Why people do not want talk about “Race”

Every time people talk the “Race Debate”, they are said to be backward and all the other bad names. As a result, many – especially some from those of a different race – label these race debates as racist, that discussing race is as backward as Affirmative Action and Employment Equity. Really? I have come across a very interesting analysis on the “race debate” by none other than Max Hocutt in the Independent Review called “Is the Concept of Race Illegitimate?”

In it, Hocutt said Americans were “obsessed with race”. Given the South African history, I would like to believe that even us South Africans are as “obsessed with race” as Americans. But, says Hocutt, not only are Americans “obsessed with race” but that “academic Americans” were as much “obsessed” with the race subject too.

Hocutt went on to ask the following questions:

  • Is disproportionate representation evidence of discrimination by race, or is it evidence of natural differences between the races?
  • Should we abandon standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT, on which some races do poorly?
  • Why, despite nearly four decades of racial integration, do some races continue to lag behind others?
  • Is the lag owing to the inherent racism of our institutions—our schools, courts, unions, and businesses?
  • Are even the most enlightened and liberal Americans unconscious bigots?
  • Is the United States the most racist country in the world?
  • Should we have preferential admissions and hiring to correct the evils produced by racial discrimination?

Hocutt said these questions “preoccupy us” – and I totally agree with him although some regard these are said to be opening up apartheid and racial wounds experienced by the majority of black people during colonialism – and that they “absorb our energies, and disturb our equanimity”. And no matter how much were “might [try] to avoid the topic of race, it confronts us everywhere”. “Race talk”, said Hocutt “is ubiquitous”.

Hocutt says if what many “behavioral and biological scientists” assure us of, that “races do not exist” and that if this is to be believed – then the “concept of race is a mental construct without a counterpart in reality; races are as fictitious as unicorns”.

“Contrary to popular presumption, we have made up, not discovered, the distinctions that figure so prominently in thinking about race and bolster the myth of racial superiority. Because this myth is evil, it ought to be stamped out and, with it, the very idea of race. Eliminate this idea, it is said, and we will eliminate the belief in racial superiority, thereby solving the problems and dissolving the injustices caused by racial discrimination”, wrote Hocutt.

Hocutt says “usual arguments against the reality of race are full of fallacies” as their “logical defects may betoken a lack of clarity about what is in dispute”.

In that, he considered these “seven hypotheses” that:

  • The word race has irrelevant connotations of superiority and inferiority.
  • For many scientific purposes, the concept of race is poorly defined.
  • Racial distinctions do not cut very deep in explaining human variability.
  • Racial distinctions are limited to unimportant physical characteristics.
  • Racial distinctions have no use except to foster racism.
  • Racial distinctions are unreal; races are as mythical as fairy godmothers.
  • The concept of race is without meaning; it is gibberish mixed with falsehood.

Hocut said five authors whose work he had considered thought of “all blur the distinctions among these statements” with each arguing that three of these statements were true, and that “so must be one or more of the last four”. “However, although the first three can be defended, the fourth is disputable and the last three are plainly false”.

“Yes, the workaday concept of race is too crude either to have much value for the science of molecular biology or to serve as the basis of preferential government policies, which are unjust in any case, but it does not follow and it is not true that the concept of race is either meaningless or devoid of objective basis.

Tempting though the stratagem may appear, to deny the reality of races will not solve the social problem of race. I do not know how to solve that problem. I do not even know whether it can be solved, but I am sure that making race the basis of official policy will cause more trouble. Because preferential government policies affect everybody but are premised on attitudes and beliefs that are not shared by everybody, they should be abandoned; but because the concept of race is rooted in objective reality, it is probably here to stay,” wrote Hocutt.

What do you have to say?

One thought on “Why people do not want talk about “Race”

  1. The issue of race will always be a sensitive matter unfortunately. The past is not something we are likely to forget anytime soon. Racism does still exist, however, we blacks sometimes kill healthy dialogue about race by being too hasty to throw the race card. For SA to move on, we do need to talk about it and kill the myths, stereotypes and generalisations created by our apartheid past.

    However, in time, it would be beneficial for us to create a non-racial society.

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