Everyone needs more training to deal with racists

Adam Rutherford is coming out with a new and timely book, How to Argue with a Racist, expected here in the US in early February. I’ve already pre-ordered a copy, and if you’re interested, you can get a taste of the story in The Guardian.

In the 19th century, Darwin’s half-cousin Francis Galton and others tightened their scientific arguments for race though, as Darwin noted, no one could agree on how many races there actually were, the range being between one and 63. Galton was an amazing scientist, and a stunning racist. The most delicious irony about him is that the field he effectively established – human genetics – is the branch of science that has demonstrated unequivocally that race is not biologically meaningful. Modern genetics clearly shows that the way we colloquially define race does not align with the biology that underpins human variation. Instead, race is a cultural taxonomy – a social construct. This doesn’t mean it is invalid or unimportant, nor does it mean that race does not exist. Humans are social animals, and the way we perceive each other is of paramount importance. Race exists because we perceive it.

That’s one message I wish I could get across to all the so-called “scientific” racists. The consensus of real, honest science is that the artificial categories people assign to races don’t exist as biological phenomena. You only find it in the pages of racist ideologues like Charles Murray or hothouse niches on the internet for dishonest cranks like Steve Sailer. Or right-wing think-tanks. Or misinformed YouTubers who got millions of views by parroting bigotry.

I think this book ought to be required reading for journalists and other media spokespeople who seem to be responding to the rise of racism among people with power with nothing but rank credulity and reporting that just echoes the biases without criticism. Maybe the Democratic presidential nominee, whoever it might be, ought to read it to be prepared for debates with our racist president.


  1. sarah00 says

    Scientific racism has been getting a well-deserved drubbing recently – I highly recommend Angela Saini’s Superior (and her earlier book Inferior about scientific sexism) and I’m really looking forward to Adam Rutherford’s book. It seems that using science to justify bigotry has a long history and one that continues to this day. TERFs are just the latest group to misuse science to attack people they dislike. Every time I see them claim that there are only two sexes I find myself thinking that they’d have been the same people who’d use women’s smaller brain size as reason why we shouldn’t be allowed into higher education or argue that IQ tests “prove” that black people are less intelligent that white people. They feel like people who never got past high school science where the aim was to do an experiment that got the results you knew it should get. Actual science is messy and complicated, and ideally shouldn’t be done with the aim of proving your ideas, but seeing if you can disprove them. Oh, and realising that science is a methodology, not a religion, and that other things matter just as much than being scientifically correct.

  2. stroppy says

    I hope it gets to how to actually argue with racists.

    I’ve noticed a misconception among some people, who perpetuate racist tropes but who deny being racist, that you can’t be racist if you’re not filled with hatred. It’s a little hard to get through to people who are prejudiced about prejudice and find the topic a tedious nuisance and not worth their time.

  3. littlelocomotive says

    The grabber for me was the author’s name. I will read anything he writes because it’s always informative, witty, and the science is solid. So I ordered it from my favorite local bookshop. When I mentioned the title, the proprietress said, “Oh, are you having a family reunion?”

  4. Ridana says

    When I mentioned the title, the proprietress said, “Oh, are you having a family reunion?”

    LOL. Next time you go, bring her cookies for me. :D

  5. katahdin says

    Another good book is
    “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi
    I read this in the Justice book club at the local Unitarian Universalist Church
    “Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond the awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a just and equitable society.”
    NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • Time • NPR • The Washington Post • Shelf Awareness • Library Journal • Publishers Weekly • Kirkus Reviews

  6. methuseus says

    Requested my library buy a copy or two. They haven’t denied one of my requests yet. The librarians also sometimes comment on my choices and read them once I return then.

  7. methuseus says

    That sounds like an interesting read. My library has it as a book club pack as well as individually. It’s also popular. I put a hold on it, but there are so many holds already that it could be a couple months before I can read a copy.

  8. stepppenwolf says

    Modern genetics clearly shows that the way we colloquially define gender does not align with the biology that underpins human variation. Instead, gender is a cultural taxonomy – a social construct.

  9. gijoel says

    “England for the English” warbled Morrissey in his song The National Front Disco. Now that Mozza has given apparent support to For Britain, a political party even Nigel Farage thinks is full of “Nazis and racists”, it’s no longer clear the lyrics were ironic.

    Even more reason to despise Morrissey. I don’t think I’ll be listening to his music anymore.

  10. says

    I went to Amazon to have a look, and I’m seeing two different books with the same author and similar titles, one coming out in February and one coming out in April.

    February’s is the one shown here: https://www.amazon.com/How-Argue-Racist-Adam-Rutherford/dp/1474611249/

    and this is April’s, with a slightly different title and cover (and also more expensive), coming out in April: https://www.amazon.com/How-Argue-Racist-Science-Your/dp/1615196714/

    I wonder if one is an update?

  11. susans says

    The library doesn’t have the book and the software asked if I was really searching for “How to dance with a duke”.