Published: July 16, 2013
To the Editor:
What should we do about “race”?
Over many decades, those who study genetics have found no biological evidence to support the idea that humans consist of different “races.” Based on such scientific data, Ashley Montagu published “Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race” in 1942. New discoveries have confirmed what he said then. So why, over seven decades after his book, do we keep talking and living as though biological “races” exist?
Not only are certain “racial” classifications flawed, as suggested in “Has ‘Caucasian’ Lost Its Meaning?” (Sunday Review, July 7); all “racial” classifications are inherently flawed, because they are based on the false idea of “race.”
The myth of “race” has supported the horrors of slavery, apartheid, segregation, eugenics and the Holocaust. It continues to support racism. We cannot simply ignore the harm this myth has caused and pretend that the myth never existed.
The scientific, democratic and ethical goal should be to eliminate the false idea of “race” completely. But how do we both destroy the myth and remedy the harm it has caused?
We can begin by mentally changing how we see people. When we look at someone and automatically think about that person’s “race,” we must realize that we are not seeing “race” but instead seeing an arbitrary and harmful societal classification imposed on a continuum of physical differences.
When we want to ask how someone is classified by the myth, we should always put “race” or “racial” in quotation marks (as I have done here). Such questions still need to be asked, for example, on applications for college or a job, or for the census, for the answers provide the data needed to maintain diversity in education and the workplace and to monitor and remedy the harms the myth has caused and continues to cause. The long-term goal, however, is to make these questions obsolete.
JOHN L. HODGE
Boston, July 15, 2013
The writer is a retired lawyer, former professor of philosophy and the author of books, essays and a blog on democracy, ethics and human rights.
Editors’ Note: We invite readers to respond by Thursday for the Sunday Dialogue. We plan to publish responses and Mr. Hodge’s rejoinder in the Sunday Review. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org