Racism Shades of Deceit

racism is opposed to moral and spiritual principles that, if pursued, would advance human civilization to a higher level

Racism Shades of Deceit


In Racism Shades of Deceit we draw attention to racism because it is wrecking havoc on human populations. Endemic in the United States, racism is systemic in all the nation’s institutions; is a driver of societal discord, forms the basis for much national social and economic criteria, is widespread in law enforcement and systems of justice that has increased the penal population, and influences peoples’ thoughts and perceptions about human identity and the value placed on human life. Racism is complex, being embedded in all aspects of society. It will take years of massive, concerted effort coupled with unbridled willingness to resolve the problem. Racism is an anathema, a social contagion that usurps scientific analysis and robs people of common sense. It opposes those spiritual principles that, if pursued, would advance human civilization to a higher level. To deny its existence and practice in society is status quo, not a position that will provide a means for instituting corrective action.

The United States, with its creative abilities, energy and massive resources, could resolve to eliminate this major internal deficiency; and in the process become a model and sustaining resource to guide efforts to eliminate the blight of racism world-wide.

This post, along with the two that proceeds it (Western Philosophy is Racist, and Philosophy’s Systematic Racism), provides a history and extent of the blight of racism in the United States. Not all inclusive, because the complexity of racism far exceeds the space available for an in-depth analysis in this post. Hopefully, that presented will inspire a willingness to learn more about this subject and encourage the planning and pursuit needed to eliminate this blight from human populations.

⎯Prallagon Consulting Group

The Trouble With Race and Its Many Shades of Deceit

How education programs intended to foster diversity, equality and inclusion do harm,
and why it’s time for a radical shift.

-Subrena E. Smith, associate professor of philosophy at the University of New Hampshire.
-David Livingstone Smith, professor of philosophy at the University of New England.

Copyright © 2023 New Lines Magazine. All rights reserved.
URL: https://newlinesmag.com/argument/the-trouble-with-race-and-its-many-shades-of-deceit/

March 29, 2023


George Floyd

During the summer of 2020, George Floyd’s murder ignited an outcry across America, shaking many awake to the wrongs of racism. In the days and months that followed, colleges and universities, keen to show that they were in tune with the times, began introducing programs addressing DEI — diversity, equity and inclusion — in their institutions. They created positions for developing anti-racist policies, established anti-racist courses and training, and encouraged faculty to “decolonize” syllabuses.


Many have applauded this turn of events. Others, predominantly on the political right, warn that the awakening is a Trojan horse for social justice, smuggling progressive ideology into the classroom and infecting vulnerable young minds with false and divisive beliefs. Conservative activists have turned school board meetings into shouting matches about the place of race in the education of children in America and have gotten books deemed to be “offensive” banished from the curriculum. Lawmakers have passed legislation that restricts how educators may address issues of race in nine states (at last count) and have introduced such legislation in at least 20 more. Most recently, Florida’s legislature has approved the “Stop WOKE Act,” stating that “In Florida we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory.” This has made teaching uncomfortable facts about the history of race in the United States illegal, with the support of many right-leaning parents.


We are professors of philosophy who teach, write and speak about race, so the controversy swirling around anti-racist education strikes close to home. Like many other educators, we are haunted by the worry that one day a student, offended by facts, will mobilize to harass us and call for our dismissal, or worse. The academy and its place in the wider social arena have become so embroiled in conflict that we no longer take academic freedom as a given. In an age of shrinking enrollments, ballooning tuition costs and aggressive right-wing activism, coupled with donors ready to flex financial muscle to influence the curriculum, few of us can be certain that our employers will have our backs.


It is also personal. We are a so-called mixed-race couple. One of us, Subrena, is a brown-skinned woman descended from West Africans brought in chains to labor on the sugar plantations of Jamaica. The other, David, is a beige-skinned man of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, a descendant of refugees who fled the racist pogroms of Eastern Europe for the safe haven of the U.S. and who grew up in the Deep South at the tail end of the Jim Crow era. As such, we both have skin in this game.


We want to make it clear that we fully endorse the aims of DEI programs. But we object to how they are carried out, for, as noble as these aims are, there is a fatal contradiction at the heart of much of what goes on in them, a contradiction that threatens to undermine the entire enterprise. Although the purpose of anti-racist training is to vanquish racism, most of these initiatives are simultaneously committed to upholding and celebrating race. One can see this quite clearly in the work of Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, well-known voices in the anti-racist movement. Both of them presume that we can oppose racism while leaving the concept of race intact.

Race Without Racism

But in the real world, can we have race without racism coming along for the ride? Trying to extinguish racism while shoring up race is like trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it. It can only make matters worse. To get rid of racism we have to get rid of race.

Concept of Race

But what are we talking about when we talk about race? We frequently ask our students this question, and their responses follow a well-trodden path. At first, they are flummoxed, unable to put into words something that seems perfectly obvious. Then, after a little Socratic nudging, they nearly always settle on the claim that a person’s race is the color of their skin.

It is not difficult to show them why this is only part of the equation. We explain to them that race was at the core of Nazi ideology and the race that the Nazis were most obsessed with was the so-called Jewish race. Nevertheless, many Jews looked just like their Aryan overlords; their skin was just as pale, their hair was just as blond, their eyes were just as blue. It is not for nothing that they needed a yellow star to set them apart from the “Herrenvolk” (master race).

Next, moving closer to home, we explain that an untold number of fair-skinned African Americans escaped oppression by presenting themselves as white and melding into white society. When Homer Plessy was charged with violating Louisiana’s segregation laws, sparking the infamous “separate but equal” 1896 decision by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson — a decision that upheld state-imposed Jim Crow laws — it was not because of his skin color. Plessy was visually indistinguishable from a white man, but he was counted as Black because of his paternal grandmother’s African descent. Even the prosecuting attorney, John H. Ferguson, admitted that he could not see that Plessy was Black (though he claimed that he could smell his race). A more recent example of race and appearance coming apart as a definition is the case of Rachel Dolezal, an activist who presented herself as Black but who was “outed” in a 2015 magazine article as “really” being white.

After a little back-and-forth, our students agree that the concept of race is not just about how people look but must be based on something deeper. But what is this deeper something? We do not have to search far for an answer. In the Jim Crow South, the “one-drop rule” stated that anyone with even a single Black ancestor was Black, irrespective of the color of their skin. In Germany, the 1935 Nuremberg laws stipulated that anyone with at least three Jewish grandparents was Jewish (those with fewer were “Mischlinge” or “mongrels”). Although often tied to people’s appearance — skin color, hair texture, eye shape and the like — race is a matter of beliefs about biological pedigree.

Racial Identity and Ancestry

Recognizing the connection between racial identity and ancestry raises another key question. Why should descent matter for race? Some scholars who study race refer to this as “racial essentialism.” The idea is that race is somehow carried and passed on by means of a biological substance — the racial essence. In the past, blood was thought to play this role, which is why during World War II the American Red Cross segregated blood supplies along racial lines. Today, race is more often imagined to be located in one’s DNA.


Such essentialist beliefs are common. When pressed, some might say that a person’s appearance expresses their race, but mere appearance is not what makes them a member of that race. Ask a random American about the race of a Black person who has undergone a procedure that makes them physically indistinguishable from whites (the theme of George Schuyler’s novel “Black No More”), and you are likely to be told that the person seems white but is really Black. These essentialist assumptions, which so often lurk unnoticed in the background of conversations about race, explain why saying that someone looks white has starkly different implications from saying that they are white.


Some people reject this analysis in favor of the idea that race is nothing more than different patterns of human biological variation. Humans are varied on many dimensions (roughly twice as varied as our relatives, the chimpanzees), including those that are conventionally associated with race. The idea that the human family is partitioned into a small number of distinct races is actually a folk theory purporting to explain human variation.


Meanwhile, the scientific study of human variation shows that race is not meaningfully understood as a biological grouping, and there are no such things as racial essences. There is now near-consensus among scholars that race is an ideological construction rather than a biological fact.


Race was fashioned for nothing that was good. History has shown us how groups of people “racialize” other groups of people to justify their exploitation, oppression and annihilation. This pattern of thinking goes back to ancient times and has been reproduced again and again to justify colonialism, slavery and genocide. As the historian Noel Ignatiev recounts in his book “How the Irish Became White,” the English once cast the Irish as a primitive and bestial race, only for this to change with time. Other historians, such as David Roediger and Matthew Frye Jacobson, detail how various European “races” — Jews, Italians, Poles and others — were at first excluded from and then later incorporated into the dominant white race. No book has been written bearing the title “How Africans Became Black,” but one could easily be, because there is no reason to think that the diverse peoples of West Africa — people who identified as Akan, Igbo, Wolof, Fulani, Hausa or Yoruba — thought of themselves as belonging to a homogeneous Black race before the arrival of the Arab and European slavers who shackled them to it.


Writing an essay like this is not easy, because it challenges the status quo of both conservatives and progressives. Many on the left will balk at our claim that the very idea of race is destructive and should be abandoned, while many on the right will object to our emphasis on improving education on our nation’s racial history. But such education is sorely needed.


Additional Information

Diversity Initiative. Created by the Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland, College Park, the initiative aims to increase dialogue on race issues with focus on topics and issues in popular media, to broaden thinking and discussion on what diversity means, and how to apply what we learn to our everyday lives.

AfroWorld Affairs. Mention anything positive about Black Africa brings immediate Euro-centric criticism detailing why it can’t be so. No other people undergo or have undergone such negativity and ill-advised subjective renderings as the Black People of Africa and its diaspora. Why?

Indigenous People Affairs. Indigenous peoples are also known as: First Peoples, Aboriginal Peoples, or Native Peoples, or Adivasis (India), or Janajatis (Nepal). After suffering from centuries of persecution, in some cases genocide and land-lost, they still maintain a special relationship with the land on which they have lived for generations, even for tens of thousands of years.

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