Today I wanted to touch on a touchy topic for many: race realism. Those two words are likely to get some people’s backs up immediately and get others excited thinking I’m going to say exactly what they want to hear. Honestly, I plan on satisfying neither groups. The purpose of this installment instead is to focus on the use of “race realism” arguments and the issues therein rather than express any direct opinion on the statistics themselves or their implications themselves.
Race realism, on paper, is the concept of applying and using statistics by racial demographics and having an open dialog about the results. Things such as the now-famous IQ distribution difference between “black” and “white” Americans, or various crime stats to show something such as homicide levels between black and white people being about equal despite the black population only making up approximately 13% of the American population (which in turn means the crime per capita rate is exponentially higher).
Normally that would sound like a fair and balanced approach; using factual grounds for arguments and stances. But I don’t call this series Bad Arguments for nothing. There are several key issues with the way the data is used in debate by self-proclaimed adherents of race realism. The primary issue is the classification of the data to begin with. The concept of race is far too nebulous for these statistics to be anything more than a guide rather than a fact. Are 3rd generation light-skinned Arabs considered “white” or are they still floating in the middle like the Irish were 100 years ago? If a Chinese person is born and raised in South Africa is he African or Asian? And what about people with racially diverse backgrounds? The idea of race isn’t cement enough for this to be as scientifically relevant as race realism’s proponents position it.
There is also the collectivism of it to consider. Yes, demographics information can be useful as I stated before, but we aren’t talking about something like launching a marketing campaign here. We’re talking about how we judge and act towards entire groups of people based on these already questionable generalizations. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that part of the police brutality issue stems from police being on higher levels of alert based on stats such as these and the predisposition they, in turn, bring into those confrontations.
The worst of it though is where the arguments end. Let’s skip past the issues with the data blocks themselves and say we accept them as true and as fact. Now, what do we do with this information? Should we cross-reference the stats with other data such as socioeconomic factors to see the cause of the lower IQs or higher crime rates? Should we conduct a case study on the behaviors of religious Jewish people to discover why 44% of their households in the USA earn over $100,000 per year? Can we start planning community outreach to help reduce the poverty in these communities in a sustainable way?
If we’re pursuing these initial stats it should follow that we would have a point and be trying to go somewhere useful with it. Sadly, many who claim their arguments are race realism fail in that regard. The racial stats are brought up either as a red herring such as mentioning black-on-black crime (which frankly isn’t an issue the way people think it is) when discussing police brutality, or just to take a shot at a group of people for the sake of it, and usually it leads to far more vile arguments in general.
We can acknowledge these stats rather than just ignoring them, but we need to work with both context and purpose if we’re going to say they matter. Simply saying “X group does Y thing badly” serves no purpose. Data, in general, holds little meaning without purpose or potential effects, and these types of stats serve as a great reminder of that. Blinding ourselves to information is never a positive, but neither is race realism if something positive isn’t going to be done about it.
You can read more from Killian Hobbs on Think Liberty here.