Getting Racism Really, Really Wrong

What do David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, and The Daily Stormer and white supremacists generally have in common with Black Lives Matter (BLM), diversity officers and campaigners for greater racial inclusiveness and tolerance? They all start from the same fundamental mistake about race. As a result they end up as two sides of the same coin.

Let’s start with a thought experiment: imagine two apples, a Red Delicious and a Granny Smith, say. Are they the same colour? Are they the same shape and size? Do they taste the same? Do they have the same texture when you bite them? Do they both make equally good pies? The answer to all those questions is ‘no’. But, and this is the crucial point, they are both equally apples. The Granny Smith is no more or less an apple than the Red Delicious for being greener, crisper, sourer, and making better pies.

In classical thinking, the essence of a thing is its nature; it is what makes the thing what it is and not something else. If two things have different essences or natures then they are different kinds of things. Our two apples’ essence is apple-ness. It is their nature to be apples. Their colour, size, shape, taste, and texture, what we can call their attributes, may be different but they are both equally appley.

Now, what is the essence of people? What is it that makes people human beings and not hippos (except in the  metaphorical sense)? It is their essence, their nature. Just as apples are defined by their apple-ness, so human beings are defined by their humanness.

Let’s make a statement:

All people – regardless of age, race, sex, gender, sexuality, ability, religious beliefs, or whatever else attributes we care to name – share the same human nature in equal amounts.

That is, no person is more or less human than any other, regardless of his or her attributes.

Let’s make another statement:

Because all people possess the same human nature in equal amounts it follows that all people possess in equal amounts the same rights that come from that shared nature, i.e., the same natural rights.

If we keep these two statements in mind we can acknowledge both the differences we see in individuals – race, sex, sexuality, ability, and so on – and at the same time acknowledge the equality of all people and their natural rights.

Remember Shylock’s speech in The Merchant of Venice? He appeals to the common human nature that he as a Jew shares with Christians:

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die?

In the United States the Civil Rights movement, at least in its early years, made the same appeal to a common humanity. Remember Martin Luther Kings I Have a Dream speech?

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

What happens if we erase that distinction between essence and attributes and instead make the attributes the definition of what a person is? Well, we end up with identity politics. Instead of uniting people by emphasising their shared human nature and fighting for the unlimited exercise of everyone’s natural rights, identity politics divides people along lines of one or more attributes. If the attribute is race then the result is that we’re saying that whites and blacks are different by their nature. That means I have to accept that, not only I am white, but I cannot be anything else but white because my whiteness is what defines me and makes me who I am.

More than five decades ago Ayn Rand published an essay on racism. She wrote:

Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.

Racism claims that the content of a man’s mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man’s convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical forces beyond his control. This is the caveman’s version of the doctrine of innate ideas—or of inherited knowledge—which has been thoroughly refuted by philosophy and science. Racism is a doctrine of, by and for brutes. It is a barnyard or stock-farm version of collectivism, appropriate to a mentality that differentiates between various breeds of animals, but not between animals and men.

White supremacists, the Klan and, yes, even BLM are ‘crudely primitive’ collectivists because they refuse to acknowledge the shared humanity of all people and instead divide them into separate groups based on race. But here’s the kicker: so do diversity officers and campaigners for greater racial inclusiveness and tolerance. The reason why they exist in the first place, the reason why they even have jobs, is based on the assumption that there are distinct classes of people who share nothing in common, not even their basic nature. As a result, the ignorant masses who are unaware of such irreconcilable differences must be re-educated and, if necessary, compelled by law to accept each other and to unite despite their differences. And the end of all that nonsense is that campaigners for greater racial inclusiveness and tolerance, white supremacists, the Klan and the BLM become merely two sides of the same coin.

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