Thursday, September 2, 2010

Do Blacks and Whites Benefit Equally from the Word and Concept of "Race"

There is an informative article in The Root  by Professor Lawrence D. Bobo, W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University, confirming that enormously expensive state and federal "tough on crime" programs have mostly been tough on Blacks:
For the first time in more than 30 years, state prison populations have shown a slight decline. But the federal prison population continues to grow. And the heavily disproportionate incarceration of minorities, especially poor blacks, for low-level drug offenses continues largely unabated.
However, I wrote the letter below to Professor Bobo, challenging his use of the word "race" in the article:

Professor Lawrence D. Bobo, Ph.D.
W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences
Harvard University

Dear Professor Bobo:
I am a Black blogger researching the use of the word "race" among America's Blacks.  I would like to pose a question regarding your use of the word "race" in an article at The Root entitled, "Time to End the Criminal-Punishment Binge."  

I concur with the position of your article.  However, in your sentence as follows, what difference would it make if you removed the word "race" and inserted the term "skin color" instead?

Let us be the generation that undoes the connection between race and who populates our jails and prison.
I ask this question because if there is one thing that white supremacists and Black intellectuals can agree upon, it is the continued fundamental nature and necessity of the word and concept of "race." For example, here's what the white supremacist Nationalist Party USA says about "race:"
The Nationalist Party embraces the differences in Cultures and races, and allows for each group to embrace their own heritage -- while recognizing the right to live separately, if we choose; and to preserve our unique Culture and heritage. Nationalist Party USA (Emphasis added.)
Clearly the Nationalist Party's belief in different "races" rationalizes, in their minds, their belief in and advocacy for segregation and white supremacy. And why not? Do we not segregate the dog species from the cat species at the dog pound?

It seems to me that as soon as we concede that we and whites are from different "races," we supply intellectual and moral support for white supremacists' belief in segregation, with separate and unequal roles for whites, Blacks and Latinos in society. 

Here's another quote from the same website:
"The question is not why anyone would believe the races are unequal, but why anyone would believe them equal."
As Prof. Levin points out, a book like Why Race Matters should not have to be written. The only sensible conclusion to be drawn from simple observation is that races differ: "To put the matter bluntly, the question is not why anyone would believe the races are unequal in intelligence, but why anyone would believe them equal." For centuries, people as different as Arabs and Englishmen have judged Africans to be unintelligent, lascivious, jolly, and keen on rhythm. Today, in whatever corner of the globe one looks, blacks behave in certain consistent ways." Nationalist Party USA  (Emphasis Added.)
There you have it. White supremacists agree with many Black intellectuals, including Harvard University professor Lawrence D. Bobo, Ph.D., that Blacks and whites are from separate "races."  With white supremacists and Black intellectuals in agreement on this point, why should we even bother to consult the relatively new and opposite findings of the  U.S. Department of Energy's Human Genome Program which says:
The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Human Genome Program devoted 3% of its annual Human Genome Project (HGP) budget toward studying the ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) surrounding the availability of genetic information. Some of these projects studied potential effects of ELSI, and others sought to educate professionals through literature, conferences, workshops, and multimedia. Among the programs funded by DOE ELSI were educational materials for physicians, educators, students, clergy, and judges and other legal professionals. 
DNA studies do not indicate that separate classifiable subspecies (races) exist within modern humans. While different genes for physical traits such as skin and hair color can be identified between individuals, no consistent patterns of genes across the human genome exist to distinguish one race from another. There also is no genetic basis for divisions of human ethnicity. People who have lived in the same geographic region for many generations may have some alleles in common, but no allele will be found in all members of one population and in no members of any other.
Ari Patrinos, Director for Biological and Environmental Research, Office of Science, US Department of Energy, says on behalf of the DOE, in 'Race' and the Human Genome,

With very rare exceptions, all of us in the US are immigrants. We bring with us a subset of genes from our homelands, and for many Americans, often first-generation but more commonly second-generation, the plural noun 'homelands' is appropriate. From this perspective, the most immediately obvious characteristic of 'race' is that describing most of us as Caucasian, Asian or African is far too simple. Despite attempts by the US Census Bureau to expand its definitions, the term 'race' does not describe most of us with the subtlety and complexity required to capture and appreciate our genetic diversity. Unfortunately, this oversimplification has had many tragic effects. Therefore, we need to start with the science

( . . . )

In the end, each person must be treated as an individual with his or her own medical issues, rather than as an exemplar of a race. We anticipate a future in which accurate predictive medicine, based on one's individual genetic profile, will promote longer and healthier lives and a better ability to manage interactions with our environment and the challenges it constantly presents, be they allergens, diseases or environmental hazards. If nothing else, among so many potential benefits, the kind of solid science presented and discussed in this issue and at the Howard conference is providing proof that oversimplified concepts of race simply don't work in any objective realm. It's bad medicine, and it's bad science.   'Race' and the Human Genome,
Clearly what we have called "race" does not exist as a matter of science, yet the premise of "race" continues to be the single most fundamental commonality between white supremacists' arguments and those of Black intellectuals.  Do white supremacists and Blacks benefit equally from the ubiquitous use of the word "race'?  Historically, did we all benefit equally from the "N" word, whose use is just about as old as the word and concept of "race"? 

Words and concepts can empower and disempower whole classes of people.  We must either believe that whites gave Blacks the word "race" to empower us, or whites gave themselves the word "race" to empower whites. 

I propose that we Blacks challenge white supremacists, as well as journalists, newspapers and websites of all skin colors to cease and desist using the word "race," based on the new Human Genome Project declarations.  Rather than agree with white supremacists about "race," our strongest political high ground comes from insisting, based on new genomic science, that the word "race" be must be dropped from all public discussion of skin color, because the word "race" is nothing more than a pseudo-scientific and highly controversial political synonym for "skin-color group." 

Those who insist on continuing to use of the word "race" are "racists."


Atty. Francis L. Holland