More Thoughts on Defining Racism
Before I dash off to work this morning I wanted to respond to something that Mandolin at Alas wrote regarding racism:
Would it still be "racism" if there was a "genetic basis for the apparent variation in IQ between different groups"?
UPDATE: While I bow to Chris Clarke for being more cogent than I am on this issue, I do have to point out just one last ludicrous comment from a new Pharyngula thread about Watson’s remarks. Writes a commenter called Christian Burnham: “It seems that [another commenter] is now suggesting a genetic basis for the apparent variation in IQ between different groups. That may make him/her completely wrong- but it still doesn’t make him/her a racist.”
Here we have yet another perfect example of how people squirm to make sure that even the most blatant, obvious racism is denied the label. For me, reading that thread, it also becomes an example of how the mostly white, mostly men are inured to anything except the abstract ramifications of what they’re saying. Commenters entreat those who endorse the ev-psych viewpoint to contribute evidence, due to the controversial nature of the topic, while decrying anyone who reacts with anger. They seem to have no real sense that the asshats are talking about real, flesh and blood people, and that what they’re saying has stakes. After all, it doesn’t have stakes — except possibly beneficial ones — for them.
At heart the idea that IQ varies between different groups is an empirical assertion and, as such, is testable. Though there are (perhaps insurmountable) difficulties is actually testing such a hypothesis it nevertheless is the case that the hypothesis might be true. If that were the case would that make anyone who acknowledged the truth of the statement a racist?
As I've written about before, it seems that the use of the term "racist" has, in the recent past, lost its normative focus. When we say that someone is a racist we do so, presumably, because we want to call out and condemn unacceptable behavior. Mandolin's definition, in the very least, blurs this distinction to an unacceptable degree because it makes someone who asserts a fact morally equivalent to a foaming-at-the-mouth, goose-stepping neo-Nazi.
On reflection I'll actually go further an say that Mandolin is committing a category mistake in eir definition of racism. It makes no sense to call a fact "racist"; "racist" is a predicate which only applies to opinions. It follows from there that someone cannot be called racist simply for asserting a fact.
Put more succinctly, the term "racism" needs to be reserved for irrational beliefs. If the proposition that there was a genetic basis for the variation in IQ between groups turned out to be true then merely repeating the fact would not deserve social sanction.