Everyone loves books with provocative questions as their titles. Are Racists Crazy? strikes that nerve. Now that's even better than the title of another book that I read recently: What if There Were No Whites in South Africa?
Unfortunately, Are Racists Crazy? How Prejudice, Racism, and Antisemitism Became Markers of Insanity reminds me of What if there were no whites in South Africa? It doesn't leave you with a definitive answer.
Perhaps that's my fault. I come in with expectations of having a simple YES/NO conclusion, when clearly the question is nuanced and complex, which explains why you need a book to answer it.
The pitch for the book indicates that
In 2012, an interdisciplinary team of scientists at the University of Oxford reported that - based on their clinical experiment - the beta-blocker drug, Propranolol, could reduce implicit racial bias among its users. Shortly after the experiment, an article in Time Magazine cited the study, posing the question: Is racism becoming a mental illness?
In Are Racists Crazy? Sander Gilman and James Thomas trace the idea of race and racism as psychopathological categories., from mid-19th century Europe, to contemporary America, up to the aforementioned clinical experiment at the University of Oxford, and ask a slightly different question than that posed by Time: How did racism become a mental illness?
Using historical, archival, and content analysis, the authors provide a rich account of how the 19th century ‘Sciences of Man’ - including anthropology, medicine, and biology - used race as a means of defining psychopathology and how assertions about race and madness became embedded within disciplines that deal with mental health and illness.
Co-authors Sander Gilman (American cultural and literary historian) and James Thomas (sociologist) do an excellent job at covering the long history of the science of racism. In the last 200 years (ever since whites started to wonder if perhaps blacks are not sub-human), scientists have debated the issue of race.
You might expect a linear progression throughout history, where the science of racism marches lock-step with the liberal notion that we should not be racists. You'd be wrong.
Instead, what the authors show, is that scientists have gone back and forth about whether a concept of race even ought to exist.
Off to a bad start
Right from the start, the authors take their classic liberal "enlightened" stand. They define race as:
- Shaped by historical, material, and discursive forces
- Without basis in human biology, anatomy, or physiology
- Nevertheless, ontologically real, in the sense that the category has been, and remains, a fundamental organizer of political, social, and economic opportunities.
Point #3 in their list above smacks as the classic politically correct ideology that is completely oblivious to the obvious biological, anatomical, and physiological differences between races. Are they really so blind that they can't tell the physical difference between Africans, Asians, and Caucasians?
They might as well claim that there are no physical differences between men and women while they're at it.
They're so caught up in their politically correct academic bubble that they've lost all common sense. That opening definition made me lose hope in the book. I hoped for a nuanced and objective analysis, but when someone denies obvious physical racial differences, I lose confidence. My African wife (pictured on the right) laughs at such ludicrous claims. When I read that part of the book to her, she shook her head and said, "What a bunch of idiots."
For those who agree with these professors, you must read A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas Wade, former New York Times Science Editor. It's a courageous book that takes on the sociologists who have managed to outshout all discourse and debate on racial differences by labeling anyone who suggests their existence as a "racist."
So what's the point of the book?
Gilman and Thomas say:
We aim to show how the relationship of an "expert system" of race science permeates Western society's production of racial meaning.
What the hell does that mean? With sentences like that, you can tell this is yet another team of academic writers who fail to write for the layperson. They want to sound like professors, but then they forget that professors are the masters of making a lot of vague statements.
They argue that "the role of the state in the production of racial meaning has been overdetermined."
Another odd sentence.
Is racism a disorder?
In 1978, Carl Bell presented a paper entitled, "Racism: A Symptom of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder." This was a major salvo in the effort to shift the scientific focus away from studying race to studying racism. Bell deemed racism to be a "psychopathological defect."
The authors avoid taking a strong stand regarding this debate. For example, the authors point out that Car Bell may make sense. Just because you're a bit depressed doesn't mean you're clinically depressed and need medication. Similarly, not all racists ought to be given drugs and treated. It's a spectrum.
Still, in 2012, Oxford researchers proposed to make a pill against hatred. Is the anti-racism pill next?
Racists don't just target blacks
Although the authors annoyed me at times with their jargon and academic-speak, there are several parts of the book that I found illuminating. For instance, the authors successfully "trace the shifting meanings of race and racism" throughout the centuries.
I liked that they document that blacks haven't been the only group that has suffered racism.
Hispanics have suffered. The Mexican Repatriation of 1925 to 1931 kicked out two million people of Mexican descent out of the USA. The authors inexplicably claim that "This expulsion of Mexican immigrants was a direct result of the Great Depression." The Great Depression didn't start until October 1929. So how could the Repatriation, which started in 1925, be the "direct result" of the Great Depression?
Chinese have also been heavily discriminated against in the USA. "In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which suspended all immigration of Chinese laborers for a period of ten years, and disallowed any federal court to admit Chinese immigrants for citizenship; this act was not repealed until 1943." (Loc 1509 of Kindle edition.)
Intelligence and race
Of course, the authors disbelieve any intellectual difference between races, but they cite some revealing surveys. For example, "The U.S. Army's Alpha Tests during World War I proved to most social scientists' satisfaction that blacks benefited from environmental change: though blacks had scored lower than whites across the board on intelligence exams, Northern blacks scored higher than Southern blacks and Southern whites." (Loc 2741).
I'll offer one fascinating excerpt about how all races view blacks as intellectually inferior to whites. Yes, even blacks don't think too highly of themselves when it comes to the brains department:
The general social survey revealed the relationship between race and intelligence. Using a scale of 1 to 7, respondents were asked to evaluate the intelligence of a variety of groups, including blacks and whites. Responses revealed at both whites and blacks perceive whites as more intelligent than blacks. Additionally, blacks perception of superior white intellect were greater than whites. In 2014, 46% of blacks perceived white intelligence to be at a 5 or above, compared to the 42% of blacks perceived black intelligence to be at a 5 or above. Among whites, 40% in 2014 perceived white intelligence to be at a 5 or above, compared to the 28% of whites who perceive black intelligence to be a 5 or above. (Loc 4560)
The authors admit that there is a divide between academic branches. For example, they cite an interesting survey that shows that the majority of psychologists and sociologists agreed that the data about whether "blacks are inherently mentally inferior or equal to whites" are inconclusive. However, psychologists were five times more likely than sociologists to say that the latest data shows that blacks are mentally inferior to whites (25% vs. 5%). (Loc 1225 in the Kindle edition).
Similarly, 23% of psychologists believe that the IQ data shows that mulattos (half black, half white) are mentally superior to "pure" blacks. Meanwhile, not one sociologist in the survey agreed with those psychologists. The majority of both psychologists and sociologists said the data supporting that hypothesis is "inconclusive." This all goes to show that sociologists will be the last people on the planet to admit that racial differences exist.
Jews have overcome centuries of racism. For example, Gilman (a Jew) discusses the "blood libel" that Jews suffered. Christians claimed that Jews used Christian blood in their religious rituals. Yet Jews have the highest IQ among all major ethnic groups. They are also some of the successful groups economically. Therefore, when some blacks blame racism as the sole reason behind their statistically below average IQs, the excuse is unconvincing. There's more to the story.
Racism obviously exists. Prior to 1967, 41 US states and territories prohibited interracial marriage at some point in their history. Also, 22 states restricted interracial sex. I'm glad I was born after 1967.
One interesting part of the book quoted a writer who defined two terms:
Racism refers to individual attitudes and expressions hostile and denigratory toward people categorized as a particular race.
Racialism refers the belief in the reality of races and the scientific validity of analyzing human affairs and human diversity in terms of racial differences.
In other words, I understood that a racialist would say, "Races not only exist, but there are measurable differences between them. We ought to study them to understand them. We shouldn't deny them, nor try to impede research or debate simply because racial differences are inconvenient or against our ideal preferences. However, just because racial differences exist, doesn't mean that anyone has the right to discriminate against a particular race. Racism is never justified."
In that interpretation, I'm a racialist.
I also learned another word I hadn't heard: miscegenation. It's the interbreeding of different races. If my African wife and I have a baby, some would condemn our miscegenation.
The authors also motivated me to read a book I had never heard of called The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. My wife and I will be listening to the audiobook while we're driving through Burundi in December 2016.
As you can tell from my review, I'm a bit torn about Are Racists Crazy?
The academic writing style and political correctness bothered me.
Still, the book is filled with interesting facts about the race debate over the centuries.
If you're curious why some think that racists ought to be thrown in mental institutions and/or given pills to correct their mental disability, then this book is for you.
For those who are on the fence, then you may feel like I do: that this is a slightly average book.
VERDICT: 6 out 10
DISCLOSURE: The publisher (NY Press) sent me a free advanced copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.