27 April 2006

Race v. Racialization

The Objectivist
IS RACE REAL?
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
4/26/06


Racial differences are real. This claim conflicts with the widely held view that racial groupings are social constructions. Groups and attributes that are socially constructed are ones that depend on persons thinking in certain ways. For example, attributes like being married, pretty, or middle class and things like money and languages are socially constructed. Other groups and attributes are not socially constructed. Rather they track fundamental divisions in the world. For example, consider categories such as mammal and gold.

Racial groupings are real properties. Persons have different genetic patterns and these patterns cluster around four or five groups (theorists differ here). The groups include blacks, whites, East Asians, and South Asians. So widely accepted are these genetic patterns that commercial firms will tell you where your ancestors came from. All you do is swab your mouth and send it to the company along with a check. The test can even tell persons of mixed ancestry the percentage of their ancestry that comes from different regions. The explanation for these differences is that populations separated over time and space accumulated genetic differences in response to natural selection and random genetic changes. In particular, it is thought that blacks split apart from non-blacks and later whites and Asians split apart.

There are a couple of arguments against the reality of race that are unconvincing. It is sometimes argued that race can’t be real because human beings of different races are much more similar genetically than they are dissimilar. This is unconvincing. Human beings share over 98% of their genes with chimpanzees; this doesn’t show that they are the same. It is also argued that since there are racially-mixed individuals, there can’t be races. However, the possibility of interbreeding doesn’t prevent there from being different groups. For example, the fact that some dogs can be part Great Dane and part German Shepard doesn’t show that there aren’t different breeds and that the differences between breeds aren’t in part due to genetics.

The reason it’s worth noting the reality of race is that it matters. Blacks, whites, and East-Asians have different distributions of intelligence. For example, on some estimates, the average white person has a higher IQ score than 84% of the black population, whereas the average black person tests higher than 16% of the white population. East-Asians score even higher than whites. Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, authors of the widely hated The Bell Curve, argue that a substantial part of these differences is due to genetics. As evidence they note that black and Asian children adopted by white families have IQs similar to that of blacks and Asians generally. Evidence can also be seen in that in the 1981-1995 period, white students whose parents did not have more than a high school diploma had higher SATs than black students at least one of whose parents had a graduate or professional degree (e.g., Ph.D. or M.D.). A similar pattern can be seen in that the SAT scores of whites from poor families exceeded that of blacks from rich ones. Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated notes that only 48 men have run the 100-meter dash in under 10 seconds and they’re all black. He also notes that of the last 50 All-Pro cornerbacks, only one was white.

Our society has tried to ignore these genetic differences, thereby producing painful results. For example, preferential treatment has in the past led to 66% of black medical students failing part of the medical boards and 43% of black law students being unable to graduate and pass the bar within three years. We find similar results in other areas, e.g., teacher competency exams. A lot of resources have been wasted and persons harmed because of dishonesty about race. This is shameful.

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The Constructivist
RACIALIZATION MATTERS
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
4/26/06


“Africans are naturally fitted for slavery.” “American Indians are destined for extinction.” “Democracy works only for Anglo-Saxons.” “Immigration by inferior European races to the United States must be stopped.” “Aryans are a master race who deserve to rule the world.” If these claims strike you as ridiculous or troubling, you may be surprised to discover that they were not the ravings of crackpots but were endorsed by the leading racial scientists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

If so, you’ll probably be shocked to find that the global history of race thinking is both long (spanning the past three to eight centuries, depending on how you define it), and, for much of that time, illustrious (it lost its stranglehold on public opinion in the West only relatively recently). Scholars such as Lee Baker, Elazar Barkan, Thomas Gossett, Ivan Hannaford, Audrey Smedley, and Nancy Stepan have produced intellectual histories that reveal a shift from theological and civilizational justifications of race thinking to scientific ones in the eighteenth century and after. In fact, key scientific disciplines—anthropology, biology, medicine, psychology, sociology—began as racial sciences. While their faults have been ably dissected by Ruth Benedict, Julian Huxley, and Ashley Montagu in the World War II era and Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Kevles, and R.C. Lewontin over the past few decades, these racial sciences shaped Western conventional wisdom for much of the preceding two centuries.

Since the 1980s, scholarship on the social fabrication of race (Ian Haney L√≥pez), the politics of racial formation (Michael Omi and Howard Winant), and the racialization of human differences (Mahmood Mamdani) has evolved from these histories and critiques of race thinking. Today, explorations abound of scientific, legal, literary, media, aesthetic, and popular constructions of race; of interrelationships between gender, class, national, ethnic, and racial formations; and, for their engagements with ideologies and narratives of race, of just about everything from naturalist novels to world’s fairs, from museums to minstrel shows, from the frontier to the suburbs, from immigration and naturalization law to media representations of Los Angeles and New Orleans. These explorations have amassed an overwhelming amount of evidence that races are social fictions, not biological facts. Consider that pre-WWII racial scientists could never quite agree on the number of races they were supposedly “finding” in nature—arguments ranged from a handful to dozens to hundreds, depending on which rules of classification were selected. Consider that in any of these schemas, there is more genetic variability within any “race” than between any two “races.” Consider that laws defining “white,” “black,” and “Indian” varied from state to state in the U.S., diverge even more widely from nation to nation, and have changed radically over time.

In the wake of the Human Genome Project and other revolutions in our understanding of human genetics over the past decade, some see another opportunity to establish the reality of races. But cutting-edge genetics does little to support the reliability, validity, and referentiality of race. Population geneticists can trace certain markers to produce what one book in this growing field has called The History and Geography of Human Genes. But all such studies do is track the various migrations out of Africa and around the world by various human populations. You can “find” as many “races” as you want, depending on what kind of computer analysis you perform. Similarly, people who pay for genetic analyses will most likely get a much more vivid picture of the movements and mixtures in their family trees than they ever expected. In the realm of individual development, geneticists are finding that one’s DNA is not a fixed blueprint but that environmental influences play a huge factor in determining which genes get switched on and off when. And at the level of social policy, profiling by phenotype and publicizing individuals’ genotypes raise troubling privacy, equal protection, and due process issues.

The idea that “race determines” intelligence, character, values, and potential is as flawed and dangerous now as it’s ever been. Attempts to map pre-WWII social fictions onto the latest findings in genetics are doomed to fail. There is no good reason to characterize human genetic differences as “racial” or to posit “race” as a cause or explanation of social phenomena.

If you’re still not convinced, try the following experiment: alternate reading a chapter from The Bell Curve and a chapter from Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society until you have finished both books. Then report back here which you find more persuasive and why.

UPDATE: The debate continues.

06 April 2006

Debating US Immigration Policy

The Objectivist
CLOSE THE BORDERS
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
4/5/06


We are being flooded with immigrants. In the 1990s, 9 million legal immigrants came in, the most in any decade in US history. Around 17% of our population consists of immigrants since the 1970s or their progeny. In addition to the rush of legal immigrants, there are around 12 million illegal immigrants now living in our country. As a group, immigrants are undereducated and poorly skilled. For example, immigrants constitute 12% of the US’s workforce but 31% of the country’s high school dropouts. Immigrants are 60% more likely than natives to be employed in a low-skill occupation. This should not be surprising given that only 1 in 6 immigrants are let in because of skills.

Taxpayers pay for this torrent through the nose and are unlikely to recoup these costs. In the ’90s, immigrants were significantly more likely to receive welfare of one form or another than the native population and they took more the longer they resided in the US. One recent study estimated that each year, the federal government loses $2,736 and the state and local governments lose around $3,823 per illegal immigrant household. The losses are probably higher in this state since immigrant families have more children than natives and since New York pays more than $12,000 per student per year (around $14,000 in Dunkirk). Given that there are at least 3.8 million such households in the US, this is a loss of around $25 billion per year. If these costs weren’t bad enough, immigrants also hurt low-wage native workers by driving down already-low wages for jobs.

There is no reason we should leave the floodgates open. I doubt many upstate residents would want poor, undereducated, and unskilled persons moving into their neighborhood, especially once they realized that they clog the prisons and drag down standards at the local public school. The former can be seen in that in 1999-2000, nearly 30% of federal prisoners were foreign born and the latter in that the dropout rate for foreign-born Hispanics was around 45%. This preference is, and should be, strengthened by the fact that many of the Spanish-speaking immigrants have a different language and culture, and a critical mass that prevents them from having to assimilate quickly. Here the concern is acute with immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries such as Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Columbia, and Honduras, the five largest sources of illegal immigrants.

The apologists for the flood of legal and illegal immigrants often argue that some pipeline to unskilled immigrants is necessary because there are many jobs only immigrants will do. This argument confuses the notion that there are jobs that only one group will do and the notion that there are jobs that only one group will do at very low wages. Bleeding the taxpayer to protect the latter makes little economic sense. For example, it’s foolish for taxpayers to pay $7 in benefits so a company can make $5 in profits (note I made these numbers up). In this sense, illegal immigration is like a tariff in that it makes citizens worse off, despite identifiable beneficiaries. The apologists also argue that nothing can be done about illegal aliens already here. Given how little weight this argument is given in other contexts (for example, cheating on taxes) and how little effort was made at enforcement (for example, in 2004 only three companies were fined for hiring illegal immigrants), this argument is laughable.

This situation is not helped by current Congressional bills, such as one proposed by John McCain and Edward Kennedy, that provide amnesty for illegal immigrants and allow in even more immigrants under a guest-worker program. Instead, the US should consider constructing a continuous fence along the Southern border and begin to deport illegal immigrants. The number of legal immigrants should be sharply curtailed and should focus on those who add to our country because of their education, skills, or wealth. In addition, politicians like President Bush and Senators Schumer and Clinton who regularly support massive third-world immigration should be made to pay for the torrent.

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The Constructivist
REIMAGINE OUR BORDERS
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
4/5/06


Many Americans have memorized the closing lines of “The New Colossus” (the 1883 poem engraved on a pedestal at the base of the Statue of Liberty), but few are aware that when Emma Lazarus wrote the poem, the U.S. was in the middle of a decades-long debate over the Naturalization Act of 1790. This act, which limited immigration to any “free white person,” provided legal grounds for admitting emigrants departing from Ireland and a range of southern and eastern European nations seen in the 1840s and after as racially inferior to the earlier waves of emigrants from northern and western Europe. As Matthew Frye Jacobson points out in Whiteness of a Different Color, debate over the worthiness of Celtic, Slavic, and Alpine races to enter the U.S. was not settled until the passage of the Johnson-Reed Act in 1924, which extended the logic of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act to those “provisional or probationary whites” whose “fitness for self-government” had been under suspicion that deepened as their numbers increased. As a result, legal immigration to the U.S. slowed to a trickle until well after the end of World War II.

Many of today’s most influential conservatives want to repeat this history—with new targets. The core assumptions and arguments of nativist best-sellers from the 1920s like Madison Grant’s Passing of the Great Race and Lothrop Stoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy are recycled and repackaged in polemics like Patrick Buchanan’s The Death of the West (2002) and Samuel Huntington’s Who We Are (2004). Meanwhile, President Bush talks like President Kennedy when pushing for immigration reform, even as his administration crafts post-9/11 homeland security policies designed to deport and detain large numbers of immigrants (as revealed in Tram Nguyen’s We Are All Suspects Now and David Cole’s Enemy Aliens)—but remains vulnerable to attacks from his right by formerly-rubber-stamp Congressional Republicans and ex-ditto-head right-wing bloggers. Republicans’ interests and loyalties are divided between deferring to the demands of their corporate sponsors for further freedom to import cheap labor and placating their authoritarian populists who call for building a tortilla curtain (in Guillermo Gomez-Pena’s memorable phrase) around the American dream.

In today’s overheated climate of attempts to hype emigrants from the global south as the greatest threat to homeland security since Hussein and bin Laden, economic arguments against immigration like The Objectivist’s can appear quite rational. His cost-benefit analysis leads to the conclusion that only immigrants with the education, skills, and wealth to help America compete in a global economy should be allowed into the country. In effect, he advises us to fire Lazarus’s Lady Liberty for her now-unpatriotic cry to “Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and replace her with a Robocop who tells people around the world, “we can’t afford to take you in.”

Never mind the astronomical costs and consequences of building, maintaining, and staffing a “Great Wall of America.” Never mind that there are more effective ways to regulate the push-pull forces that drive global migration patterns than turning America into a “border patrol state” (which Leslie Marmon Silko warned against over a decade ago). Liberals and progressives must move from ducking internecine conservative battles or brokering compromises aimed at moderating only the worst excesses of the far right to offering a bold alternative to Republican rule.

Which legislators will sponsor a New American Dream bill that supports workers’ right to form unions, imposes harsh penalties on corporations that import illegal immigrant labor, expands opportunities for legal immigration, offers paths to earning legal status and citizenship for otherwise law-abiding undocumented workers, and commits America to harboring all legitimate refugees and asylum seekers?

Moreover, who will take up Emma Lazarus’s farthest-reaching challenge to our times? In the opening lines of “The New Colossus,” Lazarus favorably contrasts the “world-wide welcome” of the American “Mother of Exiles” to the “brazen giant of Greek fame/With conquering limbs astride from land to land.” We need a reimagined “world-wide welcome” for the twenty-first century: an invitation to each nation-state to hold an annual referendum on whether it should petition the U.S. Congress for entry as a new state in the Union (under Article Four, Section Three of the U.S. Constitution). Promoting a non-contiguous constitutionalism based on time-tested principles and precedents gives America a desperately-needed alternative to both neoliberal economism and neoconservative militarism. We should be debating how to reimagine America’s borders rather than whether to close them.

UPDATE: The debate continues.