Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the dark art of racecraft

Prof. Delong's preface is worth noting,  or you can jump straight to Ta-Nehisi Coates.
We should first be clear that there is nothing mysterious or forbidden about purporting to study race and intelligence. Indeed, despite an inability to define "race" or "intelligence," such studies are one of the dominant intellectual strains in Western history.

This intellectual tradition has been persistently wrong. Romanian immigrants did not outbreed Harvard graduates.  Jews have done well in America.  Apocalypse was brought about by Nordic Nazis, not by the darker races.

This is what Barbara and Karen Fields mean when they talk about "racecraft." Power must justify itself. When it is proven wrong, it simply recalibrates. Conditions and actions are explained away as the inalterable work of genetics. Yesterday's yellow peril becomes today's model minority. In the 1930s Jews dominated basketball because of their "Oriental background" and "flashy trickiness." Today blacks dominate it through their animal strength and agility.

You see this shifting in Weigel's own article, where we are told that Richwine is looking into "race." But Hispanics are considered an ethnic group, not a race. That is because we have trouble explaining why Matt Yglesias, Sophia Vegara, Carmelo Anthony, Rosario Dawson, and Charlie Rangel can be said to comprise a separate "race." One should also have trouble explaining why Walter White, Whoopi Goldberg, Djimon Hounsou, Jay Smooth, Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, and I are all the same "race." 

These people do share something in common -- their geographic ancestry makes them potential targets of white racism. If there is any fact we are warned away from, this is it. Richwine's theories originate from a long tradition of white racism, the tradition of Grant, Stoddard, and Pearson.  But to say this is to indict an insupportable portion of our own history and traditions. It is to remind us that the differences between us were constructed by men who sought power, and are maintained just the same.
I expect the apologists to come out in force.  They will say:

1. One should keep an open mind, if straight hair or epicanthic fold is a difference, why not intelligence?

2. Science proceeds from error to truth.  The old researchers were wrong, but the modern research is right. Or, the old researchers were groping in the dark, but the modern work is grounded in evolution and genetics.

3. Something can remain true even if asserted by a bigot, or if used by some people to advance their hateful agendas.

All of that is rot.  One should not keep so open a mind that one's brain falls out.  What Coates wrote bears repeating:
....despite an inability to define "race" or "intelligence,".....
The same arguments can be applied to astrology as to this race-intelligence "science".  Remember - it is not even wrong.

PS: this is worth reading as well.