PQC: Folks, I don’t think we should bother the “References”. But I will post the “References” in its entirety if requested. Please read this book in its entirety. I hope you enjoy it and find something valuable in it. I do! I will share with you later!
Barry Mehler’s words ring in my ears.
“I have a lot of relatives who survived the Holocaust,” the historian said. “They are prepared for things to cease to be normal very quickly because that was their experience.”
I never thought I might live through times that could make me as anxious as this, that could also leave me dangling on a precipice afraid for my future. Politics is moving at such breakneck speed, taking such random turns, it seems anything is possible. It’s the suddenness of it all that makes it feel so strange. The cancerous surge in nationalism and racism around the world has taken many of us by surprise. I grew up not very far from where a black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, was killed by racist thugs in Southeast London in 1993, while waiting for a bus. His murder left a mark on my generation. When we campaigned against racism, we knew there was a long way to go, but we were hopeful. And for a brief, sunlit moment things really did seem to be changing. My son was born five years ago, when Barack Obama was still the US president, and I dreamed that he might grow up in a better world, perhaps even a post-racial one.
Things ceased to be normal very quickly.
In the space of just a few years, far-right and anti-immigrant groups have become visible and powerful across Europe and the United States. In Poland nationalists march under the slogan “Pure Poland, white Poland.” In Italy a right-wing leader rises to popularity on the promise to deport illegal immigrants and turn his back on refugees. White nationalists look to Russia under Vladimir Putin as a defender of “traditional” values. In German elections in 2017 Alternative für Deutschland wins more than 12 percent of the vote. Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist to President Trump, tells far-right nationalists in France in 2018, “Let them call you racist, let them call you xenophobes, let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor.”
While it may be easy to blame white supremacists for this cancer, it’s a brand of identity politics that has others in its grip, too. It’s infecting people everywhere, whether it’s Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East and Pakistan, Hindu nationalists in India, or Chinese scholars who turn their back on good science in favor of a worldview that paints the Chinese as having different evolutionary roots from everyone else. They may have different ideas and different histories, but their goal is the same: to assert difference for political gain. This is a twisted ideology that deliberately makes no appeal to a shared humanity, but instead rests on shadowy myths of belonging, on origin stories offering an umbrella to some but not others, sheltering them with false comfort. What nationalism stresses, as the late political scientist Ernst B. Haas wrote, is “the individual’s search for identity with strangers in an impersonal world.”
That desire to belong is powerful, I know. I was raised between cultures, and there’s nothing quite as disruptive to your sense of belonging as not fully belonging anywhere, as being brown when everyone else is white in a place that notices these things. But don’t be fooled. When people play on those feelings, when they tell you they can return you to a glorious past, offer a community of people just like you, who share your values and your dreams, a common history, they are selling you a myth. Enjoy your culture or religion, have pride in where you live or where your ancestors came from if you like, but don’t imagine that these things give you any biological claim. Don’t be sucked into believing that you are so different from others that your rights have more value, that your blood is a different color. There is no authenticity except the authenticity of personal experience.
The “race realists” as they call themselves (perhaps because calling yourself a racist is still unpalatable even to most racists) work so hard to make the opposite case. They appeal to that dark corner of our souls that wants to believe that human difference runs deep, making entire populations special, giving some nations an edge over others. And sadly, this is their moment. Whenever ugly politics become dominant, you can be sure that there are intellectuals and pseudointellectuals ready to jump on board. Those with dangerous ideas about “human nature” and even more dangerous prescriptions for our problems are always content to bide their time, knowing that the pendulum will swing their way eventually. Intellectual racism has always existed, and indeed for a chunk of history, it thrived. I believe it is still the toxic little seed at the heart of academia. However dead you might think it is, it needs only a little water, and now it’s raining.
That said, what they’re doing is also intellectually doomed. I’ve learned while writing this book that trying to force a biological understanding of race fails, often spectacularly, for the simple reason that history is the thing that can provide the answers. Science can’t help you here. But then, perhaps the race realists know this. Maybe they know that if we truly want an end to racism, we need to understand the past, to have more equitable education and healthcare, to end discrimination in work and institutions, to be a little more open with our hearts and maybe also with our borders. Maybe they know that the answers are not in our blood, but they are in us. They are in our actions, in the choices we make, and in the ways we treat each other. Maybe their insistent banging of the drum, their increasing violence and anger, is simply to mask the fact that they don’t want to make these concessions.
There are plenty of ignorant racists, but the problem is not just ignorance. The problem is that, even when people know the facts, not everyone actually wants an end to racial inequality. Some would rather things stayed the way they are, or even went backward. And this means that those committed to the biological reality of race won’t back down if the data prove them wrong. There’s no incentive for them to admit intellectual defeat. They will just keep reaching for fresher, more elaborate theories when the old ones fail. If skin color doesn’t explain racial inequality, then maybe the structure of our brains and bodies will. If not anatomy, then maybe our genes. When then this, too, produces nothing of value, they will reach for the next thing. All this intellectual jumping through hoops to maintain the status quo. All this to prove what they have always really wanted to know: that they are superior.
keep reaching, keep reaching. One day there will be nothing left to reach for.
This is the book I have wanted to write since I was a child, and I have poured my soul into it. I’m grateful that my editors at Fourth Estate and Beacon Press, Louise Haines and Amy Caldwell, didn’t hesitate in commissioning it, and that my publicists Michelle Kane and Caitlin Meyer have been my champions throughout. My agents Peter Tallack, Louisa Pritchard, and Tisse Takagi were equally supportive. I am very fortunate to have such a loyal, kindhearted team around me.
I would also like to deeply thank Jon Marks, Eric Turkheimer, Bill Tucker, Jay Kaufman, Subhadra Das, Marek Kohn, Jennifer Raff, Greg Radick, and Billy Griffiths for their generous assistance. My friend the archaeologist Tim Power guided me through the British Museum and helped me see the past from a different perspective. I would also like to thank my sister Rima, herself a scholar of race and politics, for her critical feedback, and my husband, Mukul, for finding time to read chapters and for his patience while I was working. When we started dating, Mukul was a fan of the band Fun-Da-Mental, and he would often recite the two lines of lyrics I included at the beginning of this book.
In my business, there are true friends—the ones who care—and then there’s everyone else. My deepest gratitude is reserved for Peter Wrobel, a true friend who out of the goodness of his heart scoured the entire manuscript for errors.
Writing is my second greatest pleasure. The first is my son, Aneurin. I don’t know what the future holds, but I hope he never has to face the struggles that his parents did. I hope he understands that how we look, our genes, and even our distant ancestry are not the only things that give us our identities. Even culture is not everything. What makes us are our personal experiences and our individual actions.
forget that, my little man.