Fri Oct 10 21:02:15 UTC 2014
Race isn't real
[R]acial categories are not real. By "real," I mean based on facts that
people can even begin to agree on. Permanent. Scientific. Objective.
Logical. Consistent. Able to stand up to scrutiny.
Whether race is "real" or not seems to have political force. We worry that if
race were "real", racists would be justified in their belief that race is a
predictor of intelligence, criminality, grit, and so forth.
Because we want to be anti-racist, and racists believe that race is "real", we
deny the reality of race. But being anti-racist isn't excuse to drive our logic
Yes the concept of the white and black races were invented somewhat recently as
part of a racist and colonial project. Yes, there is some nebulousness to the
concept. There are weird boundary cases: are hispanics white? Are
middle-easterners white? Yes, there's very little biological commonality
between southern italians and northern swedes.
But would anyone deny that the fair skin of swedes has a genetic basis? Would
anyone these days really debate, even after the briefest glance, whether a
random person of Italian or British descent was "white"?
Why then would vox say that there are no facts about race that people "can even
begin to agree on." Why invoke nebulous words like "scientific", "objective",
"logical" other than to try to sound "deep" and "smart" when you're obviously
saying shallow and dumb things?
Here resomething things true about race: it is a historical construct. It
was invented as part of a racist project. But the categories refer to real
features of human biology; "real", "objective", "scientific", and
"logical", even if the concepts boundaries are changing; even if race is recent
invention. Even if the purpose of the concept is evil. Even if the crude
phenotype of skin color has no biological correlation with intelligence,
violence, grit, and so forth.
Thu Oct 9 22:41:21 UTC 2014
1. This year is the one-hundred fifty-seventh anniversary of the obscenity
trials of Baudelaire's Fleur du Mal and Flaubert's Madame Bovary.
I suppose you can credit the beginning of modernism to any moment you please;
and this one will do just fine. If I trump-up the charges and bit and say that
art languished in prison, shackled with moralism; until this moment and this
trial, when Flaubert is acquitted and art finally free.
"What is beautiful is moral, that is all there is to it." -- Flaubert
Alyssa Rosenberg's (excellent) article connects
today's "culture war", waged with hashtags like #gamergate and #cancelcolbert,
to the "decency" campaigns of the nineteen nineties.
Only sixty years ago the New York Times "refused ... permit critics to
review, any book by Gore Vidal" because he discussed homosexuality in one
of his novels.
On reflection we wonder if art ever did shed it's moral coils. There seems
to have been no reprise from moralizing condemnation of artwork. Just lately
the prudishness has been replaced with pluralism.
2. Leftist critique of the media often takes two forms, and each seems quite
On the one hand there are campaigns like #cancelcolbert that say that there is
a kind of material that should not be joked about, certain subjects taboo,
certain artworks immoral.
On the other hand, there is the work like that of Anita Sarkeesian, which
condemns the system of production and its production of ubiquitous misogyny. I
take her critique to mean that it's not so much that women should never be
represented this way; rather, the problem is that we only represent them this
The latter point-of-view is compatible with modernism and the former is not. If
we complain about the ubiquity of off-color jokes we are not necessarily
prohibiting any particular off-color joke.