STARTING TOMORROW: Race and error!


Old habits dying hard in Our Town: Once more, we'll ask the question we posed last week:

Dear reader! Do you belong to a "race?"

Here in the streets of Our Town, most people will agree—though lately, only when pressed—that they do not belong to a (biological) race. Folk in Our Town have long accepted the basic thrust of this capsule assessment:

A race is a grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into categories generally viewed as distinct by society. The term was first used to refer to speakers of a common language and then to denote national affiliations. By the 17th century the term began to refer to physical (phenotypical) traits. Modern science regards race as a social construct, an identity which is assigned based on rules made by society. While partially based on physical similarities within groups, race does not have an inherent physical or biological meaning.

Modern science regards race as a social construct? Race doesn't have an inherent physical or biological meaning?

We're going to say that a different way: 

There's no such thing as (biological) race! Biologically, we humans are all pretty much the same, no matter where our ancestors may have lived at whatever point in time.

There's no such thing as (biological) race! Here in Our Town, we accepted this assessment long ago.

That said, we've tended to backslide on this basic assessment in recent years. That because we've come to put increasing emphasis on the concept of sociological race—on the belief that we all belong to some such societal group.

Broadly speaking, sociological race is defined in that capsule assessment, even as the concept of biological race is being rejected. According to that capsule statement, sociological race is "a grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into categories generally viewed as distinct by society."

According to that capsule, society selects certain qualities it regards as significant in some way. On the basis of those qualities, society invents certain "racial" groupings. Society says that each individual belongs to some (sociological) "race."

Reader, do you belong to a race? It will certainly be said that you do! Here in the United States, this is one of the very first things we tend to notice about other people: 

Are they white or are they black? Are they "Asian?" Are they Hispanic / Latino, Latina, Latinx?

"Race" and gender are the first things we tend to notice about other people. We're speaking here of sociological race—because, as we've long known in Our Town, there's no such thing as biological race. Biologically, we're all the same! Or at least, we used to be!

In Our Town, we don't believe that individuals belong to biological races. If pushed, we'll still say that there's no such thing as (biological) race—though of late, we pretty much have to be pushed.

Why do we have to be pushed at this point? We have to be pushed because, here in Our Town, we've come to place so much emphasis on the individual's sociological race. 

It defines a person's  "identity," we townspeople constantly say.

When we say such things as that, we aren't exactly wrong. It's certainly true that an individual's sociological race will routinely define the way that individual is perceived, and it will often define the way that person is treated. 

To which (sociological) race does a person belong? Day after day, in a million ways, this question drives our human interactions. 

A person's sociological race will indeed play a large role in that person's life! But as we ourselves have come to focus so heavily on this type of "race," have we perhaps begun to behave in some of the unfortunate ways we used to revile in Our Town?

When it comes to the powerful concept of "race," old habits may tend to die hard:

Is it possible that we enlightened souls in Our Town may tend to stereotype large groups of people, in much the way we used to revile? Is it possible that we routinely prejudge individual incidents on the basis of the race of the parties involved?

Do we tend to react in the same old ways—in the same old ways which emerged from "the world the slaveholders made?" Given the moral greatness which is widely known to prevail in Our Town, is it possible that we ourselves are sunk in these gruesome old errors?

The concept of biological race comes to us from that brutal old world—the world the slaveholders made. As we ourselves, here in Our Town, put so much stress on sociological race, do we perhaps extend the concepts of that brutal old world in unhelpful, unwise, throwback ways?

A highly visible Crazy Train has been running through the streets of Their Towns—the towns where The Others now live. In Our Town, we take great pleasure, and great pride, in documenting the Big Crazy happening over there.

Over here, in the streets of Our Town, almost all our own bad judgments are tied to issues of gender and race. And sadly, so vast is our love for our own moral greatness, we've found about a million ways to misfire when it comes to such issues.

Do we love our moral greatness so much that it may be leading us astray? Are old habits dying hard in Our Town?

Increasingly, does it sometimes seem that we actually do believe in biological race? Do we stereotype, condemn and cast blame in ways which seem to come to us, live and direct, from the habits the slaveholders made?

The Crazy Train runs through Their Towns. But what kinds of errors do we make over here in Our Town—in our own vastly self-impressed place of dwelling?

We'll examine a few such errors this week, then move on to other vast errors. Here in Our Town, our current errors tend to involve our overweening pride—and, of course, our errors strongly tend to involve matters of gender and race

Tomorrow: Major columnist nails "white women"


  1. Oh, we get it, dear Bob. We get it.

    Humyns know that 'race' is bullshit, and only your liberal-hitlerian zombie cult keeps hate-mongering on account of 'race' and manufactured bullshit race-grievances.

    We know it and you know it. So, why don't you quit your zombie cult and join us humyns?

    1. Trump tried to gaslight a viral pandemic, like it was some common Mao Cheng Ji--cheering along Trump's HUGE tax break for the Establishment, while pretending bigotry is economic anxiousness.
      Trump's a loser!

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  2. "Modern science regards race as a social construct? Race doesn't have an inherent physical or biological meaning?

    We're going to say that a different way:

    There's no such thing as (biological) race! "

    Somerby makes a huge logical error when he assumes that a category without a biological definition does not exist (which is what it means when you say, "there is no such thing as...").

    For example, giving birth is a biological function, but the role of "mother" is socially constructed. All kinship relations are socially constructed and they are different in different cultures. Sometimes they diverge widely from biology. Does that mean that being a mother is not real, doesn't exist? Of course not. Social constructs have reality for the people within that society because they dictate behavior, identity and social status (how others will treat you).

    Next Somerby will argue that the role of President doesn't exist either, and that is why it was OK for Trump to urge his followers to overthrow a valid election. Because clearly the presidency is a social construct, not in any way defined by biology.

    The social construct of race is REAL because it defines behavior that those in the defined categories experience in their daily lives. Because race is a social construct, that behavior can be changed, which is a good thing.

  3. "Here in the United States, this is one of the very first things we tend to notice about other people:"

    No, the first thing we notice about another person is whether they are male or female. The second thing we notice is whether they are smiling or not (friend or foe). One could argue that attractiveness comes after that (including age), with race and indicators of wealth or social standing after that, but it depends on one's social status and what is held to be important to that society. In our society, most people would notice whether someone was a cop or not (indicators of authority) before noticing other things, especially if in a stigmatized group.

    But why confuse Somerby with any facts? As if such things had not been studied and it is OK for every asshole on the internet to make things up when it comes to "sociological" stuff or psychology (which encompasses what people notice first, what is most salient, in social interactions).

  4. " Do we stereotype, condemn and cast blame in ways which seem to come to us, live and direct, from the habits the slaveholders made?"

    Somerby seems to be charging the left with racism, when it is the left that has demanded change, an end to unfair treatment of minorities. Civil rights has always been among the priorities of the left. But Somerby seems to be accusing the left of stereotyping and bigotry, white supremacy (which is what the slaveholders bequeathed us), confusing the pernicious attitudes about race that exist on the right, with the views and behavior of those on the left. He does everything but call "us liberals" bigots.

    While bigotry crosses party lines and stereotyping does exist broadly in our society, institutional racism has a bigger impact and it is the left which has tried to eliminate it.

    This is more of the conservative tactic of attacking the strengths of the other party. Support for civil rights has long been a strength of Democrats (since the 1960s), so Somerby today attacks us for our racial bigotry, attempting to neutralize that liberal strength. Portraying as as the racists because we do not ignore racism, as he apparently thinks should happen because race is not a biological category. This is ridiculous.

    Somerby is no liberal. He has no right to refer to "we" or "us liberals" or "our Town" or any of the other inclusive terms he has been using to pretend he is anything but a conservative, Trump-supporting, propagandist of the right.

  5. "Race" certainly does have a biological meaning - a race is a sub-species group which is identifiable on the basis of genetically transferred or heritable characteristics. The characteristic may be trivial, as in small color patches which identify some bird races, or it may be profound as in the differences between dog races or "breeds". Dogs are all considered to belong to the same species, but the breeds are not considered to be all the same and the differences are genetic and heritable. A dog belonging to the chihuahua race has quite different capabilities from one belonging to the greyhound race.

    What is a social construct is the way the concept of race is applied to humans. It is actually applied in ways that are not strictly based on heredity. There is really no "black" race for example. Also superficial characteristics such as skin color, whether heritable or not, are assumed to indicate other more profound differences. But this misapplication of the concept of race does not prove that "there is no such thing as race" or that there are not real heritable differences in humans other than the superficial ones such as skin color. Whether there are such differences (if that is important to know) must be decided on the basis of evidence, not by definition of terms.

  6. The US Supreme Court found, in 2017 with the Cooper v Harris decision, that North Carolina was guilty of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.

    Was the court extending the concepts of that brutal old world the slaveholders made, or was it the North Carolina Republican legislature doing that?

    It’s fine for Somerby to point out individual instances of “errors” made by individual liberals, but he’s hardly equipped to have a serious conversation if he believes racism is largely imaginary:

    the (largely imagined) intersections of "race" and crime and punishment.”

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