What do they think “racist” means?

Jason Richwine got a Ph.D. in public policy from Harvard in 2009 He wrote his dissertation on comparative IQ and its role in immigration policy. Richwine’s dissertation argued that Hispanics had consistently lower IQs than other Americans and that this difference persisted over time. He further argued that we must consider this when formulating immigration policy. He got a job after grad school working for the Heritage Foundation, where he argued that we should restrict hispanic immigration to the US on the grounds that hispanics have lower IQs. To give an example of the flavor of his work, at a 2008 panel organized by the American Enterprise Institute he said:

“Decades of psychometric testing,” said Richwine, “has indicated that at least in America you have Jews with the highest average IQ, usually followed by East Asians, and then you have non-Jewish whites, Hispanics, and then blacks. These are real differences. They’re not going to go away tomorrow.”

richwineRichwine was pressured into resigning from Heritage when these comments were written about by David Weigel at Slate. On the right, he has become a martyr to political correctness: Michelle Malkin and Rush Limbaugh and Charles Murray have rushed to his defense.

Richwine himself recently denied he is a racist. He says his public remarks “lacked nuance” and added that:

It still amazes me that it would be me who is portrayed this way.. I have a pretty good educational background, I have a good background in doing very good quantitative work. The idea that I am some sort of foaming-at-the-mouth extremist never even crossed my mind.

To this I just have to ask–what does he think “racist” means? Richwine believes there is such as thing as a “hispanic” race, even though that term was made up in the 60s and has no clear meaning or boundary, and includes people from vastly different backgrounds. He believes there is such a thing as an Asian race, and he believes that jews are an objectively distinct race. That is, he believes these are objectively real biological categories. He further believes there are real and verifiable differences between these races, and these differences can be measured by an IQ test. And he concludes further that some “races” are inferior to others. And finally, he concludes that we should use this information to restrict immigration on the basis of racial intelligence.




not a racist

not a racist

If this isn’t racist, then what in the world does the term mean? To take the obvious example, if Hitler was using this kind of argument to enact the expulsion of jews, as in fact he did, we would all agree it was racist, would we not? It seems as if, to Richwine and his defenders, a “racist” is someone who foams at the mouth and is “extreme,” while someone with charts and an education is de facto not a racist, even though their work is entirely about racial differences and their centrality to policy, and he wants to prevent the immigration of the racially inferior.

Jason Richwine is a racist. He may be a very nice guy, he may have hispanic friends, he may enjoy tacos y burritos. He may take every person on their own individual merits. But he is a racist who wants to use the argument that “hispanic” people are genetically inferior to restrict their immigration to the US. There is no other way to frame this.

He’s perfectly entitled to pursue this line of thinking. It’s a free country. The complaint seems to be that he can’t do this work without being accused of racism. Well, that’s because this work is thoroughly racist in its assumptions. Racism–and racism buttressed by scientific research–has an old and repulsive history. It’s entirely reasonable to point out racist thinking; being educated, using statistics and charts, being a nice guy, loving puppies: none of these things negate the fact of these racist assumptions.

And just to be clear: I’m not a racist, because I don’t believe in race as a real, biological category. There are physical differences between people, and we have made up the idea of “races” to organize those differences in broad ways. There is no clear boundary line between these alleged races: the president of the United States is himself neither white nor black, though we identify him and he identifies himself as black. That doesn’t mean I’m free of bigotry, or stereotyping, or prejudicial behavior: I very much doubt that I am, though I make my best effort. A racist is a person who makes the assumption that “races” are real, and that we should make policy based on these real differences







  • Nice post – thanks.

  • Matthew Dennis wrote:

    Nice little essay, Mike. The “political correctness” complaint/attack is growing really thin and shows a certain desperation, not to mention disdain for those it’s supposed to persuade. Is it ever anything but a tendentious ploy to justify, at the very least, a violation of politeness and broad community standards? Based on the notion that we can understand all of America through Melville’s Moby Dick (Richwine sounds like a Melvillian character), let me comment: You won’t get arrested for shouting offensive epithets in the street, but people will think ill of you, avoid you, and perhaps challenge your language and the ideas they express. I suppose Ishmael was yielding to political correctness when he decided to take to sea rather than step into the streets and knock people’s hats off, in the November of his soul!? No. It’s November, or maybe December (I hope), for this sort of racist hypos.

  • An airtight argument for why you’re not racist, but doesn’t this reasoning force us to consider, say, college admissions practices as racist? If identification and policy are the two key elements to racism, then you’re making precisely the same argument that’s used to attack preferential admission.

  • College admissions practices have always been “racist” in that they’ve always been based on racial preferences. And as you well know the idea of “diversity” is a goal and it’s real. State Universities should strive to have a significant population of truculent irishmen as well as repressed episcopalians. There is no way to have college admission without discrimination of some kind, and it’s not unreasonable to seek a student body that has some degree of “diversity.”

    I mena, why would a historian make the argument that the historical fact of racist practice should suddenly be completely meaningless? “Black” is a loose community formed over long periods of history by specifically racist practices.

    I’d be perfectly happy to admit there are no morally pure, uncontaminated positions available

  • Further–“racial” preferences could be viewed identical to a college admissions board saying “we need more protestants” or “we need more buddhists.” Both are communities formed around sets of beliefs and practices, related to ethnicity, reinforced by historical forces. I could argue for more episcopalians in exactly the same way I’d argue for more “black” students. hat seems logically consisten to me

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