Ken Ham is claiming that he doesn’t see color — that there is no such thing as a white person or a black person, and that he, goofy Australian bible-thumper, is not white. A scientist (well, a competent scientist) would say that the conventional clustering of traits associated with being black or white is artificial and does not align at all well with genuine biological groupings, but that is something different.
There is no genetic sequence unique to blacks or whites or Asians. In fact, these categories don’t reflect biological groupings at all. There is more genetic variation in the diverse populations from the continent of Africa (who some would lump into a “black” category) than exists in ALL populations from outside of Africa (the rest of the world) combined!
There are no specific racial genes. There are no genes that make blacks in the USA more susceptible to high blood pressure, just as there are no genes for particular kinds of cancers that can be assigned to only one racial grouping. There is no neurological patterning that distinguishes races from one another, nor are there patterns in muscle development and structure, digestive tracts, hand-eye coordination, or any other such measures.
But at the same time, the cultural construct of race is very real and has devastating effects on people. You cannot deny that American black people are socially handicapped by the color of their skin, just as American white people have benefitted immensely from history and policies that favored them.
… if you look across the USA you can see that there are patterns of racial difference, such as income inequalities, health disparities, differences in academic achievement and representation in professional sports. If one thinks that these patterns of racial differences have a biological basis, if we see them as “natural,” racial inequality becomes just part of the human experience (remember a book called The Bell Curve?). This fallacy influences people to see racism and inequality not as the products of economic, social, and political histories but more as a natural state of affairs.
OK? So it’s complicated. There are lineages that generate real genetic groups that do not correspond to folk notions of race, so the biological justifications for discrimination are bullshit; but race is also a categorization used to give one group privileges and another oppression. You don’t get to deny the existence of discrimination by race, just as you don’t get to claim biology gives you an excuse to deny the social effects of racist history.
That’s what Ken Ham and other people are trying to do with the color-blind fallacy: they want to sweep away the historical blame for biases and claim that no, they aren’t the recipients of all kinds of advantages from our racist history. There’s no legacy of oppression that we need to correct. We’re all the same! Except that some people just happen to get stopped more often by the police, are more frequent victims of police shootings, have inherited a history of poverty, and are targeted for voter suppression. But other than that, they’re all the same!
Ken Ham has a long and oblivious history on this issue. Here’s an opinion piece he wrote last year on this topic. It starts with a grain of truth and just gets weirder and weirder.
From a genetic standpoint, today’s scientists have abandoned the word “race” for humans — and so should everyone else. I urge President Obama, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and others to abandon the word “races” and use “people groups” instead — to emphasize we are all one race, one blood and one family, and get away from any racist connotations.
It’s a fact of science that all humans are the same basic color, just different shades. The main substance in our bodies that determines skin color is melanin. There are no truly “white” people or “black” people. Humans have different shades from light brown to very dark depending on how much and the type of melanin. It’s a fact that all humans are colored people. (By the way, albinism — a lack of the pigments — is a rare condition that can occur in all people groups.) I challenge the president and others currently weighing in on race matters that we are all colored people — just different shades of brown.
Note what’s fundamentally off about this piece: he’s telling black leaders, and only black leaders, to stop referring to race because he is actually the same color as they are. He isn’t; yes, all humans use melanin primarily as the pigmentation molecule, but we also are able to perceive difference in skin color, and we can and have chosen to use those differences to oppress certain groups.
This is a patent attempt to absolve himself of any vestige of white guilt, or any obligation to exert himself to correct it.
It’s a white guy telling black people,
Hey, I’ll make you a deal: if you pretend my skin color hasn’t given me any advantages, I’ll pretend your skin color doesn’t give you any disadvantages. What a deal! It’s only fair!
And really, Ham has been going on about demanding that we ignore racism for a long time. Here’s an article from 2007 in which he asks,
Are there really different races?. His answer is no, because the Bible doesn’t say it.
He also loves to quote mine biologists.
Darwinian evolution was (and still is) inherently a racist philosophy, teaching that different groups or “races” of people evolved at different times and rates, so some groups are more like their apelike ancestors than others. Leading evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould claimed, “Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1859, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.”
No, first of all, evolutionary biology does not teach that different races evolved at different times and rates. Racism teaches that, and some biologists try to justify racism with biology. That’s the point of that quote: it’s not that Darwin invented racism — medieval pogroms and colonialism and slavery all long preceded Darwin — but that after Darwin, racists believed that they now had biological arguments to defend their beliefs, and those increased once they found ways to abuse the Darwinian rationale. And he doesn’t seem to note the irony in citing a godless, non-Christian scientist who is berating bad abuses of good science.
Ham’s whole essay is a long, rambling mess, in which he tries to argue that because the Bible doesn’t explicitly endorse racism against dark-skinned people, Christianity is absolved of all guilt. Again, let’s just close our eyes to reality: let’s pretend there were no Christian ministers interpreting the Bible to justify slavery, or arguing that the Curse of Ham (no relation) meant that all Africans were condemned to lives of servility and inferiority.
Also bizarrely, he tries to argue that the old miscegenation laws had no religious basis: the Bible only prohibits Christians from marrying non-Christians, which is OK, but doesn’t use the language of race. Right. The Bible, which promotes the Hebrews as his chosen people and sends them marching across Palestine committing genocide, did not have any kind of ethnic bigotry in it because it does not identify the people by the color of their skin.
But, you know, I’m an old white dork arguing with another old white dork about the legitimacy of ignoring the history of racism and the real effects it has on people’s lives. Maybe I should shut up and get the opinions of black people (oh, excuse me, I mean people who have just a slightly different shade of melanin-tinted skin than I do, but which entail no historical and current injustices).
Identity politics are a form of political engagement that highlights issues and perspectives relevant to shared aspects of an identity. “Identity” is based on cultural context, social history, and lived experiences. Harris’s assessment of identity politics is suspect for three reasons.
First, it’s impossible to ignore his appeal to “Homo sapien,” which is a sly way of asserting “all lives matter” in the face of noticeable, disproportionate treatment of groups of people. How fortunate must one be to utter this without a hint of irony? Within the context of this discussion, his statement is akin to declaring “I don’t see color. I just see people.” Just like the idea of colorblindness is an act of racial avoidance, so too is the belief that “We’re all just people.”
This sounds cool in theory, but we don’t live in a utopia where every conceivable human identity across all economic, social, and political class barriers is unappraised. Until that day arrives, one can’t ignore that some groups of people are less valued than others based on gradations of identity.
At a recent teacher training I conducted on creating safe spaces for LGBTQI high school students, a teacher asked why it was necessary to “call attention” to issues of sexuality and difference when LGBTQI students were already marginalized? Shouldn’t educators just treat everyone with the same dignity and respect “regardless” of sexual orientation? Educational justice activists have long argued that the colorblind ethos of classroom instruction disingenuously ignores how the values and mores of the dominant culture indoctrinate us into binary norms. In her book Other People’s Children, educational justice writer Lisa Delpit argues that mainstream classrooms are structured around an implicit “culture of power” which disenfranchises students of color. Consequently, a “treat everyone with dignity and respect” approach that isn’t based on a critical consciousness about how the dominant culture works undermines intersectional identities. In the classroom, everyday assumptions about interpersonal and romantic relationships “invisibilize” queer students. Classroom discussions about traditional straight families headed by heterosexual parents and caregivers perpetuate the idea that good, normal family units are straight family units. Assumptions that everyone has been brought up in a conventional family structure based on a universal nuclear family norm that is uncritically faith-based, brand queer, foster, homeless and secular youth as other.
Anthony Pinn has a whole book on this subject: When Colorblindness Isn’t the Answer: Humanism and the Challenge of Race. He explains the way white supremacy wants to perpetuate the illusion that this is not a problem.
we look for ways to speak to this injustice, to force change to a deadly system because “Black Lives Matter”. We want everyone to know this, act on it, and establish new social-political dynamics that make this recognition a safeguard against abuse. Of course, in doing this work we fall back on strategies drawn from the civil rights movement — march, make noise, call attention to circumstances and challenge the moral consciousness of the nation. I, like so many, benefited from this 20th century strategy, but it can’t be denied that the fundamental logic of life in the United States hasn’t changed as a consequence of those civil rights movement efforts.
That is the genius of white supremacy: it mutates and transforms, and it gives up a little in order to present the illusion of fundamental change. It finds ways to blame victims for the violence perpetuated against them. No, white supremacy and its child, white privilege, are the source and the cause. There is a desperate effort to find something in the past of the victim that will justify murder as the safeguarding of order and wellbeing. Yet, nothing can sanction the murder of black men and women whose crimes seem ill defined at best.
You know, maybe the opinions of a guy who thinks the earth is only 6,000 years old aren’t the product of rational, evidence-based thinking.