SAME OR DIFFERENT? She answered the best question ever asked!

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31, 2021

His question remains unanswered: For reasons our history makes sadly obvious, questions of "race" are everywhere in our nation's public discussions. 

This very morning, to cite one example,  the New York Times offers a profile of the people who are serving on the Derek Chauvin jury. For reasons which are sadly obvious, that news report starts like this (principal headline included):

Who Are the Jurors in the Derek Chauvin Trial? 

MINNEAPOLIS — A white intensive care nurse who said if she saw someone on the street who needed help, she would feel obligated to step in. A Black grandmother who said she had no personal experience with the police or the criminal justice system.

A white widow who rides a motorcycle in her spare time and said she believes that “all lives matter.” A Black man who works in banking and said he was eager to serve on the jury of “the most historic case of my lifetime.”

These are some of the jurors appointed to weigh the evidence in the case of Derek Chauvin, the white former police officer who is accused of murdering George Floyd, a Black man.

The jury is a demographic mix: three Black men, one Black woman, and two women who identified themselves as multiracial. There are two white men and four white women. They are urban and suburban, ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s. The two alternates are white women.

Every member of the jury is identified by his or her "race." Beyond that, Chauvin, the defendant in the trial, is identified by race. So is the late George Floyd, the man Chauvin stands accused of murdering.

(The word "Black" gets capitalized; the word "white" does not. At the Washington Post, each of these words gets capitalized now when it's used to refer to "race." At each newspaper, these are recent adaptations. These are the ways we struggle and flail as we deal, or attempt to deal, with our nation's brutal history with respect to "race.")

Race! It's the first characteristic the New York Times cites as it describes the jurors. (Age and gender are also cited.) We all understand why the newspaper does this—although then again, maybe we don't.

Questions of "race" play a central role in our nation's public discussions. Sadly, this comes to us as part of "the world the slaveholders made," to use a construction from Professor Genovese.

Within our nation, but also around the globe, we humans have tended to divide ourselves into groups on the basis of "race" (or tribe, or ethnicity). But how do we understand that concept and those divisions?

Four years ago, up stepped Professor Gates! He asked a question we have described as the best question ever asked.

He posed his question to Ava DuVernay, the director of the Oscar-nominated film, Selma. To watch their (good-natured) exchange, you can just click here. 

Their exchange went down like this:

DuVernay was appearing as a guest on Gates' PBS program, Finding Your Roots. Gates had shared the history of some of DuVernay's ancestors—and several of those people were "white."

DuVernay identifies as black. This led to the good natured exchange in question.

Professor Gates was about to let DuVernay see the results of her DNA test. At issue was the following question:

How much of DuVernay's DNA had tracked back to Europe? How much of her DNA had tracked back to African roots?

As you can see if you watch the tape, the exchange between Gates and DuVernay was partly comic—though also, in part it was not.  

Eventually, it became clear that this question did matter to DuVernay. Under current arrangements, there's no reason why it shouldn't.

Eventually, DuVernay read the results of her DNA profile. She was thrilled with the results, leading Gates to ask the best question ever asked:

GATES: Can you read those percentages?

DUVERNAY: 57.3 percent African—thank you! 41.5 percent European. This makes me so happy.

GATES (chuckling): I can tell.

DUVERNAY: This makes me so happy.

GATES: Wait a minute. What difference does it make?

"What difference does it make?" the professor asked. Yesterday, we told you what we assume he meant.

We assume he meant that the DNA in question is all just human DNA. It doesn't make any actual difference what part of the world it tracks to.

DuVernay went on to say this: "It does make a difference to me." Her affable host didn't push his guest on the question he had asked.

We're assuming we know what Gates meant.  We're assuming he meant what every liberal will eventually say, but at this time only when pushed.

We're assuming he meant that there's no biological meaning to the concept of "race." Beyond that, we're assuming he meant that all our DNA is just plain old human DNA. There are no essential differences in the various strands of our DNA , no matter where they "came from."

Is that what Professor Gates meant? Were he here, we'd ask! 

Among his many strengths, Gates is comfortable talking about "race," no matter what "race" his guest might be. He may understand that, quoting the poet, "them old dreams are all in your head." (Though of course, that's only true concerning "race" in the biological sense.)

There was absolutely nothing wrong with DuVernay's jocular reaction to the DNA reveal. On the other hand, her reaction—her obviously heartful feelings—may not make perfect sense.

Most of our reactions and feelings make something less than perfect sense. Tomorrow, though, we're going to start asking a type of "new age" question:

At one time, the liberal world emphasized the idea that "there's no such thing as race." Today, progressive thinking has taken Our Town in a vastly different direction.

Add in a highly performative mainstream press corps and we may start to achieve an unhelpful blend concerning this central topic.  It isn't clear that a modern. continental nation can hope to endure, given the road we're now on.

There was nothing wrong with what DuVernay said. What she said was thoroughly human.

Professor Gates was a courteous host. But he did ask the world's greatest question.

At one time, it was a point of liberal emphasis—we people are all the same. Today, our emphasis has largely shifted to assertions of difference.  

Can a large nation function this way? Across the globe, humanitarians like Putin and Xi are happily betting we can't.

Tomorrow: A strikingly personal column


45 comments:

  1. "For reasons our history makes sadly obvious, questions of "race" are everywhere in our nation's public discussions. "

    Meh. We don't think so, dear Bob. We observe no such "public discussions", only your liberal-hitlerian hate-mongering.

    And we're pretty sure no one (outside your cult) is paying any attention anymore.

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  2. I think it is appropriate to mention the race of the jurors in a trial that is about the contribution of racism to police brutality.

    ReplyDelete
  3. ""What difference does it make?" the professor asked. Yesterday, we told you what we assume he meant.

    We assume he meant that the DNA in question is all just human DNA. "

    I think this is an incorrect assumption. I would assume, from the context, that he wants to know what difference the DNA results make TO HER. He is interviewing another person. He asked a question. He isn't telling her that we are all human and thus there is no difference. He is ASKING her what difference it makes to her. That's how interviews work. You ask questions and listen to the answers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All DNA, human and animal, is built out of the same four proteins in different combinations. Does that make us all the same as rabbits or turtles? Of course not. So where exactly does difference end and similarity begin?

      You might say with humanity, but I know for a fact that I am not in any way similar to Donald Trump.

      What difference does it make that Trump and I share the same human DNA? Apparently, none whatsoever. He barely deserves the label "human being". I am absolutely certain that I am a few rungs above him on that ladder.

      Delete
  4. "We're assuming he meant what every liberal will eventually say, but at this time only when pushed."

    Somerby has no clue what every liberal will say about race.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "He may understand that, quoting the poet, "them old dreams are all in your head." (Though of course, that's only true concerning "race" in the biological sense.)"

    Here Somerby grabs another quote from Bob Dylan, brutally rips it out of its own context and applies it to his own ideas, to justify them using some good-old liberal cred.

    No, Somerby, the quote is from Talking World War III Blues, about dreaming that he was walking World War III, which has nothing whatsoever to do with race being in your head or otherwise. It was about the fears of nuclear war present in the 50s and 50s cold war era.

    But doesn't it make Somerby sound like a cool old hippie instead of a stone cold liar?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the song, the doctor says the dreams are "only in your head," not Bob Dylan:

      "I went to the doctor the very next day

      To see what kinda words he could say

      He said it was a bad dream

      I wouldn’t worry ’bout it none, though

      They were my own dreams and they’re only in my head"

      The dream is post-apocalyptic with no one walking around except Dylan. Race is not mentioned anywhere in the song.

      Delete
    2. The song alludes to a war and the aftermath of that conflict. Of alienation. Of not knowing who’s friend or foe.

      Think about it.

      Delete
    3. No, go and read the lyrics. The song is about a dream that Bob Dylan had in which he is walking the empty streets after World War III (there is no such war in history yet). He doesn't encounter any friends or foes. He is alone. It is about the fear of nuclear holocaust blowing up the world and ending humanity. It is not about alienation. It is about the difficulty getting others to be concerned about the conflagration -- he tell's the doctor and the doctor says it is all in his head. Then the doctor says he's been having the same dream, except Dylan wasn't in it. Then Dylan says "I'll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours." That implies the possibility of others recognizing the danger and working together to stop it.

      The lyrics are in Wikipedia. If you listen to much Bob Dylan, he doesn't talk about alienation. A song that IS about alienation is Simon & Garfunkel's "I am a Rock" or "Cathy's Song".

      But my point is that the Dylan song has nothing to do with race. You seem to be agreeing with me about that.

      Delete
    4. It was recorded April 24, 1963. The Cuban Missile Crisis of Oct'62 that nearly ended civilization was fresh in the minds of 22 year old kids like Bob who were thinking about whether or not they were going to have a future.

      Delete
    5. He notes that even his doctor is having these end-of-the-world dreams but his didn't include other survivors, as Bob's did. The question of why they were different is raised, and a motive is suggested. This was one damn clever boy, imho:

      'Well, the doctor interrupted me just about then

      Sayin’, “Hey I’ve been havin’ the same old dreams

      But mine was a little different you see

      I dreamt that the only person left after the war was me

      I didn’t see you around”



      Well, now time passed and now it seems

      Everybody’s having them dreams

      Everybody sees themselves

      Walkin’ around with no one else

      “I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours”

      I said that'

      Delete
  6. “we humans have tended to divide ourselves into groups on the basis of "race" (or tribe, or ethnicity)”

    That’s true.

    But I don’t think the liberal argument is that we should be divided because there are different races/tribes. We celebrate our differences because they enrich us, but we don’t believe in one group being favored or disfavored because of their belonging to a race, or tribe, or ethnicity. The disfavor that has resulted from bigoted thinking needs to be corrected in order to level the playing field.

    People who belong to a religion are proud of that belonging and it is part of who they are, but no one would demand that they throw that away and state that all religions are the same.

    In every big city there is a Chinatown or Koreatown, etc. Should we demand that these people not celebrate their ethnic or national heritage because it’s divisive if they don’t?

    People who have Scottish ancestry or Irish or African or what have you celebrate that background, but it doesn’t mean it should be a source of division or bigotry.

    Maybe race is a special category because it’s so fraught with negative connotations from our history. I can see that point. But precisely because it’s been such a source of pain, its bad effects need to be counteracted. I see no reason why black folks can’t feel a sense of belonging and history and solidarity by virtue of their being black in America. There is no reason that should offend or threaten non-blacks.

    And finally, it’s not a perfect analogy, but liberals clearly recognize that there are biological differences between men and women, but recognizing that doesn’t mean liberals are trying to divide men and women. The liberal view is that we celebrate our uniqueness but that no one should be favored or disfavored simply on the basis of gender.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "At one time, it was a point of liberal emphasis—we people are all the same."

    Somerby is confused. It was not a point of liberal emphasis to say that people are all the same -- the emphasis was on treating people the same, providing equal opportunity as guaranteed in our constitution, treating others with empathy based on shared humanity.

    Somerby must have been absent the day they held the Black Power Movement meeting on the Harvard campus. DuVernay was happy to be Black. Most black people felt that way when Somerby was a young person trying to figure out how to be liberal, back in the early 1960s, a time of civil rights and freedom marches. No one was saying that race was irrelevant and that there was no difference between people -- they were saying that the differences didn't entitled racists to mistreat black people, who deserved both social equality and justice under the law.

    How did Somerby get so confused about liberals? Watching too much Fox News I would bet.

    ReplyDelete
  8. “Is that what Professor Gates meant? Were he here, we'd ask!”

    Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
    Alphonse Fletcher University Professor
    Contact Information
    Office: The DuBois Institute, 104 Mt Auburn St, 3rd Floor
    gates@harvard.edu

    Ask him, Bob. Tell him you’re not some schlub blogger, but a Harvard grad who knew Al Gore.

    Do it. Tell us truthfully what he says.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Today’s post is basically a rehash of this one:

    “HUMAN, NONE TOO HUMAN: Professor Gates asks an excellent question!”

    MONDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2017
    (http://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2017/10/human-none-too-human-professor-gates.html)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Today’s post is basically a rehash of this one:"

      Look who's talking!

      Delete
    2. Yes, it is difficult to avoid being repetitive in comments when Somerby is so repetitive in his blogging. But you have to keep pointing out his nonsense because there may be lurkers who are new to Somerby's blog.

      Delete
    3. Discussing a highly performative mainstream press corps that overly emphasizes assertions of racial difference is a very important topic to some people. I know they don't discuss it on the pro-imperialist, no-longer-relevant blogs you read but it's still important. It no one's fault but yours that you are ignorant and out of touch.

      Delete
    4. It would be sad if Somerby had no one to agree with him except his dog.

      Delete
    5. Actually, powerful journalists call him directly to discuss the issues because they agree with him 100%. It is you who is the fool here. 100%. There's no debate. You've proved it quite clearly.

      Delete
    6. 6:57: You seem to be very comfortable asserting that you know with 100% accuracy the thought processes of more than one unnamed powerful journalist, moreover that you have firsthand knowledge of their conversations with Somerby.

      Delete
    7. He has claimed powerful journalists call him directly to discuss the issues because they agree with him. Issues that, btw, you are not even capable of understanding.

      Maybe he was lying.
      Maybe your comfortable assertions about his dog are correct.

      Maybe go fuck yourself.

      Delete
  10. "There was nothing wrong with what DuVernay said."

    Somerby repeats this several times. If he really thinks there was nothing wrong with what she said, why does he repeat this?

    He clearly wants his readers to think about what might be wrong with what DuVernay said, but he doesn't want to take responsibility for saying anything plainly about it, coward that he is.

    There is something wrong with this kind of writing. If Somerby wants to challenge DuVernay's views about her own DNA, he should say so and not sneak in an implication that can be plausibly denied -- "no no, I said there was nothing wrong..."

    And this is why Somerby is an asshole.

    ReplyDelete
  11. "SAME OR DIFFERENT? She answered the best question ever asked!"

    A blanket, broad question like this makes no sense. People are only the same if you ignore a lot of differences.

    When you start to consider different in what way, for what purpose, compared to what, then you must get into specifics beyond the percentage of DNA human beings share with each other, and look at the differences and what they mean.

    Somerby's refusal to consider those differences makes it impossible to have a discussion with him.

    For example, I was slightly off in the % of DNA we share with chimps, when I posted it yesterday. Since genome sequencing, we now share 99% of DNA with chimps. And yet, most of us would consider chimps to be very different from us. For one thing, we cannot have a two-way conversation with most chimps (no vocal cords). For another, we cannot interbreed with them. They are not housebroken. They are grumpy as adults and can be very dangerous to humans who try to treat them like pets. And so on. That 1% makes a lot of difference.

    Humans share 99.9% of their DNA with each other. That 1% contains the range of human variation. It doesn't take much genetic variation to produce a Down's syndrome child versus one that does not have that variation. Similarly, it doesn't take much variation to produce a person who has both male and female genitalia, yet that can make a big difference socially (depending on where you live). Very small genetic differences can produce disorders with life-threatening consequences or less important variations such as color blindness. Mutations in DNA are at the heart of evolution and they are plentiful (contributing to that .1% variation). Fertilized cells with much bigger variation may occur but tend to be spontaneously aborted because they cannot live and grow with such larger differences.

    When Somerby wants to dismiss such differences because we share the same human DNA (99.9%), he isn't thinking clearly about how DNA works or what small differences in DNA can mean to the individuals who have them.

    But Somerby isn't trying to talk about science -- he is moralizing and expressing a political view popular on the right, to excuse current attempts to eliminate racial bigotry in our society. If he were serious about discussing any topic, he wouldn't make this unaddressable statements.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-makes-us-different/

      Delete
    2. That .1% contains the range of human variation.

      Delete
    3. Yes Chimps are quite different from us - they are smarter, and less racist, though I've heard that they get from upset if a chimp from another tribe enters their territory.

      Delete
  12. Here is a breakdown by Digby of the financial costs of gun-related violence:

    https://digbysblog.net/2021/03/the-costs-of-playing-cowboy/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Playing cowboy is a strong American ideology that is more accurately described as the the frontier mentality or rugged individualism. At its core it is an anti-civilization fantasy and a survivalist mentality. It stems from a deep misanthropy creating a lack of confidence in the ability of humans to work together fairly for the common good, and even a lack of belief in a common good. It's roots come from the circumstance of American colonialization, from Christianity, and from social contract theory.

      Delete
  13. This post proves more than ever that Somberby is a racist. Pure and simple. He hates blacks.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Meanwhile, from Palmer Report:

    "Don Lemon had quite a show this week. If the January 6th terrorist attack proved one thing, evil is alive and well and living in the GOP. The FBI has made many arrests since that horrible day and will make many more. But the trauma remains for many of the survivors of the attack.

    Many of them have PTSD and depression. Don Lemon knows this, and this week, he had the mother of one of the heroic officers on his show. Officer Michael Fanone was the officer who was stun-gunned and brutally beaten. He survived, but his mother, Terry Fanone, spoke about how deeply the attack has hurt them and how outrageous it is to hear one Donald Trump talk about how the police were hugging and kissing the terrorists."

    ReplyDelete
  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Americans are deeply divided on race, religion, and ideology. Even regionally and along urban rural lines. It’s hard to come up with a country in this world that is more divided. And it has nothing to do with the mass media or Russia or China. The divisions were there from the start, from the 1600s and they have been compounded since. What Somerby is nostalgic for is the Cold War consensus of his earlier life which proved to be fleeting and fragile, and is impossible to recreate. American don't have any shared principles anymore as they briefly did from 1941-1989.

    ReplyDelete
  17. No genetic test can tell you your race, according to the sociologist critical of these ancestry DNA tests.

    https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/genetic-testing-race-can-23andme-make-people-less-racist

    ReplyDelete
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  19. This blog refuses to believe that cops hold racial bias. So asking what race makes up a jury looking into cop behavior doesn't make any sense to him. It's just stubborn race-blind boomer ideology.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is not "boomer ideology." It is Somerby's ideology. He doesn't speak for other boomers.

      Delete
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