The End of Race Politics: Arguments for a Colorblind America

The End of Race Politics: Arguments for a Colorblind America

by Coleman Hughes
The End of Race Politics: Arguments for a Colorblind America

The End of Race Politics: Arguments for a Colorblind America

by Coleman Hughes

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Overview

An exciting new voice makes the case for a colorblind approach to politics and culture, warning that the so-called ‘anti-racist’ movement is driving us—ironically—toward a new kind of racism.

As one of the few black students in his philosophy program at Columbia University years ago, Coleman Hughes wondered why his peers seemed more pessimistic about the state of American race relations than his own grandparents–who lived through segregation. The End of Race Politics is the culmination of his years-long search for an answer.

Contemplative yet audacious, The End of Race Politics is necessary reading for anyone who questions the race orthodoxies of our time. Hughes argues for a return to the ideals that inspired the American Civil Rights movement, showing how our departure from the colorblind ideal has ushered in a new era of fear, paranoia, and resentment marked by draconian interpersonal etiquette, failed corporate diversity and inclusion efforts, and poisonous race-based policies that hurt the very people they intend to help. Hughes exposes the harmful side effects of Kendi-DiAngelo style antiracism, from programs that distribute emergency aid on the basis of race to revisionist versions of American history that hide the truth from the public.

Through careful argument, Hughes dismantles harmful beliefs about race, proving that reverse racism will not atone for past wrongs and showing why race-based policies will lead only to the illusion of racial equity. By fixating on race, we lose sight of what it really means to be anti-racist. A racially just, colorblind society is possible. Hughes gives us the intellectual tools to make it happen.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593332450
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/06/2024
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 12,179
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Coleman Hughes is a writer, podcaster and opinion columnist who specialises in issues related to race, public policy and applied ethics. Coleman’s writing has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, National Review, Quillette, The City Journal and The Spectator. He appeared on Forbes' 30 Under 30 list in 2021.

Read an Excerpt

1

Race, Anti-racism, and Neoracism

For most of my life, I saw my mother as neither black nor white. Her Puerto Rican father was darker-skinned than me and her Puerto Rican mother was as light-skinned as any white American I knew. My mother emerged a perfect blend of the two: a light-brown hue that suggested neither blackness nor whiteness-at least not to my mind. Nor did I view her as "Hispanic," a word she hated due to its association with Spanish conquest, or even as "Latina"-though she would certainly have checked that box on a census.

She would sometimes describe herself as "of color." But whenever she really cared to show her identity, she would say she was Puerto Rican, and more specifically NewYorican-a person who grew up in one of the Puerto Rican enclaves of New York City. Just as important, she would say that she was from the Bronx, and more specifically the South Bronx. Had you asked me what "race" my mother belonged to as a child or adolescent, that would have been my long-winded answer: she was a Puerto Rican/NewYorican from the South Bronx. The words "black" and "white" would not have even occurred to me.

My mother died of cancer when I was eighteen. In the wake of her passing, I took every opportunity to talk about her with anyone who remembered her. I was surprised one time to hear a friend of mine describe her simply as "a black woman." "You saw my mom as black?" I asked him. "Well, sure. She was, wasn't she?" I had never considered that the outside world might have perceived her differently. In the case of my friend, I wrote this off as a misperception born of not knowing her very well.

So it came as an even greater shock when my father, who knew her as well as anyone, agreed with my friend. "Your mother was a black woman," he told me years after she died. I was shocked. I had never seen her as black and I never heard her describe herself that way. I had seen her as an immigrant outside the American black-white binary. Yet many people saw her simply as a light-skinned black American woman.

I am tempted to insist that my memory of her identity is accurate, and that others' perceptions of her are simply mistaken. But what would it even mean for their perceptions to be "mistaken"? What does it mean to belong to one race or another? Is it a matter of scientific fact, self-identification, perception by others, cultural background, or arbitrary social convention?

What Is Race?

I've been using the word "race" without defining it. Indeed, most of us use it all the time without thinking about what it is. Yet we are constantly arguing about it. For a moment, forget that you ever learned the word "race." Let's begin at the most basic level.

The Concept of Race

We humans use concepts to make sense of the world. Some concepts are natural and others are socially constructed.

In science, for instance, our goal is to describe nature. So we develop concepts and categories that map onto nature as closely as possible, such as the concept of a tree or the concept of mass in physics. These are natural concepts-concepts that map onto nature with great precision. If for some reason these concepts disappeared from our minds, we'd be forced by logic and our senses to reinvent them in much the same way. Natural concepts carve reality at the joints.

Other times, our goal is not to describe nature but to create a desirable outcome in society. For example, if we're trying to count time, we may invent the concept of a week-a unit of time that's equal to the sun rising and setting seven times-so that everyone can be on the same page about when to do things.

The seven-day week doesn't exist in nature. We could've decided that a week equals six days or eight days. Or we could have no weeks at all-counting time only by days. We invented the concept of a week to achieve an important goal: ease of coordination with others. And if our minds were suddenly wiped clean of the concept of a week, we might not reinvent it in exactly the same way. This concept, in other words, is a social construct.

The concept of race falls into a third category. It's neither completely natural nor completely socially constructed. It's a social construct inspired by a natural phenomenon.

To take a simple example, consider the concept of a month. Months don't exist in nature; they don't track anything in the natural world. Nothing in the cosmos begins when February does or ends when March does. We could just as easily end March a day later and give April an extra day. Or we could get rid of March altogether and distribute its days among the remaining eleven months.

On the other hand, months are clearly inspired by something that does exist in nature: the lunar cycle. It is no accident that months are similar in length to the lunar cycle, which averages 29.5 days. (The words "moon" and "month" even derive from the same root.) So what is a month? It's not a natural phenomenon because it doesn't track anything in the natural world with precision. Therefore, it must be a social construct. Yet unlike most social constructs, it owes its very existence and basic characteristics to a natural phenomenon. It is thus a kind of hybrid: a social construct inspired by a natural phenomenon.

The concept of race is similar to the concept of a month. It too is a social construct inspired by a natural phenomenon. What natural phenomenon is the concept of race inspired by?

Tens of thousands of years ago, several large populations of humans migrated out of Africa, where all humans first evolved (Africans, of course, remained in Africa). Once out of Africa, these populations remained isolated from one another-separated by mountains, oceans, or great distances. As a result of living and reproducing in unique environments for tens of thousands of years, each group's gene pool evolved in response to the unique selection pressures of its environment.

The legacy of these genetic differences is still visible and measurable today. Although each of us is genetically unique (barring identical twins), each of us also belongs to clusters of similar genomes whose similarity stems from the major out-of-Africa migrations that occurred tens of thousands of years ago. These clusters are not sharply separated from one another. They overlap a great deal, and therefore the boundaries between them are blurry. Using standard statistical tools, the strength of these genome clusters can be measured. The visible correlates of these genetically similar clusters are the underlying natural phenomena that inspired the concept of race. (See Appendix A for more details.)

But as with the concept of a month, the social construct has been untethered from the natural phenomenon that inspired it. If tomorrow astronomers discovered that the lunar cycle was really 35 days instead of 29.5, that discovery would have no bearing at all on the length of a calendar month. Likewise, whatever population geneticists discover about the clustering of similar genomes-for instance, if they were to discover something that completely upends our current understanding of population genetics-that would have no bearing on the concept of race that we use socially and in public policy. The social construct of race has flown the perch of the natural phenomenon that inspired it.

The Arbitrariness of Race

As we will see in chapter three, many of today's anti-racists are adamant on implementing race-based policies throughout every sector of society. One problem with this approach is that it's impossible to draw neat lines between races. And the lines that we end up drawing are not based on science nor reason but on a variety of absurd factors. President Barack Obama is the son of a white mother and a black father, so we categorize Obama as black. But why? His parentage is equal parts "black" and "white," so on what basis do we categorize him as black rather than white or mixed? The answer, it seems, is that American culture still observes the old "one-drop rule"-whereby anyone with one drop of "black blood" is considered fully black. In other words, we choose to delineate race using an arbitrary rule that was originally developed to uphold racial apartheid.

Similarly, our society decided how to answer the question "Who is Asian?" during the Chinese Exclusion Act-a racist law that existed to define a group of people to exclude. Decades later, the Eisenhower administration needed to come up with race categories to implement its policies and decided on a perfunctory list. But it was the Carter administration that finally decided on the canonical list of five categories we use today: Black, Hispanic, White, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American/Alaska Native.

Population geneticists were not consulted to help create these categories (nor could they have spoken with real authority prior to the sequencing of the genome). These categories were created based upon a vague mix of intuitions about racial difference and political lobbyists attempting to sway the categorization in one direction or another. To qualify for certain government programs, for instance, someone needs to have one-fourth Native American ancestry. Why one-fourth? Why not one-half? Why not one-eighth? Why not one-sixteenth? The answer is that administering social programs requires drawing sharp lines that don't exist in nature, so they simply decided to draw it at the one-fourth mark.

The Asian American category includes people from India and Pakistan but not from Afghanistan. Again, the reason has nothing to do with science and everything to do with the race-based social policy that could not be administered without a crisp definition of who fits into which race.

Think likewise of the Hispanic category. "Hispanic" describes anyone with ancestry from a Spanish-speaking country, but sometimes it's treated as a race, other times as an ethnicity. You can be categorized as either black Hispanic or white Hispanic, but for many practical purposes (for college admissions, say) either designation qualifies as a preferred racial category. In some cases, Spanish Europeans and Indigenous Peruvians are considered in the same category, because they're both from Spanish-speaking nations. Yet Brazilians are also sometimes counted as Hispanic. It is also worth noting that unlike "black" and "white," "Hispanic" and "Asian" are not terms that belonged to the self-concept of the people in those categories when they were created. Few Hispanic people understood themselves to be "Hispanic" when the term was first widely used in the 1970s. A recent survey found that only 30 percent of "Asian Americans" thought of themselves as "Asian." Most thought of themselves as belonging to a specific ethnic group, such as "Korean" or "Pakistani."

David E. Bernstein describes a case that illustrates the arbitrariness of using race categories to distribute social benefits:

Christine Combs and Steve Lynn applied to the Small Business Administration (SBA) to have their respective businesses certified as Hispanic-owned and therefore eligible for minority business enterprise preferences. Combs's maternal grandparents were born in Spain, she grew up in a bilingual family, was fluent in Spanish, and acted as an interpreter for Mexican and Spanish customers. Lynn's sole claim to Hispanic status was that he was a Sephardic Jew whose ancestors had fled Spain centuries earlier.

The SBA ultimately decided that Lynn qualified as Hispanic, but Combs did not. Combs's SBA hearing officer declared that Combs could not claim Hispanic status . . . because she presented no evidence that she had faced discrimination because she is Hispanic. The officer noted that neither Combs's maiden name nor her married name was recognizably Spanish, and her blond hair and blue eyes did not give her a noticeably Hispanic appearance. On appeal, a judge found that the hearing officer had "reason to question Ms. Combs' status as a Hispanic." The judge therefore upheld the denial of Combs's petition.

An SBA hearing officer also initially denied Lynn's claim to Hispanic status because Lynn had not shown that he had been discriminated against as a Hispanic. But when Lynn appealed, the judge noted that the underlying law defined Hispanic as including anyone of Spanish origin or culture, which includes Sephardic Jews. The judge concluded that once Lynn showed that he had Spanish ancestry, the hearing officer should not have required him to also provide evidence that he had faced discrimination because of that ancestry.

Another example of the arbitrariness of race categories comes from Kao Lee Yang, a doctoral student in neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is Hmong, a group of people indigenous to Southeast Asia. The Hmong people are an Asian ethnic group that is, on average, low-income and very underrepresented in American higher education. Because of this, her university nominated her to apply for a fellowship aimed at supporting underrepresented groups in science. But her nomination was rejected on the grounds that she was not, in fact, underrepresented. For them she was not categorized as Hmong specifically but in the more generic "Asian" category-a group that is overrepresented in American higher education.

The Asian category comprises an extremely broad range of people-so broad that the Pew Research Center found wider income inequality within that category than within any other racial group: the top-earning Asians earn 10.7 times as much as the lowest-earning Asians. By comparison, the top-earning blacks earn 9.8 times as much as the lowest-earning blacks, and the top-earning whites and Hispanics earn 7.8 times as much as the lowest-earning whites and Hispanics. Disparities in income levels among Asians are matched by disparities in education levels. In 2015, 72 percent of Indians over 25 had at least a bachelor's degree. Yet only 9 percent of Bhutanese did.

All of the foregoing examples illustrate that the race categories we've created are arbitrary-not only with respect to science but also with respect to the social policy objectives they are used for. Yet despite that arbitrariness, these categories have a huge impact on people's lives. Whether you're eligible for a scholarship, admission to a prestigious school, government funding to help your small business, or a variety of other societal benefits depends on whether you land on one side or the other of a nonsensical racial line. These racial distinctions are bound to unfairly advantage or disadvantage certain people. They constitute a textbook case of injustice.

The arbitrariness of race is not a fixable problem. It's built into the very act of classifying people by race. In apartheid South Africa, government officials would run a pencil through people's hair to determine their race. If the pencil went through, you were legally white. If it didn't, you were legally colored. However more enlightened we believe ourselves to be (and we are in many ways), our methods of classifying people by race are equally absurd. We just can't see it because we take our conventions for granted. We cringe when we hear old recordings of people describe Asians as "yellow" and Native Americans as "red," then we proceed to talk about "black," "brown," and "white" people with a straight face-as if the generations past were simpletons with respect to racial classification, but we are far superior.

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