I always liked the idea of Mickey Kaus’s Assignment Desk, although I doubt anyone ever handed in an assignment. Mickey, however, only gave homework to mainstream journalists. There are a lot more bloggers, with a lot more time on their hands, and in the hope that my luck will be better, I hereby inaugurate Blogger Assignment Desk.
Assignment: What Is Race? I’m a willing Jensenist, if only because race and IQ is a topic guaranteed to annoy people who ought to be annoyed. Yet I can’t bring myself to treat race as a real, scientific category, and blogged a few jejune reflections on the subject when even fewer people read me than read me now. Scholars who discuss race refer to genetic similarities, and of course they exist, as one can see by the distribution of certain diseases like sickle-cell anemia and Tay-Sachs, but I remain unpersuaded that race is an immutable category or even a useful one. This article should, at a minimum, answer the following questions. How many races are there? How can genetic similarity be the basis for race when genetic differences are greater within what are called races than between them? Why are certain characteristics, like skin pigment, considered racial, while others, like height or eye color, are not? Convince me.
Bonus: Most race studies claim that self-identification is an adequate marker for actual genetic differences, which raises an interesting legal point. Suppose someone of no use in a Benetton ad declared himself African-American and was admitted to college on that basis. What recourse would the college have, if any? Is there a race test? There is a dreadful Hollywood movie, Soul Man, with a similar premise, in which the “black” student goes around in blackface and winds up groveling before the “genuinely” black Dean of Students, James Earl Jones of course, for making a travesty of the black experience. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about checking the black box on your college application and not saying another word about it.