On Civil Discussions of Race

by Bruce

Venturing into any discussion of race, whether or not races are real or a myth, genetic or “made up”, useful or harmful, racist or benign, is to venture into  a mind field where clear thought and scholarship get clouded in a noise of political accusations. I have just been through it on a leftist site and I am quickly making an exit, except for venues where discussions of race are collegial and respectual to the other side, even in the face of deep disagreement. No more will I be disussion race on left wing venues or with left wing ideologues who shout, “race is a lie!”, “race is a myth!” and “there are no races, only racists!” These lefties aren’t interested in debate, they are only interesting in vilifying their opponents and labelling them as “race realists” or supporters of “race science.” More on this in subsequent posts.

Rather, I might have a discussion with medical geneticists, who use race concepts in their everyday work. Some researchers are against this, saying that race is a bad proxy for genomic analysis, others like Esteban Burchard, state that race has a valulable use in medicine, mainly because it actually works to improve diagnosis and treatment. And yet, there are always humanites scholars (and it always seem to be humanities scholars like anthropologists, social scientists, political scientists, sociologists, and the like) who try to convince their readers that “race-based medicine is bad medicine” and should be banished forever. In their eyes, race is an out-dated, useless, dangerous, racist category that needs to be banished forever. There are some medical researchers who feel the same, but they are balanced off by other researchers who happily go about their business, producing good results that improve medical treatment for minorities. The aim in medicine is always to try to improve diagosis and treatment, and often that requires the use of race categories. 

The most interesting venue for this discussion is in the philosophy of race, where practically all of the scholars  arguing and debating are remarkably civil with each other. They may be 180 degrees opposed on their positions, but they have the admirable ability to stand up on the podium, argue their case, and then go off to dinner with each other.  One of the reasons is that most of them are people-of-colour!

Quayshawn Spencer is an African-American philosopher who is a strong proponent for race realism, i.e. race has biological underpinnings and can be considered biologically real. This viewpoint is considered an anathema among most modern biologists, geneticists, and humanities scholars.  And yet, there is is, in his papers, his talks, and in a recent book he is contributing to. I would advise you to read his papers before making a decision.

I would be nice if we could lose the emotional load around the race discussion but I doubt that will be the case in this era of political correctness. Instead of light, we get heat and darkness and confusion, liberally sprinkled with acrimony and disdain, especially when the far right gets involved. (Note that I am a leftie and quite despise the far right).

So I will leave you will some links to Spencer’s material. Let me know what you think.

Here’s his Google page with description of who he is and access to several of his papers.


Here’s a YouTube video where he discusses his philosophy of race:


Here he is interviewed on how philosopers of race flourish with controversy:


And here is the book: What Is Race?: Four Philosophical Views, featuring Joshua Glasgow, Sally Haslanger, Chike Jeffers, and Quayshawn Spencer.

I’ve ordered a copy of the book so stay tuned for my review!