Racism

Every individual on earth has his completing causes; consequently an individual with perfect causes becomes perfect, and another with imperfect causes remains imperfect, as the negro who is able to receive nothing more than the human shape and speech in its least developed form.

Judah Halevi (1075-1140), Kuzari (I, 4-6) [A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages, Colette Sirat, Cambridge University Press, 1985, 1990, p.2]

Their qualities of character, moreover, are close to those of dumb animals. It has ever been reported that most of the Negroes of the first [climatic] zone dwell in caves and thickets, eat herbs, live in savage isolation and do not congregate, and eat each other. The same applies to the Slavs. The reason for this is that their remoteness from being temperate produces in them a disposition and character similar to those of the dumb animals, and they become correspondingly remote from humanity.

'Abd-ar-Rah.mân Abû Zayd Ibn Khaldûn (1332-1406), The Muqaddimah, An Introduction to History, Franz Rosenthal translation, abridged and edited by N.J. Dawood [Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press, 1967, p.59]

Be it known to you, that the Traffic in Slaves is a matter on which all Sects and Nations have agreed from the time of the sons of Adam, on whom be the Peace of God, up to this day -- and we are not aware of its being prohibited by the Laws of any Sect, and no one need ask this question [i.e. whether the trade in slaves be lawful], the same being manifest to both high and low and requires no more demonstration than the light of day.

'Abd ar-Rah.mân ibn Hishâm, Sultân of Morocco (1822-1859), to British Vice Consul Henry John Murray, 1842

The present difficulty, in bringing all parts of the United States to a happy unity and love of country, grows out of the prejudice to color. The prejudice is a senseless one, but it exists.

President Ulysses S. Grant

Numbered among our population are some twelve million colored people. Under our Constitution their rights are just as sacred as those of any other citizen. It is both a public and private duty to protect those rights. The Congress ought to exercise all its powers of prevention and punishment against the hideous crime of lynching, of which the negroes are by no means the sole sufferers, but for which they furnish a majority of the victims.

President Calvin Coolidge, Address to Congress, December 6, 1923.

In August 2009, MSNBC's Contessa Brewer was discussing a tea party rally in Arizona, where it's legal to carry an unconcealed weapon. She said: "A man at a pro-health care rally... wore a semiautomatic assault rifle on his shoulder and a pistol on his hip... There are questions about whether this has racial overtones, I mean, here you have a man of color in the presidency and white people showing up with guns." All that her audience was shown were a rifle and pistol strapped to a man's back. MSNBC concealed the fact that the armed man was black and did not show the interview he gave to the reporter. Brewer knowingly deceived her audience because an armed black man didn't fit the racial narrative.

Walter Williams, "Leftist race-baiters stir up animosity," May 9, 2012

Hollywood has recently made movies, such as Lincoln [2012] and 42 [2013], celebrating great moments in the history of civil rights and social progress. This is not the picture, however, that students receive at American universities, in "multicultural" education, or in much of political and media discourse. There, America today is hopelessly, irredeemably, and unforgivably racist, just as though slavery still existed; Republicans are racist; business is racist; Capitalism is racist; white people are racist; standardized tests are racist; Christianity is racist; any white person who even mentions the "N" word is racist (unless it's Quentin Tarantino); IQ tests are racist; Israel is racist; the criminal justice system is racist; "meritocracy" is racist; the drug laws are racist (well, yes); voter ID is racist; Korean convenience stores are racist; fiscal responsibility is racist; the idea of "terrorism" is racist; clocks are racist; academic standards are racist; tax cuts are racist; and so forth. But of course black nationalism, black supremacy, Friedrich Nietzsche, celebrating la Raza (i.e. "the Race"), racial preferential policies, voter fraud and intimidation, and all things attributable to Islâm are not racist. In other words, everything that the Left hates is racist, and everything it likes isn't. The same people, of course, typically deny that there is any objective basis or content to moral judgment.

Enklinobarangus ()

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School was established in 1870 in Washington, D.C., as the nation's first black public high school. From 1870 to 1955, most of its graduates went off to college, earning degrees from Harvard, Princeton, Williams, Wesleyan and others. As early as 1899, Dunbar students scored higher on citywide tests than students at any of the district's [three] white [high] schools. Its attendance and tardiness records were generally better than those of white schools. During this era of high achvievement, there was no school violence. It wasn't racially integrated. It didn't have a big budget. It didn't even have a lunchroom or all those other things that today's education establishment says are necessary for black academic excellence.

Walter Williams, "Educational excellence initiative," August 15, 2012

"These blacks expect too much. When you go to a new country, you can't expect to belong to that place. Here, everybody knows where they are from, but these American blacks are lost here. They will hire me to be their guide in Africa, but truly they intend to guide me to become a better African. They should not come in here thinking that they are on a God-given mission to change Mother Africa. They want us to love them, not as our neighbors but as our superiors. So I ask you this:  How can we weep with them [about slavery]?"

The [slave transit] castle hove into view. "We are seriously approaching," Elolo remarked. "Slavery is not the only story about black people. It's only a small story! Don't they know that if tomorrow a slave ship arrived at Elmina to carry us to America, so many Ghanaians would climb on board that this ship would sink to the bed of the ocean from our weight?" he laughed. I couldn't help laughing, myself. But who was the butt of the joke?

Emily Raboteau, Searching for Zion, The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora [Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013, p.223]

To Marx there were class enemies. To the Nazis there were race enemies. The modern enlightened academy has achieved the epic combination of these, and added gender to complete the unholy "race, class, gender" trinity. Thus, white males, regardless of their economic status (in fact poor rural rednecks, the kind who fly Confederate flags, are obviously worse than the urban bourgeois) are at once race and class enemies. The political crime of being what they are warrants death, just like Stalin's kulaks; but the sentence can be commuted, to slavery, as long as they abase themselves sufficiency and never demonstrate in word or deed any criticism or disobedience for "progressive" principles or policies, however manifestly pointless, incoherent, vicious, or self-defeating those might be.

Enklinobarangus ()

First, weaken the black family, but don't blame it on individual choices. You have to preach that today's weak black family is a legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and racism. The truth is that black female-headed households were just 18 percent of households in 1950, as opposed to about 68 percent today. In fact, from 1890 to 1940, the black marriage rate was slightly higher than that of whites... In New York City, in 1925, 85 percent of black households were two-parent households...

Disgustingly, black politicians, civil rights leaders, liberals and the president are talking nonsense about "having a conversation about race." That's beyond useless. Tell me how a conversation with white people is going to stop black predators from preying on blacks. How is such a conversation going to eliminate the 75 percent illegitimacy rate? What will such a conversation do about the breakdown of the black family...? Only black people can solve our problems.

Walter Williams, "A case of black self-sabatoge," July 31, 2013

One of the most conspicuous of morally charged terms of political condemnation, and certainly the most explosive in its dimension for political passion and even civil violence, is "racism." Racism is now generally regarded as such a heinous moral evil, and is so closely identified with the acts of violence that tend to result from it, that people often talk as though racism is not only a great moral wrong in itself but is or ought to be illegal, both as a belief and in its merely verbal expression ("hate speech"), often with the justification that racism as such is violence, or an incitement to violence, and so can be sanctioned like any other act of violence or incitement. This case against racism seems so strong that its form gets borrowed to characterize parallel conceptions of moral and political evils like "sexism," "classism," and "homophobia."

We must be clear, however, about just what racism is that would make it a moral issue. If racism at root is just the belief that some races or groups of humans are genetically and intrinsically less able (i.e. less intelligent, healthy, or physically able) or less worthy (i.e. more violent or less trustworthy, hardworking, conscientious, provident, etc.) than others, then these are not only simply beliefs about certain matters of fact, but it is not impossible or incredible that in some cases, or in some possible universes, they might actually be true [1] So if racism is morally objectionable, it must be because of intentions and actions that can be judged morally good or bad. If the moral law is that we must allow the free exercise of the innocent, competent will of others in regard to their own interests, then it is perfectly possible that someone with racist beliefs might actually follow this rule and even have the best of intentions.

We might even say that at one time, if not even now, that kind of thing was rather common: many Abolitionists, who were morally outraged over slavery and morally anguished over the lot of the slaves, nevertheless had trouble believing that Africans really were as morally or physically able as Europeans. They thought of Africans as the practical and moral equivalent of children -- which actually added to their outrage and their anguish since mistreating children (the incompetent) is more morally culpable than mistreating competent adults. We cannot hold the Abolitionists morally liable for not holding the "right beliefs" about race, unless we believe that such right beliefs are so obvious that only a kind of intellectual negligence could be the cause of their believing them. Looking at the received knowledge of the age, however, it would be surprising if they believed anything else. As Stephen Jay Gould says, about the ridicule often heaped upon Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656) for his determination from Biblical chronology that the world was created in 4004 BC, "The proper criterion must be worthiness by honorable standards of one's own time...Models of inevitable progress, whether for the parorama of life or the history of ideas, are the enemy of sympathetic understanding, for they excoriate the past merely for being old (and therefore primitive and benighted)" [Stephen Jay Gould, "Fall in the House of Ussher," Eight Little Piggies, Reflections in Natural Hisory, W.W. Norton & Company, 1993, p. 186]. We don't have to be too "sympathetic" with ideas that we now associate with terror and genocide, [2] but self-righteousness today is not a virtue in relation to a period when many things seemed different. Hume's views are a good indication of the opinion of the age among informed men. In a 1748 essay, "Of National Characters," he says:

I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences. On the other hand, the most rude and barbarous of the Whites, such as the ancient Germans, the present Tartars, have still something eminent about them, in their valour, form of government, or some other particular. Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen, in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction between these breeds of men. Not to mention our colonies, there are Negro slaves dispersed all over Europe, of whom none ever discovered any symptoms of ingenuity; though low people, without education, will start up amongst us, and distinguish themselves in every profession.

If we expect Hume to have known better, we must ask what information he can have had. We cannot just say that he should have assumed, as a moral axiom, that everyone is the same. There is no reason why Hume, or anyone else, should ever make such assumptions. That is not a question of morals, but of facts. And if we think differently, it should be because we are better informed. In contrast to Hume, however, we may consider Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was very concerned with this issue, since he advocated the emancipation of black slaves. In the end Jefferson by no means disagreed with Hume, but he seems far less certain about it. He carefully considers all the evidence known to him (in his Notes on Virginia) and, after arguing that there is no evidence of the moral inferiority of blacks (rather different from more recent racism), then concludes:

The opinion that they are inferior in the faculties of reason and imagination, must be hazarded with great diffidence. To justify a general conclusion, requires many observations, even where the subject may be submitted to the anatomical knife, to optical glasses, or analysis by fire or by solvents. How much more then where it is a faculty, not a substance, we are examining; where it eludes the research of all the senses; where the conditions of its existence are various and variously combined; where the effects of those which are present or absent bid defiance to calculation; let me add too, as a circumstance of great tenderness, where our conclusion would degrade a whole race of men from the rank in the scale of beings which their Creator may perhaps have given them.....I advance it, therefore, as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. It is not against experience to suppose that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualification.

It is now odd to note that Jefferson was under the impression that blacks were physically inferior to whites. That was a rather common belief, even as late as the time of the 1936 Olympic triumphs of Jesse Owens, when Adolf Hitler was sure that the Olympics would demonstrate German physical superiority over everyone. The last thing Hitler expected was for an American Negro to scoop up a bunch of gold medals, and he refused to shake Owens' hand. (Owens later said he wasn't sorry that he didn't get to shake Adolf Hitler's hand; but now it is also said that Hitler didn't shake any non-German's hand.) Now, when many people have the impression that in many areas blacks may be physically superior to whites, the old belief seems comical.

Later in life Jefferson was eager to receive such information of black intellectual achievement as would contradict his conclusions [3]. On the other hand, it is often held against him that he was a hypocrite who continued to own slaves even while he supposedly advocated their emancipation [4]. But the complication was that Jefferson always believed that whites and blacks, for various reasons (including his opinion about their abilities, but also because of the tension created by black memories of indignities and oppression), would not be able to live peacefully together on grounds of equality. He thought it would thus be better and happier for all for freed slaves to return to Africa, and his continued holding of slaves was a consequence, at least in part (he also had financial problems), of his sense that they could not and should not simply be freed without some provision for their return to Africa. The project for such a return was started in Jefferson's lifetime with the founding of an African colony in 1822, Liberia, for freed American slaves. Its capital, Monrovia, was named after Jefferson's protégé and successor, James Monroe. Jefferson's views that free blacks should return to Africa can easily be held against him, but even Abraham Lincoln believed much the same thing, for much the same reasons. In his debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858, Lincoln was delabored with accusations that, since he was against slavery, he must be for citizenship and equality for freed blacks. Lincoln replied:

He [Douglas] shall have no occasion to ever ask it again, for I tell him very frankly that I am not in favor of Negro citizenship....

I will say then, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way, the social and political equality of the white and black races -- that I am not, nor have ever been in favor of making voters of the Negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office, or having them marry with white people. I will say in addition that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I suppose will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality and inasmuch as they cannot so live, that while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior that I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white man...

I have said that separation of the races is the only perfect preventative of amalgamation... Such separation...must be effected by colonization.

Colonization was Lincoln's preference right up until the day that a delegation, consisting of Frederick Douglass and other black leaders, with Emancipation at hand, told him they actually did not want to go back to Africa. When it came right down to it, that was the end of that. Whatever Lincoln's views about citizenship and political equality may have continued to be, the Constitutional issue was settled after his death with the passage of the 14th Amendment, though "equal protection of the law" was never properly enforced after Occupation forces were withdrawn from the South in 1877.

Neither Hume nor Jefferson had the opportunity to meet a black man of the intelligence, education (self-taught!), and eloquence of Frederick Douglass. Lincoln did, and historical events made a difference in people's opinion in this respect. Where Hume may have appealed in vain, as he thought, for examples of black valor, in Lincoln's era the matter was settled on July 18, 1863, when the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first black unit raised in the North for the Union Army, assaulted Fort Wagner outside Charleston harbor. (Other black units had been organized in the South from escaped slaves, and one had originally been raised in Louisiana by free blacks for the Confederate Army and then went over to the Union!) This was a foolish frontal assault, common in the Civil War, that resulted in the regiment being shot to pieces and a great many of its men, including its white colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, the son of Abolitionists, killed. A very good movie, Glory [1989], details the history of this regiment; and a monument [shown here], paid for by subscription from the veterans of the unit, and made by one of the greatest sculptors of the 19th century, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, stands in Boston, across the street from the State House.

That a black regiment could withstand such punishment and acquit itself nobly vindicated those who, like Douglass (two of his own sons were in the unit), had been arguing that blacks would make as good soldiers as whites. Sergeant Carney, who returned the regimental flag to the Union lines, saying that he never allowed it to touch the ground, although suffering from five serious gunshot wounds, lived to receive, although belatedly, the Congressional Medal of Honor -- the first black soldier to be so honored. The result was that by the end of the Civil War, 10% of the Union Army was black -- mostly escaped and liberated slaves since blacks were only about 2% of the population of North at the time. When the war was over, and four new cavalry regiments (among other kinds) were added to the six of the regular United States Army, two of those, the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments, were black (as were the new 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments, originally authorized as the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry Regiments). All the way down to World War I, mostly in West Texas and in the Philippines, those units distinguished themselves. It was a tough life, but the 9th and 10th Cavalry had the lowest desertion rate and highest reënlistment rate in the United States Army. They became known by the name given to them by the Indians whom they fought (mainly Comanches and Mescalero Apaches): the "Buffalo Soldiers." black units persisted until President Truman integrated the armed services in 1948 -- although the 24th Infantry, still segregated, fought in Korea until deactivated in 1951 -- effective integration took place under President Eisenhower.

As it happens, when black units were authoritized for the Union Army in 1863, the Navy had already been accepting black sailors for more than a year. This sometimes involved some remarkable adventures, as when a black pilot in Charleston harbor, Robert Smalls, loaded a group of his family and friends onto the Confederate dispatch boat Planter and on the night of May 12/13, 1862, boldly sailed it out of the harbor to the Union blockading fleet. Well informed about the defenses of Charleston, Smalls then became a pilot of the Union Navy. By the end of the War, 17% of the United States Navy was black. The acceptance of blacks into the Navy was eased by two circumstances. One was that at the time the position of a common sailor was less a military station than it was, under the ordinary discipline of the sailing ship, simply that of being a sailor. Second, as readers of Moby-Dick [1851] will know, sailors were already such an ethnically, racially, and internationally mixed lot that it was not always easy to classify by race anyway. Exactly what race is Queequeg? Well, he's not white, and he is evidentally from some cannibal island in the South Pacific, but otherwise it is rather hard to say. As a harpooner in Moby-Dick, he is one of the most important, and best paid, persons on board. Another harpooner is Daggoo, a black African. With this background, experienced Union sailors might not have batted an eye about someone like Robert Smalls. However, the later influence of Segregation would purge the U.S. Navy of blacks; and by World War II, the only non-whites in the service were Filipino stewards. In 1939 author Alex Haley (19211992) was able to join the Coast Guard as a steward.

It is noteworthy how in many respects the last decades of the 19th century were an era of racial progress in the North, even while they were an era of steadily increasing racial oppression in the South. W.E.B. Du Bois (18681963) was the first black student to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard, in 1895. From 1886 to 1895, Michael Healy (18391904), "Hell Roaring Mike," was the Captain of the Cutter Bear, whose annual visits to Alaska constituted the entire governmental and judicial presence of the United States in that territory. Although often identified at the time as Irish (from his father), Healy was of mixed-race derivation, which meant, of course, that he was black by the laws of most Southern States. These hopeful signs, and the actual integration of the black community in places like Philadelphia or Detroit, were swamped by two trends (1) the Terror of the imposition of Segregation in the South, which reached a height of violence in the 1890's, led to an exodus of poorly educated and low skilled blacks from the South to the North, and (2) an idealization and romanticization of the South and its Cause among historians and intellectuals otherwise influenced by the sort of neo-racism made possible by Darwinism -- as when we find Nietzsche saying, "the negro represents an earlier phase of human development" ["The Genealogy of Morals," The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956, p.200; "der Neger (diese als Repräsentanten des vorgeschichtlichen Menschen genommen --)," which is literally more like "the Negro respresents prehistoric man," Zur Genealogie der Moral, 1988, 2003, Reclam, p.58]. The reality of such a sentiment in Nietzsche, let alone such influence from Darwinism, is deeply embarrassing and generally ignored or explained away by modern intellectuals who idolize Nietzsche and can allow no evil influences from Darwinism. The exodus from the South swamped the more successful and acculturated blacks of the North, creating an impression that played into the hands of the neo-racists.

This led to an era when the Ku Klux Klan itself whas revived, during the administration of the Southern racist Woodrow Wilson. Southern Democrats were able to defeat a Republican federal voting rights bill in 1890 and anti-lynching bills in 1922, 1935, and 1938. President Calvin Coolidge, who asked for another anti-lynching law in 1923, noted about World War I, in an commencement address at Howard University, on June 6, 1924:

The propaganda of prejudice and hatred which sought to keep the colored men from supporting the national cause completely failed. The black man showed himself the same kind of citizen, moved by the same kind of patriotism, as the white man.

General John "Black Jack" Pershing (retroactively made a General of the Army in 1976) got his nickname after commanding the 10th Cavalry (1895-1897), although originally the sobriquet was a much more hostile "N****r Jack," assigned by cadets while he was an instructor at West Point (1897-1898). In World War I, where Pershing was the American Commander in Europe, France had actually requested Buffalo Soldier units, of which they had heard good things. Woodrow Wilson did not want black American units in the American Expeditionary Force. Pershing found a compromise by providing the black 92nd and 93rd Infantry Divisions to fight under French command, which they did for the rest of the War.

Especially characteristic of common belief in the eras of Hume, Jefferson, and Lincoln was that the differences between human communities resulted from innate qualities -- not just innate differences between the races or the sexes, but innate differences between different nationalities and ethnic communities. The 20th century has witnessed a great assault on all such views, so that now the evidence is overwhelming that most of the qualities that people in the 19th century, 18th century, or earlier thought were inherited are actually culturally constructed and transmitted through example and learning. Nevertheless, the old views cannot be retroactively condemned, with moralistic anachronism, as though everyone should have known better; and even today it is becoming clear that not everything is culturally transmitted. The debate between culture and inheritance consequently must still be carried on, with factual reasons and evidence, not with moral self-righteousness.

The notion that we should believe some questionable matter of fact just because it is supposed to be morally edifying is to confuse matters of value with matters of fact. Specifically it is to confuse the moral identity of persons with some sort of identity of nature between persons. The moral identity of persons is simply what all persons have in common by virtue of which they are persons protected by the principles of morality. This does not make all persons identical in their natures. Indeed, some people really are less able or less worthy than others; but as Thomas Jefferson himself said, just because Isaac Newton was more intelligent than most people, or even all people, he did not thereby have rights over the lives and property of others.

Entirely apart from worries about racism, it is instructive to see the attraction for moralistic theorists of the notion that everyone is just as able or just as morally worthy as everyone else -- and that believing this is morally enjoined and edifying. No matter how sincere or earnest such views, there usually is someone set aside who actually isn't all that able or worthy -- e.g. racists, sexists, homophobes, capitalists, red-necks, Christians, Republicans, etc. The truth is that the identity or non-identity of persons in their natures and characteristics is irrelevant to what morality requires. To respect rights and avoid wrongs is all that is moral, and this works the same whether everyone has the same body and personality or are as different as Joseph Stalin and Mother Theresa. The moral respect due to persons is not the same as respecting them in general. As Nelson says:

The value of a person is determined in positive terms by considerations other than the moral law. The moral law is not a principle of positive valuation of persons, but only a negative principle, according to which a person's value is subject to the condition of fulfillment of duty. We do not assert that all persons are equal in value, but only that they are equal in dignity, that is to say, in their right to restrict the freedom of action of other persons whose actions affect them by the condition that these other persons respect their interests in accordance with the principle of equality of persons. [System of Ethics, Yale 1956, p. 112.]

The trickiest part of judging the morality of racism is the way in which moral actions depend on a frame of factual beliefs. If certain people are judged child-like and incompetent and are treated accordingly in the sincere and reasonably informed belief that they really are that way, then there may well be error, tragedy, and judicial wrong, but it is not clear to what extent the agents are morally culpable. What is worse is when people may be judged, not just child-like and incompetent, but simply not rational beings, leaving them unprotected by the moral law altogether. That may give us a proper definition of a kind of racism that we would expect to be morally pernicious as such: where beliefs about the natures of other persons are so extreme that they simply dehumanize those persons and free the agents from all moral scruple in dealing with them [5]. It is not too much to expect that kind of racism to lead to violence and other judicial wrongs. Nevertheless, this is still just a certain kind of belief; and although it is tempting to attribute malice and ill will to racists in this sense, it is really too much to assume that such individuals may not actually be deceived in good faith and good will by what seem to them reasonable beliefs about the boundary between the human moral community of persons and the things and animals that lie outside it.

In terms of human history, it is clear enough that traditional cultures draw the line of moral respect quite tightly: the Bible lays down moral commands such as "Thou shalt not kill," but these clearly only apply within the community of Israelites, who are otherwise positively enjoined to kill Canaanites, Jebusites, Philistines, etc. If it is the moral progress of humanity to extend the idea of moral personhood beyond a narrow community, we must recognize that change as an innovation that was never self-evident. If moral protection is to extend to all humans or to all rational beings, there must be some determination about what, in fact, a human or a rational being is. In the 19th century, even before Darwin's theory of evolution opened the possibility that certain races were not human because they might have descended separately from a common primate ancestor, there was already a debate about whether different human races were separately created species -- and both side of that argument were taken up by equally reasonable and responsible scientists [6]. Now we can shake our heads over those scientists and lament their racism, but we congratulate ourselves with an anachronistic self-righteousness. The determination that all human races have one origin of descent was an empirical matter that needed to be seriously substantiated, not just assumed. Today the frontier of this very same debate is still unsettled since some people wish to include all sentient beings, all animals, into the community of morally protected persons. This does not seem reasonable to most people who enjoy omnivorous nutritional habits and keep pets (who, no doubt, are in bondage), but it does highlight the vagueness of the criterion that we have for the community of moral respect.

The simplest criterion for a rational being with moral rights and duties may be just that someone is able to claim to be such and can substantiate the claim by actually entering into contracts and respecting the rights of others. Again, however, this simplicity is not self-evidence. We must allow that reasonable persons may disagree; and if we credit animal rights people with good faith for wishing to extend the moral community, we cannot deny a priori the good faith or the reasonableness even of racists. This does not mean that we regard what they may do as right: both groups may commit great judicial wrongs in the course of what they regard as a good cause. The polynomic independence of the values of intention and action means that moral good will does not make for an automatic judicial right. Our task is to condemn actions that are judicial wrongs with all legal powers of retribution; but we can only answer with persuasion, knowledge, and an appeal to truth, not with force and dogmatism, the beliefs that may underlie the judicial wrongs.

No treatment of racism would be complete without some note taken of the manner in which the political Left uses the issue. As the far Left prefers to lump all opposition to them together as equally Fascist, Nazi, racist, etc., I will return the favor. I don't think this is unfair. Since mainstream Democrats do not denounce the fascism, racism, and anti-Americanism of the extreme Left, I will take their silence as agreement.

Viewing the Right as Fascist and Nazi, of course, does not mean there is any objection by the Left to totalitarianism or a police state as forms of government. No, these are essential to a radical Leftist agenda. Instead, "fascism" and even "racism" are simply synonyms for "capitalism" and are used pretty interchangeably. Thus, one does not need to hate or even dislike other races, or hold false or stereotyped views about them, or object to equal rights for them, to be a "racist." One need merely support a free enterprise poltical system, limited government, a free market, etc. Indeed, if one actually supports equal rights to the extent of objecting to racial or ethnic preferences or quotas, then this also makes one a "racist." What one believes or feels about other races is thus entirely irrelevant to whether one is a "racist." But this is consist with a Marxist class analysis. It is what one is, as a member of what class, not what one believes or feels, that determines one's political position. "Racism" is, after all, not a matter of mistaken beliefs or even moral failings, but a political crime. Hence the preference for ad hominem attacks in Leftist rhetoric, and the suitability of using "racist" as a smear and a slur rather than anything with a background of ad rem argument. As much as the use of the "N" word by genuine Neo-Nazi racists, the use of "racist" by the Left signifies pure hatred for what people are. The reductio ad absurdum of this may have come when actress Janeane Garofalo (and others) said that Conservatives, who have opposed socialism their entire lives, only reject Barack Obama's socialized medicine plan because he is black, they are racists, and they therefore reject all of his policies. Including Afghanistan?

Capitalism itself (or equality before the law) is "institutional racism" because it does not "distribute" wealth in a racially "equitable" fashion. Since capitalism has a habit of distributing more wealth to the Chinese and Japanese than to other groups, in America and elsewhere, it is not clear which race is controlling things; or, if capitalism is necessarily controlled by white people, why it would make a racial exception to East Asians (or South Asian Indians). Perhaps they are being bought off -- although sufficient fear has been expressed by white people over the Chinese and Japanese to make it rather puzzling why they should not be kept down like other races, as they were in the 19th century (before Japan defeated Russia, anyway).

Where charges of racism seem to go with a great deal of racism emerges in debates about illegal immigration. Mainstream Democrat politicians feed this tendency when they consistently characterize objections to illegal aliens as objections to immigrants as such -- with objections to all immigrants based on a racial dislike of Mexicans, Central Americans, or other immigrant "people of color." This dishonest and incendiary accusation is then coupled with the cooperation of much of the press, which seeks out remotely offensive signs at Tea Party rallies but compeletely ignores the sort of vicious signs at Leftist rallies that illustrate this section of the essay.

Thus, above left we see a masked person (although popular with anarchists, this is illegal in jurisdictions that passed laws against masked demonstrators, because of the use of masks by the Ku Klux Klan) demanding that "white racists" get off "our continent." One wonders to whom the "our" refers and who this person thinks he is. We may get the answer above right, where a sign says that "all Europeans are illegal on this continent since 1492." Since these signs are at rallies for illegal aliens, I may hazard the assumption that the demonstrators often have Hispanic surnames and would prefer the use of Spanish over English in their schools, government, etc. They may not have paused to reflect that Spanish surnames and the Spanish language are European in origin (names such as Rodriguez and Fernandez are not even Latinate but ultimately Germanic, from the Visigoths, while García, Sanchez, and Echeverría are Basque). Indeed, many people with Hispanic surnames consider themselves "white," as would anyone from Spain itself. It is a political decision to affirm a racial identity as "brown" -- a deeply problematic move, not only given its use to create racial animosity, or in light of the actual history of racial distinctions in Spanish America, but also given the charged use of the Spanish expression La Raza, "the Race," a curious label for people supposedly opposed to racism. The equivalent of "native Americans" in Mexico, i.e. Mexican Indians, still have little political power there and have often been badly treated. Hispanic political activists in the United States rarely look like pure Mexican or Central American Indians -- they would be of Spanish descent or mixed race mestizos. Their objection to "Europeans" must involve either ignorance, self-deception, or self-hatred about their own origins.

But we see what a lot of this adds up to in the sign at left:  "Borders are lines drawn by racist imperialists." There is no nation on earth with such a complacent or hostile attitude towards its own borders. Certainly not Mexico (or, for heaven's sake, the "anti-imperialist" Soviet Union), whose measures against illegal aliens are quite draconian in comparison to the United States (at least Mexico doesn't shoot people trying to leave, as "anti-imperialist" East Germany did). Instead, we get the words "racist," used as a generalized smear, and "imperialists," which politically gives away the game. Thus, while there are isolationists -- paleo-conservatives and liberatarians -- who regard United States foreign policy as "imperialism," the accusation is usually more indicative of a Leftist -- indeed Leninist -- orientation, as in this case. The context here, of course, is not foreign policy but domestic issues of immigration and naturalization. Since the free movement of labor is not exactly a Marxist talking point, the issue may be regarded as "imperialism" because some of the ideology at these demonstrations regards the Southwest United States as properly a part of Mexico -- we also see the slogan, "We did not cross the border; the border crossed us." Unfortunately, most Mexicans or Central Americans have no historical connection to the native peoples of the American Southwest, from the Chumash to the Navajo to the Apache, and the area was possessed briefly as part of Mexico (1822-1848) in the same imperial and colonial manner as it then came under the jurisdiction of the United States. The border may have "crossed" the Navajo Nation or the Californios, but not most modern Hispanic immigrants to the Untied States.

Such attitudes, however, display hostilities and loyalties that are adverse, not just to certain positions in American politics, but to the existence of American politics, and even America itself. The idea that the area from California to Texas should be part of Mexico is also puzzling in that the illegal immigrants left places like Mexico because economically and politically they are not very good places to live. If the American Southwest did not exist under different economic and political conditions than Mexico, there would be no reason for immigrants to go there, especially if the revolutionaries want to kick out all the "Europeans." One wonders, consquently, how sincere much of the rhetoric and ideology is, given its degree of irrationality and ignorance -- although Cargo Cult Economics, where we could imagine the wealth of the American Southwest as something just piled up on the ground, is common in American politics.

The fundamental problem, as in the modern dilemma of Islam, is perhaps envy and resentment over the economic failures of Latin America. The dimension of pure envy emerges in the racial hostility to "Europeans," while the only explanation available, consistent with the envy, to substantively explain the economic failures, is the Marxist critique of capitalism and "imperialism." It doesn't matter if all these ideas are long exploded and discredited -- after all, they are alive and well in American universities, where they are taught to Hispanic and other political activists, and they figure in much of the background ideology of the Democratic Party.

The problem of the use of "racism" by the political Left is thus at root an internal problem of the political culture of the United States. Leftist activists, while they may admire Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, or the Sandinistas, do not admire the government or social system of Mexico. If they think that the American Southwest should belong to Mexico, either they have forgotten what they think about Mexico, they exhibit a pure loyalty to Mexico that is inconsistent with allegiance to the United States of America, they are confused to a remarkable degree, or all of it is a smoke screen for the sort of profoundly anti-American Marxism or Communism that dare not honestly confess itself in mainsteam American politics. Or, indeed, it may be some incoherent combination of all of these. Whatever it is, any genuine meaning of racism has been left far behind.

Smith's Law, Free Trade, and Free Immigration

Ethics

Political Economy

Home Page

Copyright (c) 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Racism, Note 1

For a long time the most famous (or infamous) case for profound racial differences in intelligence, which we might regard as a prima facie form of racism, had been made by William Shockley (1910-89), an American physicist and Nobel laureate (for the invention of the transistor), who went outside his field to study racial differences as might be revealed by IQ tests. More recently, public controversy revolved around a book, The Bell Curve, Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which examined IQ in relation to economic success and also addressed the question of racial differerences in intelligence.

On IQ tests, blacks overall do much worse than whites, as East Asians (Chinese, Japanese, etc.) do much better. Shockley took this to reflect the genetic inheritance of intelligence -- high for Asians, middling for whites, low for blacks -- and Herrnstein and Murray ended up agreeing with him. Explanations for these results and criticism of these views have focused on the notion of "cultural bias" in the tests, e.g. that questions are about things like the proper dress for yachting, which is mostly not part of the experience of non-whites, etc. However, such explanations don't work for many Asian groups (especially refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia) that score well on IQ tests and have little more knowledge than blacks of the kinds of cultural bias that might be expected to relate to middle class WASP culture; and, in any case, although for more than twenty years great efforts have been made to eliminate any possible cultural bias in the tests, the characteristic level of scores among blacks, whites, and Asians has continued.

This has resulted in a certain silence falling over the issue, except for political manifestations such as a prohibition of the California public schools giving IQ tests to black students. Even black parents sometimes object to this. A stronger response to such IQ theories, however, may be found in the works of Thomas Sowell, such as Ethnic America and Race and Culture, which examine the history of IQ results among various American and International ethnic groups. Sowell's argument is a relatively simple one:  "innate" mental abilities do not develop spontaneously but must undergo development, which is differentially fostered by different cultures, even when the abilities are general and abstract and do not consist of items of cultural knowledge.

Thus the difference between black and white IQ scores in the United States is comparable to the difference between Protestant and Catholic scores in Northern Ireland, or Ashkenazic and Sephardic scores in Israel, where the question of racial differences is trival to meaningless. Acculturation has actually meant that scores have changed over time, as they have for both Poles (who are now at the national average but were as far below that in the 20's as blacks are now) and Jews (who did poorly on tests given by the Army in World War I but now rank as the most intelligent of all whites) in the United States. Sowell's approach splits the difference between "nature" and "nurture," and can easily be characterized as a "developmental" approach, but it is mostly not heard in the press or in politics, let alone in education circles, because of its implications for other political and economic issues. The implication, indeed, is that differences in cultures not only make for differences in economic success but even for differences in intellectual success. This is hard to accept for anyone persuaded by cultural relativism, or who thinks that capitalism is based on exploitation rather than on hard work and entrepreneurial imagination. Much the same point is made by Dinesh D'Souza in The End of Racism.

Return to text


Racism, Note 2


Just as Gould has a chilling quote from Ussher:

The religion of the papists is superstitious and idolatrous; their faith and doctrine erroneous and heretical; their church...apostatical; to give them therefore a toleration, or to consent that they may freely exercise their religion...is a grievous sin. [p. 183]

Return to text

Racism, Note 3

Jefferson's doubts and desires are no more clearly stated than in a letter of February 25, 1809, to the French Senator Henry Grégoire. The letter also contains a famous statement that even inferior natural understanding would not deprive one of human rights [emphasis added]:

SIR, -- I have received the favor of your letter of August 17th, and with it the volume you were so kind as to send me on the "Literature of Negroes." Be assured that no person living wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a complete refutation of the doubts I have myself entertained and expressed on the grade of understanding allotted to them by nature, and to find that in this respect they are on a par with ourselves. My doubts were the result of personal observation on the limited sphere of my own State, where the opportunities for the development of their genius were not favorable, and those of exercising it still less so. I expressed them therefore with great hesitation; but whatever be their degree of talent it is no measure of their rights. Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the person or property of others. On this subject they are gaining daily in the opinions of nations, and hopeful advances are making towards their re-establishment on an equal footing with the other colors of the human family. I pray you therefore to accept my thanks for the many instances you have enabled me to observe of respectable intelligence in that race of men, which cannot fail to have effect in hastening the day of their relief; and to be assured of the sentiments of high and just esteem and consideration which I tender to yourself with all sincerity.

Return to text

Racism, Note 4

Jefferson introduced a bill to the Virginia legislature in 1778 to end the importation of slaves. It passed. In 1777 Jefferson had worked on a revision of the Virginia criminal code, and he intended that an amendment be offered to consider any children born to slaves after a certain date to be free and for them to be colonized somewhere once they came of age. The result, he says in his Autobiography, was this:

But it was found that the public mind would not yet bear the proposition, nor will it bear it even at this day [c.1821]. Yet the day is not distant when it must bear and adopt it, or worse will follow.

The era of the Revolution was when the Northern states did begin to end slavery. Vermont ended slavery outright in 1777, Massachusetts in 1780, and New Hampshire in 1783. The other Northern states started a phase-out, like Jefferson contemplated for Virginia: Pennsylvania in 1780, Connecticut and Rhode Island in 1784, New York in 1799, and New Jersey in 1805. New York's phase-out was complete by 1818. Since Jefferson hoped that the process might simply continue in the South, he was alarmed by the Missouri Compromise in 1820 -- "a firebell in the night" -- because it signaled the permanent division and hardening of the country into slave and free and the end of the gradual process that had worked in the North. Jefferson's fear about the polarization of the county and his consequent opposition to the Missouri Compromise is now sometimes given, by historians who delight in trashing the heros of American history, a distorted representation as an advocacy of the expansion of slavery.

Return to text

Racism, Note 5

That was the most outrageous thing, then and now, about the Dred Scott Decision (Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857): the case of Dred Scott, a slave suing for his freedom, was actually dismissed by the United States Supreme Court on the grounds that black people, not just slaves, had no legal standing as persons to sue -- they were not human beings in any way that need be recognized in federal law. That certainly seems contrary to the text of the Constitution, which consistently refers to slaves as "Persons" -- first of all just as "other Persons," i.e. other than free. As a response to a slave suing for his freedom, it was also contrary to principles going back to Roman law, which held that slaves were indeed merely property and did not have standing before the law except when they brought action to sue for their freedom.

The Southern racism that the Dred Scott Decision embodied was an innovation that came out of recent Southern rationalizations in defense of slavery, that Africans were no better than animals, and out of evolving Southern laws that progressively limited or removed the rights of slaves to own property, to become free, to vote, or even to be free in various Southern States. That kind of racism was not something that any Abolitionist agreed with. The Abolitionists ended up sharing one aspect of Southern belief, however, that the condition of slavery was sub-human. To the Abolitionists that meant that slavery itself was morally intolerable, while to Southerners that meant that the slaves must actually be sub-human.

Since we tend to remember only these extreme views now, it has become astonishing to discover that right down to the Civil War there were in Louisiana (and elsewhere) a considerable number of free blacks who actually owned slaves themselves and even organized a black regiment, with black officers, for the Confederate Army (later they fought for the Union Army, which only allowed white officers for black units). Louisiana, however, was the great exception, ironically because of the conservatism (from its French law) in its views of slavery and race in comparison to what developed across the South; for Roman law, although generally denying slaves the status of persons, nevertheless recognized the customary process by which slaves saved money for themselves and eventually bought their own freedom.

If there was a more "humane" conception of slavery than what developed in the South, it is then a good question whether ultimately there is something actually morally wrong about slavery. For centuries all around the world, most people didn't think so. But the problem with the concept of someone being both a person and property is that it really can't work. Since the person and labor of a slave belong to someone else, even if a slave has the right to own property and have, in a sense, his own affairs, he does not have the right to tend to his own affairs, which requires some minimal control over his time and labor. He is therefore useless to his property, as his property is useless to him, except by the leave of his master. Thus in a practical sense he cannot be a person unless he does actually own his own person and labor. That makes "humane" slavery ultimately self-contradictory. Roman law in that respect was actually consistent, for no master needed to grant to any slave the chance to save money or work for himself. By law, everything a slave was or had was owned by his master. The mitigation of this by legal custom, which provided for slaves purchasing their freedom, is what racism eroded in many places in the South.

An extraordinary judgment of Roman Law itself should be the final word on slavery: that although it was the "custom of nations," slavery was nevertheless "contrary to nature." A "natural law" jurisprudence would therefore rule out slavery as intrinsically unjust and illegal.

Return to text


Racism, Note 6


e.g. Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), who as a young man almost singlehandedly proved that great glaciers had once covered Europe, originally maintained the view that all humans were one species; but he changed his mind and became an advocate of "polygenesis" after moving to America and actually meeting black people in Philadelphia (of all places).

That is a case where his prejudice now seems more humane and enlightened than the result of his actual experience -- a sobering circumstance if we believe that prejudice is always the result merely of ignorance.

Return to text