The moral perils of trying to overcome racism

Let me first say that I shall be discussing race as a social construct, rather than a biological fact.  A person’s race shall refer to the group of people with whom he identifies, and, most importantly, the group of people he identifies as his ancestors.  Does this mean that I regard biological race as an illusion?  No more than I regard skin color as an illusion.  Race certainly has some biological reality, but morally it’s not a very interesting one.  For my purposes, a person is white if he or she thinks he is white, and everyone around him or her agrees.  And similarly for every other race.  For it is a fact that people–even and especially “anti-racists”–classify others and themselves by race.

But aren’t black and white Americans one people?  Don’t we all identify primarily with our nation, with its founding fathers and heroes?  After all, if white people get to identify with past America more fully than black people, that would make blacks lesser citizens, and we can’t have that, right?

I wouldn’t call blacks “second-class” anything, but let me pose a question.  We all know–we’ve been told since we were little children–that white Americans should be ashamed of our past history of slavery and segregation.  Shame, shame, shame, shame, shame, shame.  If you’re white, you’ve been fed this since you moved past baby food.  So I ask you, do you think blacks should be ashamed of America’s history of slavery and segregation?  After all, if the Founding Fathers and past generations of Americans are to be regarded as equally the ancestors of us all, then we should all be equally ashamed, right?  My biological ancestors arrived in America just in time to fight in the Civil War for the Union, but no one–least of all an “anti-racist”–has ever said that I should get a free pass from being ashamed of slavery.  On the other hand, all of us think it natural for blacks to identify more with the victims than the perpetrators of slavery and to consider themselves part of the aggrieved party in America’s shameful history of shame.  (Liberal readers, have I said “shame” enough to satisfy you yet?)

Well, wouldn’t it be better if we would just stop dividing ourselves this way?

You would think so, wouldn’t you?  After all, you’re white and you are ashamed of your ancestors.  You regard them as a burden you would like to be rid of.  What you have never been told is that, far from being a meritorious attitude, this attitude is in fact gravely sinful.  It directly contradicts the virtue of piety, which demands that we revere our ancestors.  (And again, from a moral point of view, the only thing that matters is who we regard as our ancestors.  Even if race could be completely biologically debunked, it wouldn’t change the morally relevant fact that as a white you do identify with certain dead people and not others.)  Your presumption of moral superiority to your elders warps your soul; you have a sinful desire to cast them off.  But for this to work you need accomplices.  It wouldn’t be enough for all whites to decide they don’t want to think of themselves as  white anymore.  You could still be identified, your shame tags reassigned, as white people trying to evade their responsibility.  For it to work, you need the blacks to renounce their ancestors as well.  You give up shame-of-being-a-slaveowner’s-spawn, they give up pride-of-a-lineage-of-heroes-who-overcame-slavery, mix the two together to cancel them out, and reassign any residue equally to everyone.

But why should the blacks go along with this?  What right do you have to ask them to join you in impiety?  They are not sinfully ashamed of their ancestors.  The best thing would be for whites to renounce our sin of impiety, but at the very least we shouldn’t be trying to corrupt other peoples.  We’ll never make that sell anyway.  As long as blacks see themselves as black and hispanics see themselves as hispanic (or otherwise non-white), we are stuck being white.  The question is how to be white properly.

How to do this?  It is difficult indeed for whites because we have no role models among our own kind.  To learn piety, we must ignore our parents and take our cues from foreigners.  Quite a predicament, hey?  If you’re embarrassed to be seen copying living foreigners, try out the Hebrews of the Old Testament.  Yes, there’s a novel idea–let’s look to the Bible for guidance!  Okay, now that you’re back with your ancient Israelite mindset, tell me what a properly pious person wants.

He wants to have descendants who identify with his ancestors and revere them as he does.  That’s the definition of group survival, and it’s the most important thing to a people with this mindset.  So how to do it?  Here’s the obvious part:  make lots of babies.  But that’s not all there is to it.  You don’t just need babies; you need babies that will grow up to identify with your clan.  So you don’t just marry or give your daughter to anyone.  At least the Jews didn’t think so.

Bonald, tell me you’re not going there.

Oh yes, I am, and I’m taking you with me.

As for myself, I don’t care much who my daughter marries, as long as he’s a good man and an orthodox Catholic, but that’s because I don’t identify too strongly with white America, something I recognize as a moral defect in myself (see above).  Better men than me would probably feel differently.  Suppose your daughter marries a black man–a fine man, gainfully employed, practicing the Christian faith.  What race would your grandchildren be?

Well, what race is Barack Obama?  Is that question too sensitive for you?  I’m sorry, let’s build up to it more slowly.  What species is Mr. Spock?  Biologically, he is half Vulcan and half human, but is he half and half in terms of identity and culture?  No:  culturally and aspirationally, Spock is a Vulcan.  His human half is an embarrassment.  This is pretty much how it works in the Star Trek universe:  alien trumps human (think also of Councillor Troi).  I like Mr. Spock, and I’m not criticizing him for it.  If he wants to be part of a people and not just a deracinated individual, he must pick one people, and he has.  Now, our President is like Mr. Spock; he and everybody else see him as black.  It just wouldn’t occur to us to do otherwise.  Black trumps white.  That’s how everybody sees it, and because we’re discussing race as a biological construct, how everybody sees it is how it is.

So, you have good reason to think that if your daughter marries a black man, her children will think of themselves as black.  They will not identify with your ancestors; they will identify your ancestors as the hated oppressor class.  They may well extend that identification to you as well–you are “the Man”, and any criticism you make of them is liable to be dismissed as racism.  Your own daughter, identifying as is proper with her husband, may well come to share the resentment of your race that pervades black culture and come to resent you.

The fact is that racial resentments are not going away.  They seem to harden as whites grow relatively less numerous and weaker.  Adding in extra races through immigration has only made the situation worse, because Hispanics and Asians fresh across the border immediately adopt the black narrative, resenting the white natives as racist oppressors, and acting as good little wedge minorities for the Democrats.  As this continues, whites will have stronger and stronger morally acceptable reasons to want their children to marry within the race.

How dare you condemn interracial marriage, you Nazi!

I don’t; there is nothing intrinsically immoral about it.  At times, it may be the best choice–for example, if your daughter must choose between a black Christian and a white heathen.  I just don’t condemn people who want to discourage out-marriage either.  After all, the Jews have done it through most of their history, and no one condemns them for it.  And don’t give me the “Judaism is a religion, not a race” line.  I’ve got Jewish friends, and they all tell me that being a Jew primarily means belonging to a people.  An atheist Jew is not a contradiction in the way an atheist Christian would be.  They’re a people, and they want their people to continue to exist.  And so they should.

15 Responses

  1. Okay Bonald, I disagree with everything you wrote here. First you define race as a social construct, just like liberals. Wrong. Race is an ethnic group, not what people think. Then you use Jews as an example of positive racism and use the Bible to back this up. Wrong again. I am Jewish and I consider Jewish racism a terrible mistake that is contradicted by the Bible.

    Ruth was a Moabite. Deuteronomy 23 says “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even the tenth generation shall never enter the assembly of the Lord.” Yet Ruth became an Israelite, and King David and King Solomon were her descendants. How can this be reconciled? Rabbinic Judaism solves problems like this by making up lies and putting them in the Talmud. In this case, they say that Deuteronomy 23 is only referring to men, not women. But this isn’t what Deuteronomy 23 actually says.

    My explanation is very simple. The authors of the Bible did not judge who belonged to which people based on genetics/race, but rather on culture. The idea that one could inherit one’s nationality, Jewish or otherwise, was alien to them. The modern Jewish idea that being Jewish is inherited from a parent would have been alien to them. They judged groups by their culture. When Ruth switched and became an Israelite by committing to the Israelite God and people, she ceased being a Moabite. If you interpreted Deuteronomy 23 as a punishment inherited for ten generations, this directly conflicts with the Torah idea that guilt is not inherited from parents. What is meant in Deuteronomy 23 is that anyone who remains culturally a Moabite is denied access to the temple for ten generations. Remember that other foreigners were welcome. The Moabite crimes against the Israelites were caused by Moabite culture, so Moabite culture was guilty, and culture can be passed through the generations. In the case of Ruth, the Moabite culture stopped with her, and her descendants were not cultural descendants of the Moabites.

    Where did Jewish racism come from? I think it came from Rome. In early Rome, Jews proselytized and conversion to Judaism was easy. But the Romans didn’t like this religion which excluded their gods, so they banned Jewish proselytizing on punishment of death. This is what caused Judaism to become insular.

    Returning again to the Bible, there is a prohibition against intermarriage with the other nations in Deuteronomy 7:3-4 “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, because they will turn your sons away from Me to worship other gods. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and He will swiftly destroy you.” Note that the reason is cultural, not racial. If a member of these other nations converts and becomes an Israelite, then there is no problem based on the Bible.

    So what about group identity? Humans are tribal and we should belong to a coherent group. But this group should be based on culture and religion, not race. Your ancestors should be earlier members of your religion/culture regardless of race. I identify with Moses, but I haven’t the slightest idea how closely related I am to him genetically. I identify with Moses because I share his values.

    I strongly believe in coherent groups based on culture and religion. Considering race only weakens such groups. Race represents the past, culture represents the future. Each coherent cultural group eventually becomes a race, and each race eventually becomes irrelevant as its founding culture disintegrates. For marriage, cultural and religious compatibility matter but race does not.

    I personally consider the Holocaust to be punishment for Jewish racism. Of course Hitler was also responsible, but Hitler’s racism only mirrored Jewish racism. The views expressed in Mein Kampf are remarkably similar to the views of Orthodox Judaism, the main difference being who the chosen people are. Not only does the Bible teach that Jews should accept converts from other cultures, but the Torah also teaches that Jews should “cut off” those members who lose the culture, for example by not keeping the Sabbath. If Judaism had cut off those Jews who didn’t keep the Sabbath, there would have been no Holocaust because Hitler’s hatred of the Jews was based on his hatred of what liberal Jews did to Germany and these Jews didn’t follow the Torah in the least. It is because Judaism changed from a religion and culture to a race that Judaism claimed these monstrous liberals as their own, and this resulted in the Holocaust.

    There is a lot that Christians can learn from Judaism, but they should take the good and leave the bad. I wrote an article Beating Modernism for Christians that tries to explain the good lessons of Judaism to Christians.

  2. It’s good to see this site reviving, Bonald. I hope this presages more good things to come. I have something to say in response to this post, but will wait until I have a better idea what it is before a put fingers to keyboard.

  3. Franklin,

    So good to hear from you again! Remember that I’m defining race culturally, so we’re not as far apart as you seem to think. By my definition of “race”, anybody who sees himself as a descendent of Abraham and is seen as such by other Jews, is in fact a Jew. How is that different from your idea of religious and cultural unity? From our past discussions, I know that by religious unity, you don’t mean doctrinal agreement.

  4. Thanks Bonald, I am glad you are posting here again. Even if I don’t agree with you sometimes, your posts are always relevant.

    It’s important not to change the meaning of words. Liberals use words like Humpty Dumpty does in “Through the Looking-Glass”:

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

    In your article, you give Judaism as an example positive racism which shows my point. Modern Judaism is classic bad racism, not based on “anybody who sees himself as a descendent of Abraham”. Two distinct words are needed to distinguish between identifying people by race/ethnicity and identifying people by culture/religion/values. For the first word, “racism” is correct and the meaning shouldn’t be changed. Unfortunately I can’t think of a good word in English for the second concept, maybe “tribalism” is closest. The distinction is important because the first is bad and the second is good.

    If I could edit comments here, I would probably tone down my first comment. I wrote it as an immediate reaction and I truly hate racism. First racism wiped out my family in the Holocaust. And then modern Rabbinic Jewish racism rejected my family because my wife isn’t racially Jewish.

    Groups should be formed based on shared values. If doctrine is an important value to a group, as it is to Christians, then they have every right to make this a condition of the group. But race is not a valid criteria because it has nothing to do with what a person chooses.

  5. Hi Franklin,

    Given what you and your family have been through, your reaction is entirely understandable.

    I entirely agree that there need to be different words to distinguish different kinds of group loyalty. Unfortunately, I’m not the one who started using the word “racism” for all of them. I suppose what
    I should have done is to emphasize more clearly that it is really a spiritual unity and not genetic similarity that I’m talking about. Of course, there is bound to be overlap between the two, because it is good and proper for parents to pass on their culture and group identity to their children, but even in a family, adoption is possible.

  6. I’d suggest that we think of a people, a nation, a folk, or an ethne as a bio-cultural heritage. This doesn’t imply great racial purity, only a tendency toward endogamy leading to a relatively high degree of interrelatedness. If a people is understood in this way, we see that it is entirely possible for an alien to join that people, but adopting the culture is not enough all by itself. There must also be intermarriage and biological absorption into the group. This will not happen if the alien group is very numerous, since this leads to a new, “mixed” people, or if the alien group practices endogamy among themselves and remains biologically distinct. This later practice is that with which the Marranos or crypto-Jews were charged.

    The ethne that we call “white Americans” is precisely this sort of bio-cultural heritage, and it was formed because most European national groups intermarried after a generation or so in the New World. This is especially true for white protestants, since few protestant sects were endogamous. The Irish and the Italians mixed more slowly because the religious divide was greater, and intermarriage with protestant whites was less frequent.

    Pious feelings for this bio-cultural heritage are, as you say, altogether right, natural and necessary to a healthy identity. They do not cause one people to hate another people any more than my love for my family causes me to hate the family next door. To treat these feelings as wicked and shameful is as simply silly. In fact, it reminds me of people who treat feelings of sexual desire as wicked and shameful. These feelings only become wicked and shameful when they are disordered, when they are directed to something other than their proper ends.

    We should not whitewash the history of our bio-cultural heritage, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t wash away whatever clods of mud hostile antagonists might choose to throw at it. If our forefathers have committed an injustice, we are responsible to set that injustice right, but that does not mean we must honor every bill with which we are presented. If a man charges my grandfather with a crime of which he is innocent, piety demands that I defend my grandfather’s honor. If I don’t, there is no reason my grandson should defend mine.

    Any man who presents my people with a dishonest and exorbitant bill for a past injustice does me and my progeny great harm, even if the past injustice was real. This is not only because he may manage to extract reparations to which he is not entitled, but also because he disables our ability to feel and express the piety we have a duty to feel and express. For my part, I would say that a man who repeatedly presents a dishonest and exorbitant bill forfeits his right to any reparation, since he was not actually seeking justice, only advantage.

  7. I agree with this comment, but there is a danger in the term “bio-cultural heritage”. The bio and cultural parts are not equal parts. The cultural part is the cause and the bio part is the result. If someone wins a trophy for an athletic accomplishment and then becomes obsessed with the trophy and forgets about the athletics, then there is a problem. This is analogous to a people becoming obsessed with their bio/race at the expense of their culture. Because culture is the cause, culture must remain the focus.

  8. Nah, biological inter-relatedness gives the impetus for the culture to form. It’s more like they are equal.

  9. I wouldn’t get hung up on precise proportions, or even on the question whether the cultural or biological is of primary importance. On the biological end, I would add this clarification: this isn’t so much a question of an individual’s genes as it is a question of their grandchildren’s genes. If the members of the majority race in the bio-cultural heritage have a strong prejudice against their children marrying your children, or you have a strong prejudice against their children marrying yours, you are not a full member of the bio-cultural heritage. Cultural assimilation without biological assimilation is, frankly, an unconsummated marriage. An unconsummated marriage may be perfectly cordial, I am sure, but it is also a sham. This is not, I would add, an argument for promiscuous miscegenation or rigorous eugenics.

  10. Think of two nuclear families. Each consists of a father, a mother, and two children, a boy and a girl. There is a difference between the two families. In the first family, the boy and the girl are the biological offspring of the parents. In the second family, the boy and the girl were adopted at birth, the parents being unable to reproduce. Nobody in the second family is biologically related to each other.

    Does this mean that the second family is less of a family than the first?

    No, it does not. Anybody who has been a member of such a family, or knows of such families, knows that they are just as much a real family as one in which the children are the natural children of the parents.

    Does this mean that biological relationship is an unimportant or unessential element of the family?

    By no means. Even in the family where the children are adopted, biological relationship is present in the sense that the structure and relationships of the family are defined biologically. In adopting children, a couple do not agree to be the “guardians” or “male and female primary caregivers” of children. They agree to be the children’s father and mother. The children are not raised as “friends” or “peers” but as brothers and sisters. If it is culture that gives meaning to these relationships, so that being a “father”, “mother”, “son”, “daughter”, “brother” or “sister” means much more to us as humans, than the purely biological equivalent means to the beasts, it is the biological reality that provides culture with something to which to give meaning.

    This applies to larger social, cultural, and ethnic groups, such as races and nations, as well.

  11. I don’t think that anyone would deny that your second family could be a wonderful, loving family (or that your first family could be a poisonous pool of mutual hatred), but no amount of wonderful love can change the second family into a family in the biological sense of that word. Adopting the social relations and affective states of a biological family does not change this, since adoptive parents are not present as “one flesh” in their adoptive children.

    I’m sure we all know adopted children who love their adoptive parents profoundly, and natural children who treat their natural parents like dirt, but we also know that many adopted children feel a deep need to know and relate to their biological parents. These biological parents often turn out to be very defective human beings, causing the adopted child to feel even greater gratitude and love for his or her good, adoptive parents; but there seems always to be a recognition that it would have been best if the good parents had also been biological, or the biological parents had also been good.

    Please don’t take any of this as a denigration of adoption, or as a suggestion that adoptive families are not “real” families.

  12. That’s very well put.

  13. I see a groping towards– is it race, is it culture, is it ethne, or what else

    I would name the thing towards which this discussion is hovering around as the City.

    A City is a self-ruling morally authoritative particular community. A City can be a tribe, or a nation. The City is not a biological thing, yet not entirely divorced from biology either.

    A City divides–people into neighbors and strangers. Simply put, a stranger worships a different god and I know not what he thinks.
    See Kipling’s poem-The Stranger.

    Neigbors are those that love a particular thing which is their City. Each City embodies the Law in its particular way. Eg Americans emphasize liberty, the Europeans community, the hIndus Chastity, the Chinese unity.

  14. The relation between the City and the Individual is dynamic. The mind of an individual is formed by the City but the mind of City itself is formed by struggles among various individuals i.e. the politics of the City.

    All this worrying about the race of one’s granchildren is pointless. Why should they be of any particular race?

  15. Miscegenation may not be immoral, but it is imperfect. God seems to have intended racial differentiation. Cross-breeding destroys that, makes the world less interesting. No one has the right to destroy his own race (it seems to me,) or to approve of its destruction, such approval being implicit in any act of miscegenation.

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