Explaining That Race Is a Social Construct -- Again

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates responds to recent writing on race and intelligence by reminding us exactly what race is and what it isn't.

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Then-Sen. Barack Obama poses for a picture with a mixed group of unionized workers. (Reuters/Jason Reed)

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates responds to recent writing on race and intelligence by reminding us exactly what race is and what it isn't.

... The strongest argument for "race" is that people who trace their ancestry back to Europe, and people who trace most of their ancestry back to sub-Saharan Africa, and people who trace most of their ancestry back to Asia, and people who trace their ancestry back to the early Americas, lived isolated from each other for long periods and have evolved different physical traits (curly hair, lighter skin, etc.)

But this theoretical definition (already fuzzy) wilts under human agency, in a real world where Kevin Garnett, Harold Ford, and Halle Berry all check "black" on the census. (Same deal for "Hispanic.") The reasons for that take us right back to fact of race as a social construct. And an American-centered social construct. Are the Ainu of Japan a race? Should we delineate darker South Asians from lighter South Asians on the basis of race? Did the Japanese who invaded China consider the Chinese the same "race?"…

"Race," writes the great historian Nell Irvin Painter, "is an idea, not a fact." Indeed. Race does not need biology. Race only requires some good guys with big guns looking for a reason.

Read Ta-Nehisi Coates' entire piece at The Atlantic.

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