The Myth of Race


Less than a week after the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, hate crimes and hate speech are spiking across the country, much as they did after the Brexit vote earlier this year. Just this week it was announced by the FBI that hate crimes against Muslims are up 67 percent, to the highest levels since the post-9/11 months. And this is data from before Trump’s election. Regardless of the reasons for Trump’s victory – “economic anxiety,” Democratic party incompetence, sexism, bigotry – his win has emboldened those with racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic views who have interpreted it as a national endorsement of their worldview.

Back around the start of the primaries, when we were all laughing at the idea of a Republican Trump nominee (let alone president), I read through a harrowing book: “The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea” by Robert Wald Sussman. The book is predicated on a fact the author believes needs no further litigation – there is no such thing as race. There are no biological, intellectual, or scientific differences between humans of various skin tones or facial features. This is accepted science worldwide since at least 1950 and the end of the appalling hegemony of the eugenics movement, which sucked in even American presidents (in 1912, three presidential candidates – Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson – all supported the eugenics movement, so, yeah, Trump’s words have presidential precedence).

I already agreed with this premise prior to buying the book. I thought surely anyone exposed to this idea would agree. Yet, even many who don’t consider themselves racist today are slow to accept this truth. Here’s a powerful article from Sussman about how deeply ingrained the idea of race is from our earliest formative days. The myth of race goes unchallenged for most of us during our upbringing, and that its rejection is the anomaly seems very backwards in 2016. However, that’s clearly still our reality.

“The Myth of Race” tells a history of the concept of racism, and of people and organizations that continue to reject and undermine this idea, from the Spanish Inquisition through colonialism and slavery to present day. Even now, the ideas of “scientific racism” persist. Even now, professors at actual universities in the United States are publishing articles within a framework inherited from eugenics, often disguised as research from the “evolutionary perspective.”

“But surely these people represent a fringe of society and a dying ideology?” I thought to myself then. “Surely the vast majority of people would soundly reject bigotry when confronted with it?” Today, I’m reassessing that conclusion. I don’t believe all Trump voters are racists or committing hate crimes. But certainly a lot more people in the United States are willing to look beyond these deplorable acts and beliefs than I once assumed. Sussman’s book lays out a historical case why this has been true in the past and still is today.

In truth, many of the racist and hateful organizations of the past never went away. They went undercover.

They found new sources of funding and took on new, innocuous names such as:

(I put these in photo format as to not invite the harassment of their memberships, but you should know their names.)

Don’t let their unfamiliarity fool you. These are not powerless groups organizing on fringe message boards on the deep web. Many of these groups have sitting Congressmen, state legislators and staffers on their membership and donor rolls. They may no longer publicly espouse their (can I still use this word?) deplorable beliefs about non-white people of the world, but through dog whistles and clever policy disguises – the drug wars, “law and order”, border security, “the global banking elite”, making their country “great” again – they’ve furthered their agenda. Furthermore, this isn’t just an American problem – across Europe agitating racist movements couched in the guise of populism have recently gained back power.

It’s clear why they have in mind: a world that relegates anyone who doesn’t look like they do to second-class citizenship (if citizenship at all). While I don’t believe Trump’s win actually gets them any closer to these goals, I fear they do. Just look at the brigade of one-star reviews of Sussman’s book on Amazon, calling it “liberal garbage,” “PC nonsence” (sic), and “inaccurate, ridiculously disgusting and idiotic.”

I picked up the book again this week, and a few relevant passages have stuck with me:

“We might have thought that [scientific racism] ended with the extremities of Nazism at the end of World War II, but we were wrong. Pre-Adamite-like biological determinism is still with us, and all of us who believe in human dignity, freedom, and justice must continue to fight against racial prejudice and those who spread hatred based on the idea that differences among humans exist. We must teach our children of the real wonders of human variation around the world. We must teach tolerance and love, not the bigotry and hatred of the new bigot brigade as they spread their ancient and outdated myths of race and racism.”


“I do think that we are improving. We have learned a great deal and we need to teach our children what we have learned. Historically, race and race concepts in the West were driven by an informal, mutually reinforcing consortium of intellectuals, politicians, and financial backers. Currently, there are new and sinister consortia around us that are cleverly cloaking the motives behind the rhetoric of modern racist ‘intellectuals’ and politicians and their financial supporters. Racism is still alive in the United States and the West. Only education about the real nature of human differences and about the history of the concept of racism will help us escape from these continuing cycles of ignorance, hatred and fear. We need to be alert to the agendas of new racist alliances of intellectuals, politicians and businesspeople in the United States and elsewhere.”

The cloak, it seems, is coming off.

If you voted for Trump, I defend your right to vote however you see fit and would love to discuss your reasons with you. However, know you have implicitly endorsed the things he’s said. And whether he meant them or not, they’ve empowered white nationalists, neo-Confederates and extremists everywhere. If you voted for Trump and you are NOT a racist (and I believe there are a lot of you out there), you have a duty to help all victims of Trump- and Brexit-inspired hate crimes across the globe. You have a duty to stand with those of us who still believe in equality, justice and liberty to say, “This is not OK, and never will be.”

Here’s a good way to start: Join me in supporting the below organizations. All of them have storied histories of opposing bigotry and fighting for “liberty and justice for all” every day.

  • American Civil Liberties Union “For almost 100 years, the ACLU has worked to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
  • Anti-Defamation League “The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 ‘to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.’ Now the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency, ADL fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.”
  • Southern Poverty Law Center “The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality. We monitor hate groups and other extremists throughout the United States and expose their activities to the public, the media and law enforcement.”
  • National Immigration Law Center “At NILC, we believe that all people who live in the U.S.—regardless of their race, gender, immigration and/or economic status—should have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. Over the years, we’ve been at the forefront of many of the country’s greatest challenges when it comes to immigration issues, and play a major leadership role in addressing the real-life impact of polices that affect the ability of low-income immigrants to prosper and thrive.”

One final passage from Sussman:

“Such organizations as [the three I mentioned earlier] have successfully kept age-old racist theories in the eyes and minds of the public and continue to pursue the goals of the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century…. So far, they have lost their attempt to turn the United States and beyond into a racist world, but they continue in their attempts to win the 500-year-old war of hatred and intolerance.”

I so desperately hope I am wrong, but I fear “The Myth of Race” will need revisions soon.

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