Is There Any Such Thing As Race?

 

Lecture (Acton University 2017) by Ismael Hernandez, executive director of the Freedom and Virtue Institute and author of Not Tragically Colored. 

Was very blessed to hear Hernandez’ talk, buy his book, and speak with him afterwards. I had a lot of questions…

One quote was my big takeaway:

If you don’t see my race, you don’t see me. If you see my race first, rather than my humanity, you also don’t see me.

Racism is very real; brutally real. But race, that on which racism is based, is not real.

Biologically speaking, there is no such thing as race. We are all part of the human race. “Race” is just an arbitrary set of traits based on superficial and subjective similarities and offering no objective boundaries.  It is often used by rulers to divide and conquer. Or to curry favor with factions by creating divisions and emphasizing them. Skin color is handy for that. Slavery cannot exist without the sword of government protecting it. If Caesar does not back the slaveholders with iron, the slaves run away and never come back.

For instance, what is a “Latino/Hispanic?” This label is based totally on language and culture, and has nothing to do with physical traits at all. Virtually every skin color can fit under the so-calld race “Hispanic.” And the recent upsurge in genetic information shows that every one of us is a deep blend of all kinds of traits and “races.” Sweet Polly Purebread does not exist anywhere on this planet.

For the record, Hernandez appears to have the physical/linguistic traits of a Black Puerto Rican Hispanic man. He would embrace that heritage. Moving to the US South to go to college created all kinds of tensions for him, and helped him think especially deeply on the topic of race. Of all the thinkers on race, Hernandez makes an unusually stubborn attempt to think clearly. 

All “races” have been hard on people who don’t look like them. There are no “noble savages” out there. Aztecs, Incas, Mayans, and the Cherokee held slaves.

Racialism: Giving too much attention to race. Seeing race as the prime identity of any person. Left-wing/progressive and right-wing have a different (but in some ways chillingly similar) flavor of over-emphasis on race.

Human rights.

The West has been trying to institutionalize human rights since the Enlightenment. Everywhere except in the West, this institutionalization of universal human rights has been systematically resisted.

Personalism.

The Natural Law/integrationist approach to race.

The American Founders put natural law principles in their founding documents; throwing their hats over the fence, forcing us, someday, to go get them. They set the standard for human equality, even though most of them (nor us) live up to it. Something for which we have the opportunity to strive.

Personalism: Ethnicity/race is not the heart of human identity. Not intrinsic to who we are. It is a result of the Fall and of Babel. Pentecost overcomes Babel. Reverses the downward slide. Ethnic and racial chasms can be bridged.

The heart of human identity is the IMAGO DEI (We are made in the image of God, both male and female). The peronalist/integrationalist view is optimistic. The spark of God in us will prevail. Tikkun Olam–the creation will be healed.

Our duty as Christians is to invite ourselves and others to live up to these ideals. We must also challenge our leaders to do so.

Dialectical/Separationist Approach

A form of collectivism. In conflict with Personalism/Integrationist view. Personhood is the goal, not the a priori state of the human being.

Oppression obscures the person, so justice must prevail first before personhood can emerge.

“Sovereignal Freedom” releases the oppressed individual from isolation/marginalization in exchange for service, deference, and loyalty.

Departure point is the collective, not the individual. This is a pessimistic worldview. Martin Luther King was an integrationist. Malcolm X was a separationist. With the death of King, the civil rights movement gave way to a sublimated form of Marxism based on race, not class (as Marx envisioned).

This has manifested itself in diversity training throughout corporate America, assuming falsely that more information will lead to more appreciation of others. This doesn’t work in this case, because the difference between races and cultures is over-emphasized (with separationist assumptions) to start with in such sessions; creating even more division and sending honest conversation underground.

Conclusions

We do need more conversations about racism, etc. The world is getting smaller–but all such conversations need to be based on the dignity of the individual. And the identity of the individual being much more than just “race” or ethnicity.

All of us need to acknowledge:

  1. The beauty of true diversity
  2. The very real history of systemic oppression

Also, we should be able to challenge anyone’s assumptions. Many collectivist/separationists get super-defensive if anyone challenges their dialectical assumptions. It can go ad hominem really fast.

Truth is, everyone’s assumptions are fair game for rational challenge…