them. It was summer suddenly without the mugging heat. I put my hand in the water and tried splashing some on my body but felt no sensation. Melissa laughed. “How did I get back?” I asked. She simply smiled and arched her back exposing her face fully to the sun. She glowed with all the effulgence of glass in sunlight. Then I turned because someone was calling my name. I was in the backyard. Mother and I sat at the iron table. The light bounced from its painted skin and shined us in the whiteness. The sweet tea sat in its luminous glass dispenser. The amber drink was half filled with slices of neon lemons and tiger oranges. Mother was in her floral summer attire. I was in my plus-fours and pullover with matching socks, though I had pushed them down to account for the heat. Only again there was no oppressive humidity. No sensation of the real. Then I heard my name called again. Corn was waving me to come play with him and Imogene on Old Oak. “I’m too big,” I reminded them. A strong wind blew and clouds started rolling over the sky. Mother said something but I did not hear. Then I spotted Melissa. She was wearing that same aqua dress she wore the night of the party, the one I teased her looked like patinated bronze. She made her way to me. My heart picked up speed. Just before me she went to her knees and placed her hands on my legs. I looked to Mother, but she seemed not to mind. Then I looked back to Melissa. She smiled: “I don’t mean to disrupt this salutary moment, but you need to wake up. Now.” Why?

Slam! The bulls charged the car swinging their mean sticks, grabbing at us and screaming in the splenetic fashion. Packie lifted his head at the most inopportune moment and was cracked in the face. He grabbed his head with his meaty hands. His mouth parted to make sound but nothing interrupted the night. The bull that struck him turned him on his side and began striking his ribs. I watched in fright as Packie, half dazed, half angry, tried to grab the bull, or raise his hand in a muted cry for mercy, but he was met only with malice. The bull struck his hand down, easily breaking fingers, and called another over to join in the violence, swinging down blows and kicking Packie towards the opening. Mack grabbed me: “Get! Get!” His large dark hand on my shirt, simultaneously propelling me upward and outward. Bo was right behind, struggling to place his shirt on. Ray was in strife with the third bull. When we hit the gravel outside I was able to recognize the severity of the moment. Two more bulls were waiting for us, blowing whistles and calling for their reinforcements. “Go!” Mack screamed. Still holding me tightly, we rushed them, Bo somewhere to my rear. The bulls charged. Before reaching the locus of aggression, Mack released me and led his thick body into one of the bulls, who landed a swing. The bull exhaled an: “Oof!” before being propelled to the ground, striking his head against the nearby rail.

I was not as fortunate with the other, however, who must have had more experience. Covering my head and face, running forward towards emancipation, the senior bull side-stepped me and grabbed hold of my vestiture. Unable to break free, I looked at the bull’s face. His physiognomy bared the most blithe attitude for my present condition, and I knew there would be no parley. Forces were moving too swiftly, neither of us could stop this conflict. So he laid into me with all the hatred his belly could muster. My head, shoulder, arms, ribs, leg, hip all took on what felt like simultaneous blows. In return, I grabbed ahold of his collar, and we began to spin. Even in our dance, the bull managed to deliver several violent kisses to my person. I tried to defend myself, but my mind was overrun between the decision to return the brutality or protect myself. All I could manage was to keep our momentum going with the hopes that it would loosen me some so I might break free from his vicious grip and I could then flee. A few more blows to my body, and the word “jackanapes” was thrown around, before some grace came in the form of dear, sweet Bo. He grabbed the bull and with shock in his own eyes struck the brute with a large rock–from where I still do not know. The first landed on the bull’s brow, but not with enough force to release me. “Hit him again!” I must have said because the next I knew Bo had the bull like I was being held, and he was striking the bull in the face repeatedly. By the third or fourth blow, the bull had released me and was trying to retaliate, but Bo had him and would not yield. Again and again he hit that bull in the face until the white was gone, replaced by the gored red. For the briefest of moments, I thought of Mother and her cobbler. Then Mack grabbed me again and said: “We gotta go!” I looked behind and more bulls were coming our way. Bo dropped my attacker and the rock and started behind us. The three of us ran with all the haste we could give.

The train yard is not like a labyrinth, but a catacomb. The moon breaks through the thin veil of clouds in the night and creates a gothic palette of blue. The cars resemble ancient sepulchers. Moonlight passes through the slits creating the sensation of being entombed. Bulls travel through like demons waiting to carry the living to the underworld. It is a chthonic realm in the real world.

After some time we had managed to double back to our original train to see if we could help the others. They had Packie tied up and leaned against it. The other bulls had Ray held up. We couldn’t hear all too clearly, but it seemed obvious they were going to hold him responsible for what Bo and Mack had done to their own. There were six of them total now, bludgeons gleaming in the night’s glow from fresh drifter blood. Ray pleaded for clemency. “Please, please,” he cried over and over. “Please, please, please.” He shook his head, and though I could not see his face, I knew there were tears. Mack watched with me. Bo hid behind us and could not bare to witness the man’s fate. He instead held back his own lacrimal moment. Ray pleaded one more time before the lead bull interrupted. “Shut your mouth. I’m sick of hearin’ those purple lips flappin’.” And then he stripped the humanity from Ray with one epithet. Mack gripped me upon its utterance. This big, dark figure with all the equanimous talent of a great general was pierced and broken by the force of this one word. Ray fell apart from the declaration like a spell had been cast upon him. It had stripped him of his voice. And though I was too far, I saw the fear in his perspiring face and wide-staring eyes. I shared it, too. But as I watched the bulls begin to cudgel poor Ray I realized our fates were intertwined yet distinctly separate, and I began to hate myself anew.

Mack and I watched until there was no point and the three of us made our way away from the crime. I was in a lapsed state of mind, some kind of intellectual Purgatory. All I managed was to move along with Bo and Mack. I heard the grinding of gravel beneath our feet, and Bo’s muffled tears. “We should move into the field,” I think I mentioned to our small penurious cadre. It seemed the right thing to suggest. It helped, I felt.

Mack slammed me up against the nearby car. “Why wasn’t you watching? Why?” My shirt was entwined with his two large fists. They smelled a mixture of sweat and steel and other earthen material. He stared me down with the most intense animus.

“I… I’m sorry. I fell asleep… I’m sorry,” was all I managed to say. I was too terrified to utter more. But I wanted to. Lord as my witness. I wanted to find the ancient words that had power to reverse time and correct this, everything. But all I could manage were the worthless ones that only admitted my regret.

I watched Mack storm off ahead. Bo stood for a moment, and then trailed after him.

Oh Mack, I thought, forgive me. I was only dreaming.