Clarity about what we’re being asked to believe about race is essential.
It’s been frustrating to listen to Charles Murray discuss his latest book, Facing Reality: Two Truths About Race in America, on conservative podcasts, like this episode of Andrew Klavan’s show. The experience is of watching two friends have a disagreement when they’re missing some obvious common point, and you’re unable to jump in and point it out. The interviewers seem to really, really want to (but can’t) find that key difference from Murray that will allow them to distance themselves from his arguments, because they know how the mainstream media characterizes such beliefs.
Let’s enter into the topic beginning with the other side.
The critical race theorists’ narrative is that society implicitly breaks people into racial (actually, intersectional) groups and discriminates against them, even if you can’t point to a single example of overt racism. The only fix for this state of affairs, they claim, comes in two parts:
- Forcibly repair the damage where it manifests in outcome disparities (education levels, job placements, income, electoral success, and so on), and
- Repeatedly and loudly attack the near-metaphysical force behind the systemic racism — which they’ve labeled as “whiteness” — so as to scourge our society so thoroughly as to root out even racist tendencies we don’t realize and don’t actually exhibit.
Based on interviews he’s given, Murray’s point is that we have to treat people as individual human beings and acknowledge other causes that help explain the disparate outcomes when we group them statistically, whether those causes are cultural or genetic. If a group is more likely to be present in a high-crime area, for example, then it will have more encounters with the police. If, statistically, one group has a lower average on some aptitude test, that doesn’t mean that any individual can be judged on that basis, but it does mean that one would expect fewer people from that group in an occupation that requires that aptitude.
Even if differences at this level are entirely coincidental, they have explanatory power which, at the very least, has implications for our repairs. If you divide up a classroom of children randomly into two teams and one group, the one given green jerseys, just happens to have more athletic students, you wouldn’t address the uneven outcomes by blaming systemic anti-greenness.
Only by acknowledging actual differences can we address their effects. (This isn’t to say we should inflate the importance of those differences, of course.) If the differences can be reduced (with additional supports, for example), then our solutions should focus there. If they can’t be reduced, then we have to broaden our perspective. The kids who keep losing the athletic game might win at an academic one, and in any event they’re all part of the family of the classroom.
Instead, the radicals’ solution is to attack alternate explanations, no matter what that requires them to destroy. Rather than address differences in propensity for logic or punctuality, they’ll say that the culture that privileges such things is merely displaying its white supremacy. Similarly, they’ll insist that any test that finds differences is only proving the systemic racism at the core of their faith.
An absolutely essential point is too often lost in the mix, here, and it goes back to the principle of actually valuing people. If we want the best for everybody, we have to actually understand them as people… as they are. This is obvious when it comes to individuals: you don’t help a person by building up fictions around him or her and pretending he or she doesn’t have shortcomings. You address the person as he or she is, treated as an equal human being with personal agency and personal responsibility.
Featured image by Clay Banks on Unsplash.