Twenty-one Arguments for Abolishing Racial Classification

Twenty-one Arguments for
Abolishing Racial Classification

Yehudi Webster

by Yehudi O. Webster
June/July 2000

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(from Race is Not the Problem: It’s the Education Stupid – forthcoming)

If there are no races, what do we mean by “race relations?” As paradoxical as it may seem, “race” and race relations are not the issues to be addressed in the twenty-first century, if social scientists, legislators, humanists, and activists are committed to analytical depth, logical reasoning, and scholarly integrity. Contrary to W.E.B Dubois’ claim, neither “the color line,” nor “race” has ever been the problem of any century. The problem is racial classification – a practice in which Dubois himself engaged – and the poor reasoning that underlies this practice. It is racial classification that produces “races” from the wide range of biological diversity within the human species. Specifically, social scientists investigate not “race,” but persons classified as races, their experiences, problems, and relations. However, the questions rarely asked is: how sound is racial classification?


Most discussions of race relations and activism around racial equality fail to note that races are constructed through the practice of racial classification. They also fail to inform the lay public that: (1) different types of races are constructed by biologists, geneticists, anthropologists, and sociologists, (2) there is no “scientific” consensus on the differences that demarcate races, and (3) lay persons’ perceptions of “races” reflect the classificatory practices of natural and social scientists, government, media, and educational institutions. These practices generally focus on differences in skin color, hair type, skeletal structure, shape of skull, facial form, and often “culture” to place persons in racial categories. The institutionalization and internalization of racial categories, through education and socialization, produce racialized identities – “black people,” “white people,” “Asians,” “Latinos,” “Native Americans,” and so on. These identities are the basis of in and out-group formations as well as various forms of discrimination for members of one’s group. Discrimination, then, derives from classification practices that categorize persons as blacks, whites, browns, reds, and yellows, or African Americans, Euro-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian Americans, respectively. It follows that the eradication of discrimination must begin with the termination of the institutionalized racial classification of persons. It is testimony to a superficial quality of reasoning in intellectual life that neither the current U.S. President, members of his Panel on Race Relations, nor social scientists generally address their own practices of racial classification and the resulting racialization of identities. Rather, they prefer to discuss “race relations,” racism – a malaise allegedly affecting only “white people” – racial inequalities, racial oppression, and the experiences of persons they classify as black people and white people. As they investigate these relations, experiences, and problems, they reproduce and consolidate the racialized identities. Some social scientists then insist that “race” is a social reality, that even if it is not “scientific,” racial oppression can only be dealt with by paying attention to “race.” Others, for example UC Berkeley anthropologist Vincent Sarich and psychologist Philippe Rushton, claim that “race” is a “biological reality.” What the disputes over the nature of “race” demonstrate is that “race” by itself is a meaningless category. It is meaningless by itself because there are countless conceptions of race, and the demarcation of races takes place only in the context of specific criteria of classification. Were social scientists committed to intellectual standards such as conceptual clarity, accuracy, logical consistency, and self-reflection, they would investigate (1) their own practice of racial classification; (2) how policies on “race relations” generate racialized group alignments; and (3) how a particular disregard for logical reasoning underlies these activities. They would also come to recognize that, given that races cannot be clearly identified, all explanations of racial inequalities and racial oppression – whether in terms of black genetic deficiencies, black culture, white racism, or the class structure – are bound to be incomplete, internally inconsistent, and intrinsically disputable.

Races are categories derived from classification according to specific anatomical attributes; they are part of a naturalist theory of historical development, behavior, and social equality/inequality. Early biologists classified persons into races in order to explain socioeconomic conditions and developments. The tradition lives on. As Stephen Molinar notes: “There continues to be a dependence on the race concept, and biological determinism is often a central theme in discussions of social problems.” Human Variation: Races, Types and Ethnic Groups (p. XVII). Utilizing the classificatory schemes developed in nineteenth-century biology and anthropology, the U.S. government, journalists, and social scientists subject citizens to an intense bombardment with conceptions of their racial differences. When these differences are shown to be fictitious, “cultural differences” are invoked to justify racial classification- as in black culture and white culture. Social relations are deemed “race relations,” and social problems “racial problems.” Then remedial policies are advocated and implemented. However, they merely intensify racial identities and perceptions of racial problems and enmity.

Studies of “race relations” – including genetic, cultural, and class explanations of the behavior and comparative experiences of ‘blacks” and “whites” – are extensions of a racial paradigm developed some two centuries ago. This paradigm has naturalist – socio-biological, white supremacist, Eugenicist, and social Darwinist – and liberationist variants – conservative, liberal, Marxist, cultural nationalist, fundamentalist, and separatist. However, scholars working within the racial paradigm cannot find solutions for the discovered patterns of racial inequality and oppression for the following reasons. First, the classification of persons into races, the foundation of the paradigm, is logically flawed. Second, the official and unofficial classification practices that are part of studies and research on racial experiences generate polarized and racialized identities and groups. Their awareness of their racial and cultural differences produces the discrimination and oppression that are then conceived as evidence of racial problems.

The discourse of race is part of a vicious and self-serving cycle of racialization that unwinds as follows: The racial descriptions put forward by government, media, and social scientists spawn racial definitions of self, which lead to the formation of racial groups. These groups discriminate on behalf of their members and against out-groups. Government and social scientists then claim that race is a social reality, and intervene with what William J. Wilson calls “race-based” policies. These policies consolidate racialized identities and group formations, and so they perpetuate discrimination. More race-based policies are then implemented in order to combat this discrimination. Such policies, however, merely further aggravate awareness of group differences, group loyalty, and discrimination. And so the vicious cycle continues. Periodic explosions of “racial” violence are gleefully, or mournfully, alluded to as evidence of racism and the need for more racial research and policies for racial equality.

Senselessly wedded to a defunct racial paradigm, legislators, activists, and educators continue to divide the population racially and culturally, identify certain social conditions, statements, and behaviors as “racism” and “racial” problems, and implement remedial policies for such problems. Universities maintain numerous Departments of Black Studies and promote a “diversity education” that amounts to nothing but racial and ethnic brainwashing, for the arguments that refute the notions of racial and cultural differences are not included in the texts proposing such “education.” Certain students, classified as “black” are urged and inspired to enter such programs and pursue research in the field of “race relations.” Some community activists claim to represent the interests of oppressed black people, and pursue their liberation from white racism. Others champion the cause of “white people,” and publicize their hatred of “black people.” Nonetheless, even if the calls for White Studies Departments are ignored, the general cultivation of racialized identities amounts to a development of separate racial nations within the nation. What unites the self-characterized liberals, conservatives, racists, and antiracists who, self-fulfillingly, predict racial conflicts is allegiance to the idea that the U.S. population comprises races of black people and white people.

So intense is the cradle-to-grave racial socialization that scholars generally ignore the literature that condemns the practice of racial classification and refutes the idea that there are races. Professor Halford Fairchild’s remarks present some of the arguments against racial classification: “The arguments against the validity of the concept of race are as follows: (a) it is an ideological invention that supported European and American imperialism; (b) the definition of race as a reproductively isolated group (one that has unique phenotypic characteristics results in thousands of races, not three; (c) within each of the three “racial” groups,” the variation in attributes and characteristics exceeds the average between-group differences; and (d) “racial” classification ignores the overwhelming commonality in the genetic histories of homo sapiens, and this biological evidence points to one race, not three or thousands.” “Scientific Racism: The Cloak of Objectivity,” Journal of Social Issues, 47, No. 3 (1991), p. 103. And if races are unidentifiable, so too are relations among races. The idea of studying race relations is fraudulent. Relations between human beings are not racial. However, they are being racialized by practices that produce race relations studies, reports, and policies. The producers sacrifice clarity of thought and logical reasoning for research grants and moral-political objectives, such as helping black (sic) people, securing black votes, and creating good race relations (the Clinton agenda. Practitioners of empirical social sciences rush into research on race relations on grounds that they are “real,” and with a mission to grasp what is happening in “the real world.” In the process, the analytical complexities surrounding the term “reality” are ignored. Thus social scientists, bereft as they generally are of the philosophical assumptions underlying their research practices, participate in engraving the idea of separate and distinct races on the American mind.

What are the justifications for describing persons as black people and white people? On what grounds do scholars continue to conduct research on race relations, racial inequalities, and racial problems? The standard defenses are as follows:

(a) “Race” is a socio-political reality. That is to say, notwithstanding its lack of scientific rigor and logical consistency, “race” powerfully affects public consciousness and so it must be addressed in research and social policies. In W.I. Thomas’ famous words: “If men define a situation as real then it is real in its consequences.” This is generally taken to means that race is a social construct, and hence sociologists are obliged to analyze it as such.

(b) Policies on “race” are necessary in order to redress historical and contemporary patterns of racial discrimination, and combat the ideology and practices of racism in U.S. society.

(c) “Race” has considerable relevance for medical and crime prevention practices. For example, because sickle cell anemia predominantly affects “blacks,” it is advisable that “black” but not “white” infants be screened for the blood disorder.

(d) Police and victims’ racial descriptions of suspects facilitate the apprehension of suspects, since they exclude persons not of the race of the suspect When a rape victim reports that her assailant was a “black male,” the search for him is significantly narrowed and, therefore, more likely to be successful.

These defenses, however, do not stand up to the light of the following criticisms:

1. Thomas’ proposition – If men define a situation as real then it is real in its consequences – suggests that social phenomena that are subjectively “real,” by this token, become an objective reality. This conclusion contains fallacies of ambiguity and equivocation. First, the concept “real” has perhaps the richest history of controversy in the writings of ancient, modern, and postmodernist philosophers. In the interest of clarity, no sociologist should cite Thomas’ proposition without specifying the sense in which “real” is being used. Second, a close examination of the proposition would reveal that it is not clear to what “it” refers. What is “real” in its consequences- the defining, or the situation? Nevertheless, even if the logical problems in the proposition are ignored, the relevant follow-up would be an investigation of the conditions under which men define a situation as “real.” Popular allusions to “reality” could be a result of lay persons being tutored within a realist theory of knowledge. This theory of knowledge, dominant in social sciences, proposes that words reflect things. Hence, to be valid, a classification or description needs no justification other than a claim on reality. However, the ascription of an ontologically representative status to concepts is roundly challenged by Richard Rorty, in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, and a host of critics of realist epistemology. Yet there is no need to embrace a postmodernist perspective in order to expose a specific effect of the realist claim. The notion that races are things in the real world, as argued by Philippe Rushton, provides an eternal foundation for “race relations” and an unending flow of explanations, since such relations unfold in political economic, cultural, psychological, and social structural contexts. Were “races” not taken as a “reality,” their presence in public consciousness would be recognized as the result of continuing research on racism, past and present racial experiences, racial conditions, and race relations. However, let Thomas’ proposition to be taken to mean: If social scientists define a phenomenon in a certain way, that definition has corresponding behavioral consequences. It would then be obvious that the social scientists who study and advocate policies on “race relations” are themselves the actors who give “race” social meaning and a “real” status. They then cite this status to justify the further production of “race relations.” This production, as well as social scientists’ collaboration with the Census Bureau’s project of racial identification and enumeration, marks these scholars as perhaps unwitting agents of legislative racialization; it also indicates the interaction between social science research and government policies. In pursuit of electoral advantages, political representatives pander to the racialized divisions that “race relations” research generates and conserves.

2. The claim that race is a social construct begs the question. In society, every phenomenon is, by definition, a social construct. Why is it not said that race is an illogical construct? This refusal to notice the logical status of the race concept indicates that social scientists who endorse the racial paradigm only honorifically refer to “the social construction of race” in order to justify investigating the experiences of “black people” and “white people.” Thus they themselves construct races, while claiming, in a positivist fashion, to be merely observing “the social construction of race.” Advocates of social constructionism, to quote Anthony Appiah’s comment on W.E.B. Dubois’ vacillations on “race” “. . . lead us back into the now familiar move to substitute for the biological conception of race a sociohistorical one. And that, as we have seen, is simply to bury the biological conception below the surface, not to transcend it.” (In My Father’s House, p. 41). The claim that race is a social construct confirms its existence and facilitates the perennial study of “race relations.” This confirmation preempts criticisms of the Census Bureau’s request that citizens identify themselves racially and the Bureau’s threat that to not state your race could lead to your community’s loss of economic resources.

3. In 1978, Justice Harry Blackman weighed in on the race issue with: “In order to get beyond racism we must first take account of race.” This argument that race must be taken into account in order to redress centuries of racism or racial discrimination is strikingly absurd. If taking race into account underlies centuries of racial discrimination, how would it redress discrimination? What “taking race into account “does is foment interminable disputes among “races,” for no measures for resolving racially-described disputes or eradicating racial inequalities can be agreed upon. Racial classification, the source of “races,”(1) involves moral evaluations of the nature of races; (2) refers to a variety of indefinite characteristics; and (3) is applied to the disputants themselves to produce mutual accusations of racism, liberalism, conservatism, and racial partisanship. Two decades ago, William J. Wilson claimed that race is of “declining significance. Derrick Bell and others now insist that it is more significant than ever. The early twentieth-century Dubois-Washington dispute over the role of black culture reappears in the D’Souza-Loury dispute at the end of this century. In America in Black and White, the Thernstroms’ claim that blacks have made and are making significant socioeconomic progress, while Oliver and Shapiro, in Black Wealth, White Wealth, deny this with an equal wealth of data. Research on racial conditions and experiences are necessarily inconclusive, and they go on and on, decade upon decade, making the same claims about black progress or its lack, and offering the same competing, historical, genetic, cultural, economic, and social structural explanations.

4. Races are a categorization of certain biological characteristics. Indeed, the concept of race refers not to persons but arbitrarily selected anatomical attributes. It follows that persons do not belong to races. Black people and white people are not conceptually identifiable, although there are persons with varying shades of skin color, facial form, hair type, shape of skull, and innumerable other characteristics. Thus the idea of race relations is a misnomer. Instead of exposing the absurdities in the practice of racial classification, on that basis, refuse to conduct research on race relations, social scientists are generally content to claim that race is a social construct. This facilitates continuing research on and conservation of “race relations.” In this sense, there are no liberal and conservative perspectives “race.” The entire project of race relations studies, organization, and policies is eminently conservative of an absurdity.

5. Reference to persons as members of a race derives from a practice of categorization according to certain anatomical attributes. However, so indefinite are these attributes, and so deeply flawed is this classification that social scientists should not be analyzing or explaining race, race relations, racial experiences, intelligences, poverty, inequality, and crime. Rather, they should be examining the inconsistencies in racial classification. For example, it could be noted that the selection of skin color, hair type, and facial form to demarcate races is inadequate. To form races, these anatomical attributes need to appear in a certain pattern. They do not. Black skin, curly hair, and thick lips do not identify “black people,” for countless numbers of “black people” have nonblack skin, long hair, and thin lips. Second, there are no definitive advantages in choosing one anatomical attribute over another. The early racial classifiers focused on skin color, shape of skull, blood type, length of limbs, hair color and texture, and facial forms. Nevertheless, none of these attributes, or combinations of them, allows a definitive demarcation of races. Some of the persons assigned to different phenotypic races, that is, races defined according to anatomical attributes, may be assigned to the same race, when race is defined according to genetic attributes. Thus different biologists find different numbers of races, and some disdain the concept altogether.

6. The classification of persons as races is logically flawed, but the idea of racial differences is perhaps politically convenient. It may be used as a justification for excluding certain persons from resources, or subjecting them to otherwise intolerable levels of violence, for example, slavery. Hence, depending on various political economic contexts and considerations, criteria for racial membership stray from anatomical characteristics to equally arbitrary social, cultural, geographic, and behavioral attributes. Thus “race relations” can be any social relations at all. It is this condition that allows social scientists to incorporate culture and class to develop a growing research field of race-ethnicity-class. And gender can also be thrown in to concoct a rich gumbo of anti-oppression, diversity, and multicultural studies.

7. Police and victims’ usage of racial descriptions does not facilitate effective policing, if effective policing is admitted to be a function of the relationships between police officers and the citizenry. Most of America’s major “urban riots” were sparked by what was regarded as unjust police assaults on “black” citizens. Some activists have voiced repeated protests against racial descriptions of suspects, crime rates, and criminals, and justifiably so. Given the variety of physical types represented by “blacks” and “whites,” a witness’ or a victim’s description of an assailant as “black,” or “white,” is necessarily imprecise and open to arbitrary interpretations police officers. Descriptions of crime and suspects as black create an exploitable correlation between blackness and particular criminal activities. This is evident in the case of Susan Smith’s actions in South Carolina in 1989. Smith initially reported that a black man had abducted her children. She was subsequently found guilty of drowning them. In Boston, in that same year, a similar tale was told. Charles Stuart, who committed suicide when his duplicity was exposed by his brother, had told the police that a black gunman had shot and killed his wife. Both tales had led to a rounding up of black “suspects.”

8. Sickle cell anemia is not a disease unique to “black people”; it is more prevalent among persons whose ancestors inhabited “malarial water regions” in certain parts of Africa, Asia, and the Mediterranean, and so-called white people are not immune to it. In the words of Dr. Bernadette Modell: “Sickle cell is always thought of as a black person’s disease, associated with African and Caribbean countries, but it can be seen in fair-haired blue-eyed children with nothing to suggest any black ancestry. Not only is this blood disorder already found in white-skinned, fair-haired people in many Mediterranean countries, but it is also on the increase.” “A Simple Twist of Fate,” The Guardian (London) May 6, 1997, p. 10. Screening only “black” babies for sickle cell anemia would be an arbitrary act that is based on circular reasoning. People are divided into races and then specific physical disorders are sought out to prove that they are races.

9. Races derive from particular kinds of classification practices. Anatomical differences are produced by nature, but specific human practices construct races. Innumerable “natural differences” permeate the human species. Certain eighteenth and nineteenth century thinkers, among others, Francois Bernier (1620-1688), Carl von Linneaus (1707-1778), Johann Blumenbach (1752-1840), Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), and Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882), selected some of these differences to construct races and a racial theory of history and social development. These may be called the founding fathers of racial classification and racial theory; they initiated the signifying of black skin and white skin by “inventing” white and black people. Contemporary race relations writings, including antiracist texts, are extensions of this racial theory.

10. Usage of “race” as a description of a group of persons is inaccurate and unnecessary. In this usage, “race” refers to persons sharing certain biological attributes. Nevertheless, all human beings share certain biological attributes, and to divide them into closed groups on the basis of skin color, hair type, and facial form is as sensible as grouping them by shape of skull, as was once popularly done. Such arbitrary divisions serve no explanatory purpose. Neither the intelligence, nor the behavior, of so-called white and black people is determined by what are seen as racial characteristics (skin color, hair type, and facial form. Indeed, any behavioral or situational generalization about “black people” can also be made about “white people,” and would be demonstrably absurd. So-called blacks are not the only persons to have been enslaved. Some so-called whites are disproportionately poor, illiterate, and imprisoned.

11. A description of self on the basis of the nature of one characteristic of the self leads to an absurd conclusion. For example:

I have white skin. Therefore, I am a White. I have olive skin. Therefore, I am an Olive.

The leap from recognition of having white skin color to therefore, being white, or a white, is absurd. Someone might insist: I can be “a black human being,” or “a white human being.” However, the color qualification of “human being” is nonsensical. Nothing about “human” can sensibly take such a qualification. Human is an adjective and cannot have a qualifying relationship with another adjective. In the phrase, rich, black coffee “rich” describes coffee. Black, rich coffee has the same sense as rich, black coffee. In white human being, “white” describes “being” not human. I am “a white being.” What can that be? The adjectives “white” and “human” cannot change places. White human being and human white being are not interchangeable. I am a human white being, or a human black being makes no sense. In sum, one cannot be a “white,” or a “black,” and a “human being.” Logically, “white people” and “black people” are not human beings. They are nonhuman, all too nonhuman, and they feed on each other. Hence, in order to “out” whiteness it would be necessary to out blackness, and vice versa. Nor are whiteness and blackness, presented as descriptions of human selves, in relationships of privilege and oppression. As absurdities, neither “blacks” nor “whites” can pass moral judgment on each other.

12. Because there are many differences among persons, the selection of certain anatomical differences for racial demarcation implies that these differences are more significant than other differences. This implication needs to be justified, for there are also anatomical similarities among the persons classified as distinct races. The question arises: Why aren’t persons being grouped according to their similarities? One answer is that an emphasis on differences is consistent with an ethos of competition that is, in turn, integral to a market economy and struggles over territory and other resources – the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, the Middle East, . . . A focus on similarities would generate an ethos of cooperation, but such an ethos cannot emerge from the conviction that resources are indomitably scarce and competitive markets are the most rational means of distributing these resources.

13. If it is claimed that there are white, black, brown, yellow, and red races, on what basis can someone be selected to represent any of these races, given the anatomical variations within a “race?” Even if a representative white or yellow person can be found, others can claim that this person is not truly representative of the race, simply not white, or yellow, enough, anatomically or politically. Thus disputes within races over racial membership – transraciality, multiraciality, biraciality – are unavoidable and unresolvable except through recognition of the incoherence of racial classification.

14. The term, nonwhites, expresses an assumption that a white race is a generic representation. In the early systems of racial classification, the attributes of this race – white skin, long, blond hair, and thin lips and noses (sic) – are taken as standards for deciding on differences. In other words, so-called white people provide measuring rods for what constitutes dark skin, “wooly” hair, “broad” noses, and “thick” lips. “Nonwhites” are those races who do not possess the characteristics of “white people.” Significantly, “white people” are not referred to as “nonblacks.” This reflects the fact that racial demarcation through skin color, hair and facial features was initiated by scientists who deemed themselves “white” and regarded “nonwhites” as a deviation if not an aberration from the human form. To regard oneself as black, nonwhite, or a person of color is to continue a practice developed by the very “white” scientists who are often deemed “racists.”

15. In The Myth of Human Races, Alain F. Corcos, makes the point that racial classification involves the specious assumption that “human characteristics are transmitted through the blood.” Indeed, when anatomical characteristics are not decisive, a person’s race is ascertained by the color of his or her blood. In order to cope with the phenomenon of miscegenation, advocates of racial classification must adhere to a bloody one-drop principle. White, black, yellow, and red bloods are not gang bangers’ lingo, but part of the thinking apparatus of apparently civilized and educated minds that shape policies in seats of government, corporations, and educational institutions. When other blood colors are mixed with white, white blood becomes polluted so that the offspring is not classified as “white.” The person becomes black or a person of color. A “white person” known to have nonwhite blood is tainted, and the person becomes a nonwhite. Thus, the terms, people of color, nonwhites, and multiracials are metaphors of impurity and deviance. Multiracial people (sic) are mixed-bloods. But how many drops of what blood-color make one a multiracial? How can Census Bureau officials verify multiracialness, except by taking the person’s word for it? How far back should multicracialness or blood-color be traced? Shouldn’t there be separate categories for multi-multiracials, and for those with “white” parents who have hidden their black blood? In light of these imponderables, the demand for a multiracial category actually demonstrates the arbitrariness of racial classification and the need for its termination. Trapped in the unspoken one-drop rule, the Cenus Bureau’s confusion and inconsistencies are legion, as Victor Kogan notes: “There were 8 racial categories in the 1890 census, 5 in the 1900 census, 8 in the 1910 and 1920 census, 10 in 1930, 9 in 1940, 7 in 1950, 11 in 1960, 9 in 1970; fifteen options were provided for answering the race question on the 1980 and 1990 census schedules, although the actual question on the 1980 census schedule omitted any mention of race. The 1930 Census listed, in addition to White, Negro, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Other four new categories: Mexican, Filipino, Hindu, and Korean. The 1940 census did not include Mexican as a separate race. The 1950 census omitted Hindu and Korean and modified Indian to read “American Indian.” The 1960 Census included for the first time Hawaiians, Part Hawaiians, Aleuts, and Eskimos. Instruction to enumerators also specified that all people of Latin descent were to be considered White unless they were ‘definitely’ Negro, Indian, or some other “race.” The 1970 Census did not list part Hawaiian, Aleut, and Eskimo. The 1980 and 1990 Censuses counted separately White, Black or Negro, Indian (American), Eskimo and Aleut. Beginning with the 1980 Census, individuals who wrote in their race as ‘Brown’ or ‘Mexican’ were counted as ‘Other’ race. The 1990 Census grouped together under a new heading ‘Asian and Pacific Islander’ Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Asian Indian, Samoan, and Guamanian. . . Asian Indians were counted as “Hindus” in censuses from 1920 to 1940, as “White” from 1950 to 1970, and as “Asian and or Pacific Islanders” in 1980 and 1990.” “The Melting Pot is Back,” Paper Delivered at the 1998 American Sociological Conference, San Francisco, California, (pp. 1-2). The de-racialization of the Census Bureau’s practices is long overdue; it should begin with not the construction of more racial categories, or attention to the “undercounting” of racial minorities, but abandoning attempts to classify the U.S. population racially. Were citizens, scholars, and legislators committed to sound and consequential reasoning, the blood-race equation would have been abandoned. However, demands for a multiracial category are bound to emerge from a citizenry bombarded with racial identities based on blood proportions. The official, separate, racial categorizations facilitate for calls for separate organizations, facilities, institutions, territory, and government. The British government in India, the pre-Mandela South African government, and the Soviet and Yugoslavian governments all reveled in the cultivation of racial-ethnic differences. The resulting racialized and ethnicized groups are fertile sources of demands for separate facilities, organizations, institutions, territory, government, and periodic cleansings. In the U.S context, the question should not be whether a multiracial category will help or hurt “blacks,” but how racial classification hurls the entire society along a violent separatist path. It is but preparation for mass graves.

16. The demand for an official recognition of “multiracials” or “mixed-bloods” affirms categorization through racial blood-lines, that is, white blood and black blood. This affirmation is also manifest in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf: “Race, however, does not lie in language, but exclusively in the blood” (p. 312). In Nazi doctrine and practices, German blood was to be kept pure by extermination of “Jews,” “Gypsies,” and “homosexuals,” just as white blood was to be purified by segregation in the South and apartheid in South Africa. In the United Kingdom and Germany, proof of “British blood” and “German ancestry” ultimately determines right of entry, residence, and citizenship. To deem these policies “racist” would be an inaccurate characterization. “Barbaric,” “uncivilized,” and “Irrational” are alternatives.

17. An alternative to racial classification would be classification of organisms into; these classifications have different behavioral implications because of the force of self-identification. It has been suggested that chimpanzees and human beings share 98.4% of their genes. The species distinction is a difference of genetic degree not biological kind. Human beings are the chimpanzees’ kin. The 1.6% difference in genetic material produces a cerebral development that allows symbol manipulation, inferential circuitry, and self-reflection. “I am a . . . , therefore,” is most probably unique to human beings, and it makes “identity” an immense behavioral force, as Manuel Castells argues in The Power of Identity. The power of a human identity, however, would be more accurate, for this identity underlies cross-species empathy. Human beings can treat other species as they treat their own kind, viz., domestication of other animals and, through humane societies, attempts to protect them from violence. Human beings adopt other species as “pets,” and some human beings even protest against this adoption. “White people” can identify with, express solidarity for, and protest with “people of color,” and vice versa. But they do this only when their human identity comes to the fore. In this sense, the human-species classification serves the purpose of human as well as other species survival. Would problems of discrimination be significantly diminished, if the intellectual and material resources that are invested in cultivating racial-ethnic identities were devoted instead to cultivating a human identity?

18. Human beings endorse many different identities, but they act out a chosen identity and its attendant interests. In their proclamations on diversity, advocates of multicultural education do not recommended courses on the value and implications of a human identity; they also ignore individuals’ objections to anatomical, gender, ethnic, economic, and other descriptions of their being. Nevertheless, a human classification is inclusive of all individuals, and a human being who denies this classification would be in clear self-contradiction.

19. The continuation of racial classification, the implementation of policies addressing racial problems, and studies of racial experiences all reflect the exclusion of courses on critical thinking and different philosophic traditions from educational institutions, for the results are unsound reasoning and a general tolerance of, or inability to recognize self-contradiction. Examples abound in the discourse of race relations: (1) The authors of The Bell Curve identify racial intelligences, and admit that “race is such as difficult concept to employ in the American context.” ( p. 271). In Faces at the Bottom of the Well, Derrick Bell claims that racism is a permanent feature of society, and yet asks for “racial justice” from the very people who are called racists. A Black Muslim document notes that “Jews” were active participants in the enslavement of Africans, without revealing that African chiefs and merchants were also active participants in “the slave trade.” Perceptions of human beings, human errors, and human suffering remain stillborn, as educators bombard citizens with racial and ethnic readings of past and present. Yet it can be demonstrated that those defined as “blacks,” “whites,” “Asian American and Pacific Islanders,” “Native Americans,” and “Hispanics” have much to gain from being re-classified as “human beings.” Ultimately, awareness of being human and corresponding patterns of solidarity and resource allocation would follow. It would be impossible to stereotype and discriminate against nonexistent racial and ethnic groups.

20. Identifying persons as “races” generates solidarity with perceived racial kin and thereby fosters discrimination. This, in turn, leads to protests and demands for affirmative redress, and paves the way for increased judicial activism. But racial classification is so logically porous, that court decisions on discrimination are bound be arbitrary and inconsistent. Some courts have upheld affirmative action, while according to the Los Angeles Times (June 13, 1995), the Supreme Court, in supporting its decision to outlaw aspects of affirmative action: “. . . held that ‘all racial classifications’ by government agencies are ‘inherently suspect and presumptively invalid.'” The official and unofficial bombardment with racial classification is bound to lead to overt and insoluble group conflicts, for it generates contrasting group identities, histories, and interests. These, in turn, lead to discrimination for (in-group), and discrimination against (out-group). Indeed, gender, racial, ethnic, and economic classifications of human beings have discriminatory behavioral consequences, for they form categories of membership that discriminate for (members of the same category) and thereby against (non-members). Thus the cure for discrimination is not affirmative action but the termination of official practices of racial-ethnic classification.

21. The comparative absence of philosophy, reasoning, and critical thinking in the curriculum explains why social scientists are not able to rid themselves of a clearly absurd tradition of grouping persons according to certain anatomical attributes and why they continue to cite “social reality” to justify studies of “black people” and “white people.” Sociologists are cardinal sinners, for the discipline is particularly bereft of attention to philosophical issues. In 1997, the American Anthropological Association recommended that the Census Bureau phase out classification by race. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy requests the assistance of the American Sociological Association on matters of race, racism, and race relations. Are sociologists obliged to collaborate with corporate and government interest in maintaining racialized markets and electoral blocs? And if so, how does such collaboration square with the reservations and strictures of Max Weber and Karl Marx? But more significantly, if social scientists continue to ignore sound reasoning, or claim that political considerations overrule such reasoning, what makes the social sciences a liberating or a humanistic enterprise?

Yehudi Webster is a professor of Sociology at California State University at Los Angeles and is author of The Racialization of America. St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Against the Multicultural Agenda: A Critical Thinking Alternative. Greenwood Press, 1997.

Also by Yehudi Webster

The Abolitionist Examiner – An Alternative to Race Relations: Human Relations

Copyright 2000 Yehudi O. Webster and The Multiracial Activist. All rights reserved.


  1. I like your point of view which goes against the main trend of thinking. I was wondering if the same couldn’t be said about women/men or religious categorisations. In my country (France) lefty parties wish to have “parity” in deputee representation. While the goal is right, I’m afraid it might produce the same effect you denounce with the racial categorisation. If I understood you properly.

  2. Hello Florence, I have not been on this site in many years. Yes. You understood the main point. Regarding gender classification, see Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating, Chapter 9, for starters. and also Cordelia Fine, Delusion of Gender.

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