Racial Science and Strawman Arguments

Portrait of a scarecrow

“If I only had a brain…..”

I have often maintained that there is no idea so stupid that a tenured professor from Harvard won’t profess it. A good recent example is geneticist David Reich’s recent New York Times editorial about how we have to stop ignoring the reality  of genetic causes of human variation.  According to Reich, there is an “orthodoxy” that comes from well-meaning but muddle-headed people “who deny the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations.”  These kind-hearted dopes are afraid of bad results that could possibly result from the study of such differences:

The concern is that such research, no matter how well-intentioned, is located on a slippery slope that leads to the kinds of pseudoscientific arguments about biological difference that were used in the past to try to justify the slave trade, the eugenics movement and the Nazis’ murder of six million Jews.

I have deep sympathy for the concern that genetic discoveries could be misused to justify racism. But as a geneticist I also know that it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among “races.”

Reich claims his own research proves that such genetic differences in human populations cannot be ignored and are needed to understand, for example, differences in disease rates among different populations.

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Sheriffs, and Racists, and Koch: Oh My!

Sheriff's Badge

Sheriff’s Badge

A little over a month ago there was a minor kerfuffle about our Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions saying that;

Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people through the elected process…The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.

A great hullabaloo ensued. What did Sessions mean about this “Anglo-American heritage” stuff? Did he think only white folks built our laws? And “heritage” isn’t that a dog whistle to neo-Confederates who are always talking about their heritage of the South (meaning white supremacy)? There was reason for people to be suspicious, after all “Sessions is a well-documented white supremacist who” is “hot for incendiary racist behavior.”  Coretta Scott King had this guy nailed thirty years ago, not that it has stood in his way in his rise to power.

Calmer voices soon urged everyone to calm down. Sessions was merely invoking English common law which is, indeed, an important part of our legal heritage. While Sessions certainly is capable of racist dog whistles, they said, this probably wasn’t one. I had another thought at the time, however. It wasn’t the “Anglo-American heritage” part of his remarks. It was the “sheriffs” part that might have been the dog whistle. And that brings us back to the Koch Foundation’s funding of a right wing ideologue to educate prisoners in civics and to a guy named W. Cleon Skousen.

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On the Prehistory of Holocaust Denial

 

Skull on top of a book.

My very first blog post was this one. It was on the “softcore Holocaust denial” of one of the first actions of the then-new Trump administration: remembering the Holocaust without mentioning the genocide of European Jews. The guy I thought chiefly responsible for this statement was Sebastian Gorka who is no longer with the administration. He’s now landed a gig with an antisemitic website. The good news is that he’ll be in Canada so…..   Well, that really isn’t good news, is it? He’s still around being a racist jerk.

A year later, Holocaust denial is back in the news. Arthur Jones, bona fide neo-Nazi and denier is running, unopposed, for Congress in Illinois (I hate Illinois Nazis). In Poland, it is now illegal to claim that Poles were complicit in the Holocaust.  Holocaust denial, in its endless variety, is still out there. It is time, therefore, to take another look at it.

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Trump’s Shithole Logic

Drawing of an outhouse

Trump thinks that we don’t need immigrants from shithole countries like Haiti, El Salvador, or the entire continent of Africa. Instead he thinks we should let more Norwegians in. Since a racist is a person who consistently makes racist remarks, Trump is a racist. Naturally, Fox News insists that pointing out Trump’s racism is the real racism. Just for the record: calling out racism is not racist. Being a racist is racist. Trump is a racist. The logic behind his statement is racist logic. Here’s why.

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The Origins of Holocaust Denial

A Map depicting Nazi concentration camps.

We are only a few weeks away from International Holocaust Remembrance Day: January 27. If you will remember, last year the Trump administration marked the day without mentioning that Jews were special victims of the Nazi regime and called the critics of of its silence asinine and and pathetic. To my knowledge, the administration has never apologized for this or amended what they said. Who knows what kind of insulting statement is in store for this year.

In anticipation of that fateful day, it might be worthwhile to explore the origins of Holocaust denial in the United States. Who was the first American to deny that the Nazis exterminated six million Jews and what was the basis for their denial?

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Want to Read A Sample Chapter?

A telegraph with the caption: "Hot off the Wire."

Hey! Remember this post? The one where I threatened promised to share some of the book I’ve been writing? I know you’ve been waiting on tenterhooks but now the wait is over. So put the tenterhooks away. Honestly, I don’t even know where you got those tenterhooks. Are those my tenterhooks? Did you borrow my tenterhooks without even asking me? Get your own tenterhooks!  Honestly, some people……

So, a few words about what I’m offering up on the sacrificial alter of the Internet. This is a first stab at a “sample chapter” which will eventually become part of a book proposal. According to Susan Labiner in Thinking Like Your Editor:

A sample chapter is not really a chapter at all. It looks and smells like a chapter, in that it usually runs about a chapter’s length and had a beginning, middle, and end. But like no chapter in the your final book, it succeeds by cannibalizing other chapters, stealing the best material in the book and presenting it in such a way as to showcase the dramatic potential of the book or the power of the argument, or the richness of the topic.

Did I do that? Who knows? Its a first draft and, as my freshman writing instructor told me college, “The first draft is supposed to be shit.” Or to be more hopeful: The first draft has the same relationship to the final draft as compost to roses.  So, follow the link and give it a read. If you want to send me comments  criticisms, please do so. These can range from large conceptual problems you see as well as spotting typos and formatting errors. There are undoubtedly a lot of problems. Tell me about them.

The Sample_Chapter

Codebreaking the Alt Right: “Russia is Our Friend!”

Map of the Russian Empire, 1820

Martin Shkreli, the infamous “pharma-bro” who first came to attention by endangering people’s lives by raising the cost of an Aids drug by 800% is back in the news. Shkreli, who obviously wasn’t hugged enough as a child, was convicted of securities fraud and is now being forced to part with some of his one-of-kind possessions.  The one that is getting the most headlines is the single copy of the Wu Tang  album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. Shkreli bought the album just so no one else could hear it because he’s that kind of guy. I hope his prison stay is unpleasant.

Also among those possessions is an Enigma machine, a cryptography device most famous for Alan Turing’s work with it that help break Nazi codes during World War II.  Today’s Alt Right also likes to use codes, but rather than hiding troop movements they do so in order to enjoy a smirking frat-boy (and I do mean boy) “joke” at the expense of the rest of us. And the codes change all the time; Pepe the Frog is out, Groyper is in. A “reporter” for the Gateway Pundit (aka Jim Hoft, aka “the stupidest man on the internet”) recently gave a speech entitled “Its OK to Be White” that was chock full of such coded language to signal to the Alt Right that he was one of the cool kidz. This included drinking milk during the speech as a way of showing off his superior Nordic genes. Then he allegedly attacked a woman. Like I said, the Alt Right has a problem with women.

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What’s So Alt About Alt America: David Neiwert’s New Book

Cover of Alt America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump

Imagine you live under a totalitarian regime. It is a led by a foreign invader who rules with an iron fist. He has started rounding up citizens and imprisoning them in camps. You are a member of the Resistance; you keep in touch with others who are brave enough to resist his diktats. Your once-great country lies in ruins, but there is still hope that you and your fellow freedom-fighters can save it. It will take courage and nerves of steel, but you are ready to fight for your freedom and those of others.

And then, one day, the worst possible thing happens: the uniformed, jack-booted thugs show up at your door on some ridiculous pretense. You know why: they are there for you. They are there to “disappear” you; to take you away to the camps for god-knows-what. What do you do? Richard Poplawski knew what to do. And that is why Pittsburgh police officers Paul Sciullo III, Stephen Mayhle, and Eric Kelly died that day.

This is only one of the many, many terrifying stories of violence and destruction recounted in David Neiwert’s new book, Alt America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump. Neiwert is an investigative reporter for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and has written several important books on the racist right in the past two decades. Alt America is just out and you should buy it, read it, and then join the fight against the figures he discusses. Today.

The great strength of Alt America is the detailed reporting on some of the more notorious antics of the Alt Right. Neiwert details an almost shot-by-shot account of Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine people in Charleston (pp. 1-31). It is hard but necessary reading; the tragedy of the country is that we have become almost numb to such occurrences because they are so damn common. By recounting the details of Roof’s murders it brings into focus the absolute horror of such an event.

My read of Alt America might be cutting against its author’s intention, but I think the central message of the book is that there is very little “alternative” in “alternative right.”

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Virginius Dabney and the Problem of the White Moderate

Photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. getting arrested

“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro.”

On April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. was in jail in Birmingham, Alabama. He’d been arrested for violating a judge’s order banning any marches in the city. King, who had come to Birmingham to lead marches against segregation, purposefully and willfully ignored that order and was promptly arrested and jailed. So there he sat.

Friends smuggled newspapers into King. To his shock and dismay he read a “Call for Unity” from a group of clergymen who urged an end to the marches and protests; there was a new city administration, and “Negroes” should give them time to act. Withdraw from the protests, slow down, and give the new white government time to do the right thing. King was shocked because these were not rabid segregationists; these were his friends and allies. These were ministers who had risked a lot by speaking out against the race baiters like Governor George Wallace and now, while King was jailed, they were urging him to quit? He scrawled his answer in the margins of the newspapers that had been smuggled in. Those scribbles became his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail to do this they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is merely a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, where the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substance-filled positive peace, where all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured

King was not addressing newspaper editor Virginius Dabney (1901- 1995) with these remarks, but he might as well have been.

We can discover interesting things about an examination of Dabney as a white moderate. First, we can clearly see the dangers of looking to “moderation” as somehow the solution to polarization. What Driftglass often calls the dangers of “Both Siderism” in our current political culture: that both extremes are equally to blame for a social problem. As we will see, Dabney thought the NAACP was pretty much the equivalent of the Klan in its “extremism” for opposing segregation. Second, we can be deceived into thinking that a “moderate” deserves praise for moderation even if that moderation accomplishes nothing. So, Senator Jeff Flake is receiving praise for speaking out against Trump’s outrages even though Flake shares responsibility for those very outrages. Finally, we can understand how the idea of “moderation” can often mask that the moderate is actually an extremist with nicer clothes and proper language.

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How Not to Write about White Supremacy

As Long as You Aren’t Wearing a Hood, You Get a Pass

KKK members riding a ferris wheel

KKK in Cañon City, Colorado, 1926

Over at the libertarian blog Notes on Liberty Jacques Delacroix published a crack investigation into white supremacy.  He claims that white supremacy is a “boogeyman” that

serves the useful purpose of taking public attention away from several kinds of disturbing socio-intellectual developments to which it is publicly tied. I have in mind, for example, the loss of agency, the creeping de-humanization of individuals implicit in identity politics, now present in every aspect of American life. I am thinking also of the fast retreat from the values of the Enlightenment, beginning in universities, of all places.

If only the damn Democrats had won more elections, the author thinks, we wouldn’t be hearing about white supremacy now. The warning of burgeoning white supremacy in our society “is primarily a cultural herd response to the loss of left-wing electoral ground.”

By attempting to show that the problem of white supremacy is not really a problem, the post actually provides a good example of how white supremacy works.

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