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.