June 3, 2008

The Science of Racism


I'm sure most of you remember the controversy with James Watson just half a year ago. If you don't, you can read about it here. In the controversy, James Watson said that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa ... because all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really".

There was an interesting follow-up interview between Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and James Watson on MSN just yesterday. Read an excerpt of the interview here, and read Gates's follow up here. I like the Gates's follow up because he's right: Watson is a racialist but not a racist. Gates writes:
I don't think James Watson is a racist. But I do think that he is a racialist—that is, he believes that certain observable traits or forms of behavior among groups of human beings might, indeed, have a biological basis in the code that scientists, eventually, may be able to ascertain, that the "gene" is some mythically neutral space and what it purportedly "measures" or "determines" is independent of environmental factors, variables and influences.

Gates clarifies:
But I did leave Cold Spring Harbor convinced that Dr. Watson believes that many forms of behavior—such as "Jewish intelligence" (his phrase) and the basketball prowess of black men in the NBA (his example)—could, possibly, be traced to genetic differences among human beings, although no such connection has been made, and will probably never be made on any firm scientific basis, it seems to me.

In his conclusion he says,
As I drove away from Cold Spring Harbor, I realized that my conversation with Dr. Watson only confirmed something I already, with great trepidation, have come to believe: That the last great battle over racism will be fought not over access to a lunch counter, or a hotel room, or to the right to vote, or even the right to occupy the White House; it will be fought in a laboratory, in a test tube, under a microscope, in our genome, on the battleground of our DNA. It is here where we, as a society, will rank and interpret our genetic difference.

Brilliant observations.

I just want to say that this "racialism" probably affects no one more than Asian Americans. In Asian America, we voice this racialism without fear because it's so ingrained in our culture. Witness, for example, the eugenics debate between one of the bloggers at 8Asians and our black belts Makulita and Minbo. I don't demonize Asian Americans for thinking like the 8Asians blogger, but we need to recognize that it's a problem and that, as Gates says, is so far not based on any real science or fact. And we also need to realize that this racialism isn't "just another" perspective; it's a philosophy of life (and we can refer to it as such since so many Asian Americans believe it) that causes real problems in both individuals and the general culture. People literally kill themselves and others over these so far unsubstantiated racial theories. We need to confront it head-on.

As a means of getting these issues on the table, another blogger from 8 Asians generously recommended that we have a discussion about it. Certain other parties, however, did not respond. Dialectic and I are always ready for debate, as are many of the 44's black belts, as are the guys on Fallout Central. If any racialists ever want to debate the issues or discuss them in real time, our doors are always open, and we are ready. These are issues that affect us and our children, and we will not ever back down from voicing the arguments against blind racism or blind racialism that need to be heard.

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