Culture and Race—Not the Same Thing

Here’s the trick that the transnationalists have played on you. They have for decades conflated culture and race to facilitate the spread of an ideology, namely cultural pluralism, what today we more commonly call multiculturalism. Cultural pluralism is an ideology useful to the normalization of transnationalism, an elite program that aims to disintegrate national cultures, dissolve the nation-state model, and dismantle the international rules-based order, the Westphalian system via the means of globalization, e.g., off-shoring and mass immigration. This end is sought to impose a global corporate state system governing world populations via technocratic methods. The program is managed by transnational corporate power and the network of governmental, nongovernmental, and quasigovernmental institutions and organizations serving its interests.

When liberals and modern conservatives push back against cultural pluralism, progressives, the professional-managerial stratum managing the technocracy, as well as representing most ideational managers across the dominant culture and educational industries, accuse critics of multiculturalism of opposition to multiracialism, an accusation that comes with the smear of racist (see Multiracialism Versus Multiculturalism). Moreover, the trick permits the progressive claim that western civilization is “white culture”—that is that western civilization was raised up by the white race to secure its interests at the expense of the interests of the nonwhite races who comprise most of the world’s population (see The Myth of White Culture). Those who oppose multiculturalism for its effect on western civilization, are portrayed as white supremacist fearful of losing racial power.

From the World Atlas

It’s a brilliant trick. At least it has worked brilliantly over the last several decades. However, the trick falls apart when one simply recognizes that culture and race are not the same things (see Race, Ethnicity, Religion, and the Problem of Conceptual Conflation and Inflation; Casual Conflation of Categories). Culture is an emergent ideational and action system composed of beliefs, customs, norms, practices, traditions, and values. Race is the construct of an ideological system called racialism or racism. The attributes of racial categories are generated from socially selected geographically and historically variable heritable phenotypic characteristics. which are falsely claimed to predict attitude, behavioral proclivity, cognitive ability, and moral aptitude. Essentially, what we call race is not more than the result of ancestry. Offspring tend to look like their parents and parents tend to select mates who look like them in part because of convenience; one would expect that mates are selected from those in one’s environment.

Culture is spatially and temporally variable—that is, there is geographical and historical variation. Some systems are better for humans than other systems (See Culture Matters: Western Exceptionalism and Socialist Possibility). One can judge the adequacy of cultural systems using objective standards. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which incorporates universal human rights, which are scientifically determinable, with science representing a transcultural and transhistorical method, is a valid and useful model. The model makes clear that racism, which constrains individual liberty, transgresses human rights, and therefore the idea should be discouraged and practices and systems operating on this idea should be dismantled and outlawed. Indeed, racism is an example of a harmful cultural system.

Crucially, racism holds that culture is a projection of race. Why are the people of one culture worse off than another culture? The racist’s answer is that this is because those worse off are racially inferior. But this is not what liberals think. Liberals are proponents and defenders of the Enlightenment, an ethical and philosophical view advancing the humanist notion of liberating individuals from the premodern institutions and tendencies that limit them. Liberals oppose backwards cultures not because they are racist but because they believe in human thriving. Liberals are critical of diversity, equity, and inclusion programming because these undermine cognitive liberty, equality, and the just and open society.

Working from this standpoint, one can see that it is not only racist to argue that cultural variation is tied to racial variation, but that it is also racist to use culture as a weapon against members of a racial group, which is exactly what antiracists do when they attack white people for their “privilege,” etc. This is why antiracism as it is currently practiced is a form of racism. (See The Myth of White Culture; Critical Race Theory: A New Racism; The Origins and Purpose of Racial Diversity Training Programs. It’s Not What you Think Smearing Amy Wax and The Fallacy of Cultural Racism.)

Since human beings are culture bearers, liberals and conservatives recognize open borders as a strategy for replacing native workers with foreign workers, thereby fracturing proletarian consciousness, undermining organized labor, lowering the price of labor, and superexploiting economic migrants, as well as organizing an army of new voters who owe a debt to the transnationalists who gave them a better life to vote for their policies. Of course, some liberals and conservatives support open borders for this reason and stand alongside progressives in fighting to keep open borders (see The Koch Brothers and the Building of a Grassroots Coalition to Advance Open Borders; Bernie Sanders Gets it on Open Borders Rhetoric—At Least He Did in 2015; Words and Pictures: What is a “liberal” and Who is Responsible for Migrant Deaths?). But progressives are the ones using the fallacy of conflating culture and race to claim that opposition to mass immigration and multiculturalism are racist.

* * *

Speaking of culture and race, there is a story out to today about a Michigan teacher who used an assignment in class showing a photo of Barack Obama alongside several other animals asking which of the animals was a primate. She is now on leave and the school has posted guards around the school after receiving death threats. The assignment concerned evolution and asked, “Which of the following are primates?” As a factual matter, if students checked the box with Obama’s picture, they would be correct. Human beings are primates. However, the historic association of monkeys with black people made the exercise problematic.

Before readers have a fit about me appearing to problematize the controversy over this, know that I am a sociologist who teaches the history of racialism and show in class instances of racist illustrations from the nineteenth century to make students aware of how ideology can corrupt science, specially instances when images and diagrams were used deceitfully to convey assumptions and theories about racial hierarchies and inferiority. Please don’t lecture me as if I don’t understand why some observers would find such a classroom exercise offensive. I get it. But I am an optimist that one day we might transcend this association. And I want to make the point that I do not believe this is what this teacher intended.

Carolyn Lett, the director of diversity for the Roeper School where this incident occurred explained, “She [the teacher] had her biology hat on, but didn’t realize the awareness that she should have had culturally.” It is central to the teaching of evolution to confirm that Homo sapiens share a common ancestor with the other apes. We are in fact a species of the great apes and there is perhaps no more powerful illustration of science over ideology than having young Americans understand that they are primates. Using the popular president is sure to make the exercise memorable, especially for those who positively identify with the president. Perhaps this is what she was thinking. So this was a misfire.

However, as a general problem, we might ask why the teaching of human evolution should be limited by cultural, ideological, or political hats at all. What if the teacher had used a photo of Trump instead, a man who has been compared to an orangutan? I can imagine some MAGA parents would be offended and raise objections. One wouldn’t want to put an illustration of a generic human in a worksheet with photos of other animals. Whose photo should appear? And what race should the person be? One could replace all the photos with illustrations. I wouldn’t mind if a person with phenotypic features associated with the white race were used in either case. A realistic looking computer-generated image of a generic white person perhaps. Science books have long used these phenotypic features in illustrations. As long as children learn that human beings are primates, mission accomplished.

However offended some people where, the teacher should not be punished, disciplined, retrained, or made to apologize. She is almost certain to never do this again. What evidence is there that the exercise was designed to push a racist view or advance a racist agenda? Doesn’t sound like there is any. Indeed, it is conceivable that to her mind using Barack Obama as the exemplary human being in such an exercise conveys the opposite. Perhaps the teacher should have been wearing her culture hat. She should have at least been aware given the current climate of how some would receive the exercise. But spare her cancellation.

This story reminds me a bit of the woman who was attacked for calling children swinging in a tree monkeys. Some of the children were black. If I had a nickel for every time an adult called me a monkey. Every playground I have ever played on has had monkey bars to swing on. I presume they are called this on the playgrounds in majority black neighborhoods. Whenever I watch video of a monkey the first thought that pops in my head is that I am watching a close relative.

Again, I get the sensitivity around the comparison. However, I look forward to the day when we can recognize all humans as a genus of primates without having an image provoke in our brains offensive and ideological displays from the nineteenth century racism. I also look forward to the day when calling human beings animals is understood as simply a true statement and not an attempt to degrade humans. We are, after all, animals. We are the result of natural history. There is no shame in that. Racism is so poisonous.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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