Strange Fruit Why both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate In this book, Kenan Malik explains

us that “both sides are wrong in the race debate”. On one side are the people who believe races exist, and who therefore prepare the base for racism. By Malik, they are wrong, as “there is no such thing as race”. On the other side, he takes issue with modern antiracists as well. From his point of view, “the practice of antiracism has become irrational as the concept of race. The goal of the book is to let us know that we need to challenge both visions in the race debate, in the name of humanism and reason. The concept of race Malik says that race, as an absolute concept, is highly imperfect. Actually, groups of human beings are not static population, but fluid entities. Prehistoric tribes spread out from Africa colonizing new areas, until the terrain could no longer support their growing numbers. At that point, people broke away, looking for food elsewhere, and adapted to different conditions they encountered. In this way people began to look different. This explains evolution, and at the same time makes difficult to say where one race ends and another begins. The trouble is that, even though race may not be real, nonetheless it is a very strong fantasy, which has been dominant in some areas throughout the history. Malik supposes that the idea of race probably started in the Stone Age, when antagonism towards different tribes helped to believe that groups of human beings could be different. Exactly we cannot value how much Malik's supposition about the birth of the concept of race can be right. But if we think at a nearer era, like the Middle Ages, we can see that racism derived from this element, and also from ignorance between different groups, that was almost total. In fact, in a part of the book, Malik tells us that until the sixteenth-century only few Europeans had ever seen a black person in real life. The most common image of a black man linked to the depiction of the Adoration of the Magi. So, negritude carried often associations of regality, wisdom and the privilege. This made Europeans had high expectations of the Black world and the civilized habits of its people and Black Africa “appeared dotted with gilded cities and richly arrayed monarchs”. This distorted vision made that, when explorations increased, there was sensation between Europeans and many had the temptation to place Africans in the space between Man and beast. In any case, what is important for us is that antagonism between different groups let people believe in the inherent superiority of their own tribe or group. So, for thousands of years, it has been impossible to separate the belief in racial difference from the belief that some people are essentially better than others. During these centuries, a lot of scientists tried to divide humanity into races. Malik gives us a lot of examples. The great part of those scholars seem to Malik and to us as purely racist theories. In fact they are. The thing that surprises me the most is the fact that many of those theories have been done in modern times. For instance, Malik speaks about J. Phillipe Rushton's theory, created in 1995, which divides humanity into three races (Oriental, Blacks and Whites). Rushton believes that Orientals are the brightest race, and Blacks the least bright. “Distilled down”, Malik writes, “Rushton's thesis comes to this: big penis, small brain, pretty stupid; small penis, big brain, very clever”. In fact in their struggle for survival, Blacks aim at reproduction, while Whites at brain development. Malik also mentions “The Bell Curve”, the bestselling book by Charles Murray and Richard

in these days. the precise number and grouping of races will always be somewhat arbitrary. as Malik has found. which pointed out that black people. research demonstrates that Africans do not have the same as ours”. The Nobel laureate ended his career when he said that “when it comes to intelligence. the one about critics to Watson's statement. there can be no pure races: all single genes are in almost all populations and no single gene is therefore sufficient for classifying human populations into systematic categories. to two versions of the same idea. It is an example used both in the introduction and the conclusion and it serves to Malik in order to explain his thought. it would be difficult to distinguish between the racist and the antiracist. partly because IQ tests are prejudicial against minority groups. The case of James Watson is well-known. So. and partly because modern America is. He explains this with some examples. I think the point is not to contest Watson's theory. “it depends upon which genes we decide are important” (antimalarial genes. For them. At the beginning of the twenty-first-century. fingerprints or skin colour). their respective ideologies actually lead them to similar conclusions. I think Malik is right when he says that we should contest Watson with the Enlightenment rationalist thought on the base of a common humanity and universal rights for everyone. despite the ferocious disagreements between race realists and antiracists. according to Malik. But instead he takes aim at contemporary multiculturalism and subjects it to the same precise analysis. But by Malik this theory seems to be nonsense. They don't need a high IQ for the kind of lives they lead. to know if race concept exists. The point is the way in which many people contest his statement. Malik could have stopped here. For him. As a consequence. I have found. like the Ghanaian writer Cameron Duodu. he also says that distinctions between races are arbitrary “because there is continuous gradation in gene frequencies from world zones (for instance from Africa to East Asia) so that we cannot clearly say when a race ends and another begins”. Malik focuses on how. In other words. lactase. For biologist Jared Diamond. among other minorities.Herrnstein written in 1994. limiting himself to an historical development of racism and successfully demolishing it as a set of ideas. Everybody would contest it. wrote that it is “quite stupid to expect total efficiency from a people who is being torn in two directions at the same time: between an inherited. Malik says that “even Watson might have blanched at describing Africans in this fashion”. even race realists acknowledge the difficulty of defining races. He contests the conventional view of a race as a discrete group distinguished by certain futures (skin. . both stress the vital importance of human diversity. Thus. But some of his critics. imported one”. This was at least partly because black people had lower IQs than other groups. Malik decries such theories. meritocratic America. I have found one example. colour or body shape) by saying that there are no race genes presents in all members of one group and in none of another. they would have come to view cultural differences in much the same way as people had viewed racial differences at the end of the eighteenth. Postwar antiracists would have started to view differences as not so much a function of biology as of culture. as a really enlightening one. in fact. were failing to thrive in modern. far from meritocratic. The denial of the importance of racial divisions has gone together with the acceptance of the idea that cultural divisions are deep. and a modern. Obviously. Actually. The practice of antiracism After having demonstrated us that variations cannot be crystallized into any rigorous scientific category that resembles a race. ancient culture. wrong-headed some of the critics done to Watson. Africans are different and modernity is alien to them. Moreover.

From my point of view not to speak about differences can. police need to have an understanding of the traditions. ideas for granted. Thus. which advised that “in incidents such as domestic violence. While Western postmodernists “can at least take the hegemony of modern. according to whom. The New Irrationalism By Malik. The implication. who also asserted the typically different intelligence of Africans”. mostly liberal. the real victims of this new Irrationalism are the same groups that radicals wish to protect from the “ravages of Eurocentric sciences”: minorities in the West and the peoples of the Third World. like me. I have found Malik's theory very involving. and he affirms that. But the celebration of difference would have an even more devastating impact. I think Malik touched a thought largely widespread in people's mind. letting ultra-nationalists think that Hindu virtues cannot know compromises. At this point we could think that racism can be a concept from what we cannot escape. instead of obsessing about race. but very few would deny that money has a real effect in the real world. In fact. we could try to build a race-blind society. Solution proposed One interesting solution the book offers us is Sean Thomas's concept. The police should consult the local Muslim religious leader. at the heart of Hindu supremacist ideology. In any case the result would be the same: the differentiation of people in groups. It is not the same in France. Blacks. While for racial determinists the key difference between groups is biological. postmodernism in modernising societies like India serves to kill the promise of modernity even before it has struck roots”. His concept of “New Irrationalism” is something I have always imagined in a real vague way. as Joumanah El Matrah of the Islamic Women's Welfare Council observed. it lies the belief that Hinduism is itself a paradigm of alternative science. we have not to consider that race is unreal. although race is a social construction. in the United States the national census gives every ten years the proportion of Whites. is that one needs to be more tolerant of violence against Muslim women rather than that Muslim women should be entitled to the same protection as everyone else. on the peoples of the Third World. on the contrary.The philosopher Julian Baggini has observed as well: “Watson he is being no more racist then his critic Duodu. after all. is a social construction. For instance. It is also true that ignoring racial differences can lead us to ignore racism. who will work against “fragmenting the family unit”. preoccupation with the preservation and cultivation of “local knowledge has given credibility to chauvinist and ultra-nationalist interest groups”. I did not know his theory in the past. In other words it is not a relativist thought. ways of life and habits of Muslims”. Malik is not very convinced about Thomas's thought. but I think it can serves quite good against what Malik calls “New Irrationalism”. did not have any name to call a concept like New Irrationalism before. Native Americans and other groups. Money too. bring to give less importance to races. I have found really useful this example: in 2005. for the antiracists it is cultural or environmental. According to Meera Nanda. I think his book contributed to clarify ideas and give theories to all those who. the Australasian Police Multicultural Advisory Bureau published a “Religious diversity handbook”. as the Indian writer Meera Nanda suggests. where such statistics are . this New Irrationalism seems to have dangerous implications.

Moreover. Why does Malik suggest that the use of race concept in biomedical research could be useful? Researches show that diabetes is five times as common among African-Caribbeans in Britain as it is in the general population. Malik's permission to the surviving of the race concept is basically referred to the biomedical research. traditional antiracists challenged both the practice of racism and the process of racialisation. We are not used to hear this kind of critics . divisions. there would have been less discrimination against African Americans?” I think this is a very critical subject. but by seeking to transcend them. Malik concludes that illness appears to be colour-coded. who suggests that “all Americans. are reinforcing racial distinction and racialized thinking by using race labels. it also makes little sense to ignore such differences or to ban the use of racial or ethnic categories in research. every day. Malik answers this question elusively affirming briefly that censoring scientific research will not necessarily prevent social groups from being stigmatised. that had references to sickle cell anaemia as a black disease been banned in the first part of the twentiethcentury. while recognising that these are social. not by being blind to racial differences. And he says “Do we really believe. in order to challenge racism. the investigation of population biomedical differences can tell us much about ourselves. the election of a Black President in the United States would have not caused a sensation at such level. but they are also reinforcing racial inequality by refusing to use them”. including racial categories. Does it not make sense. but maybe it would have been seen as a normal thing. The conclusion he draws is that race should have place in biomedical research because this one could make a pragmatic use of the social categories into which we divide humans. because recognizing genetic differences between population could lead to racial classification if all this was done without control. throughout the history. I do not have tools to scientifically say that in France racism is less dangerous than in the United States. While it is true that it makes little sense from a biological point to view to regard people different origins as racial. This was the essence of universalism. but I think this comparison can be highly shared by people throughout the world. In a world without a concept of race. Malik goes further in his “revolutionary” position when he explains his today's view of racism and antiracism in society. rather than natural. Malik uses a concept of Pollock. one has first to open one's mind to the reality of a world socially fragmented into different human's typologies. Shortly. But Malik explains that it is obvious that we should challenge the use of racial categories in public life and social policy. In any case. The race debate today In his analysis. then for doctors to take race into account when diagnosing and treating illnesses? A critic we should appoint to Malik is that this risks to stigmatize social groups. But in Malik's thought. It makes sense for me both to make use of race pragmatically and to drop the pretence that it is a scientific category. women from the Indian subcontinent have a fifty percent greater chance of having heart disease than white British women. At first sight Malik's statements can look very strong. for instance. They did not ignore racism but they recognised that fighting racism meant treating everybody equally despite their difference and not differently because of them. Actually.not conceived by the Government that would see them as an attempt to destroy Republican and Enlightening conquests. This brings Malik to affirm that today's antiracists continually confuse the edict “You can't fight racism if you ignore racial divisions” with the demand “you can only fight racism by celebrating racial identity.

towards antiracism. “embarrassment”. . The problem is that we should worry to save and protect cultures as what they really are. at least initially. Malik's examples can further explain the value of his statements and clarify our doubts. but rather as a real language. The point that Malik claims and with which I am agree. It sent representatives to Qaanaaq. adding that the Inuit participated in the ceremony only as a courtesy to their guests. that the reader can develop by reading Malik's book. the pastor of Qaanaaq's Lutheran Church agreed. under considerable pressure from his superiors. to accept the bones and conduct the re-interment ceremony. a law was passed in 2006 recognising Catalan people as a “nation” inside Spain. not by popular pressure but by the campaigning work of activists. No one in the village seemed interested. asked locals what they felt about the ceremony. The Museum of Natural History accepted that it was time to return the bones. Many dialects of Italy are more different from the standard Italian than the Catalan one from the Spanish language. This came after that. This has been possible thanks to the big influence of Catalan nationalists in Spain. is that the process can change the cultural identity of a group and the way members of the group see themselves. despite the fact that this comes more than a century after the creation of a unitary State with a unitary language. This Malik's concept is far from being false. creating what he calls “commonalities”. launched a campaign for the repatriation of the skeletons with his book “Give me my father's body”. I do not think cultural identities are a problem by themselves. Must we deny cultural identities? This is a problem. archaeologists. to see how those descendants wished the bones to be repatriated. the Greenland village in which the descendants of the New York Inuits now live. they are a richness. In today's world we are used to think that everything which goes towards the celebration of the differentiation of a country can only be something positive. After almost a year. one of the Museum of Natural History's representatives. and not for a real diversity of Catalan people from other Spanish. As always. The result is that racialisation is no longer viewed as a purely negative phenomenon. The consequences have been the resurrection of racial ideas and the imprisonment of people within their cultural identities. We should not try to transform and reinvent them. On the contrary. In Catalonia. As the surreal story of the Qaanaaq Inuits reveals. in the late 1980's. or better a thought. I think that the rise of the “politics of difference” can have turned the assertion of group identity into a progressive demand. Actually I think that often the promotion of a cultural identity is not developed by a people itself but by a political movement. We can see that in Veneto. that did not exist in pre-colonial times but have become relevant and necessary in the fact of the legacy of colonialism. the Canadian journalist Kenn Harper. or rather by a political party. When the anthropologist Edward Carpenter. the repatriation movement was driven. Today Venetian is no more the vehicular language and Venetian people consider themselves rather Italian than Venetian. in these last years politics aiming to a revival of regional identity and the use of the dialect have multiplied. one resident said. simply. In a part of his book he tells the story of the attempt by the American Museum of Natural History in New York to repatriate the skeletons of four Inuits that it possessed. Nevertheless. anthropologists and museum curators. it is in these last years that promoters of a Venetian identity started to consider Venetian no more as a dialect. Carpenter later observed: “the whole service was really for us”. thus in other Northern Italian regions.

have nothing to fear from science. So. In the contrary I think that it is possible to talk about human nature without recalling the ghosts of racial science. Mary Kaldor's book “New and old wars” can confirm that. wars were fought over religion and resources. In fact. I rather think Malik is right when he proposes the existence of human as rational. They claim that their period's obsession with taxonomy would have transformed race into a biological hierarchy. in fact. In fact. But I agree with him when he affirms that we should try to reconcile with a purified eighteenthcentury universalism. the eighteenth-century Enlightenment was a kind of Western imperialist conspiracy designed to oppress the rest of the world. which later brought to Nazi and the concentration camps. as Malik claims. Before. Malik does an impressive defense of Enlightenment universalism and rationalism. that our enthusiasm for diversity is a refashioned racism. At the heart of Malik's book there is a powerful attack on the basis of cultural postmodernism. a nineteenth-century invention. we can see that after the fall of ideologies in the end of the twentieth-century. The real issue is that we have to live together. So. . I am quite prudent to say.We have many examples in the world where a too strong attachment to a cultural identity ends becoming racism. As example. With the rise of national self-determination doctrines. and learn to accept our differences. I think we could do a good comparison between old and new wars. Whether is true that Western science has taken over the world not because of the greater supposed rationality of Westerners. I also believe that the political assertion of cultural differences is a by-product of the modern era. economic and political power of European cultures. I would not decry scientific rationalism and Enlightenment universalism as a part of a Eurocentric project. For many postmodernists and multiculturalists. they began to be fought on culture and identity. those of us who believe in the equality of humanity. In the Basque country some classes of Basque language are only allowed to Basque people with all the two parents of Basque origins. passing before through the politics of difference. social beings with the power to transform themselves and their societies through reasoned dialogue and activity. For that reason it does not make sense to me to try to organise society on the premise that each person belongs to only one group. since science says that there is no evidence that race exists. but primarily because of the military. wars have been more and more characterized by ethnic factors. radicals seem to have transformed culture into a natural feature of the human condition. I think that many of us do not die in the same culture they born. pointing out that scientific racism was.

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