Booked & Busy #1: How to Argue With a Racist

The author claims "this book is a tool - a weapon - to be brandished when science is warped, misinterpreted or abused to make a point, or to justify hatred."

Although the catchy title doesn't necessarily deliver on its promise, the book certainly provides valuable perspective on why racism still permeates Western societies today and exposes how scientifically unfounded racist views are.


This book is not a step-by-step manual of how to disarm a racist. Unfortunately it doesn't magically give me the confidence to debate individuals with conservative views and I have to acknowledge that I probably won't get myself into an argument with a racist anytime soon. In fact, the book would be much better placed directly in the hands of a racist if they were willing to learn the scientific truth, which - I assume - most are not. However, it is an enlightening read, packed with factual insights that need to be propagated to mainstream society.


"Racism has many definitions; a simple version is that racism is a prejudice concerning ancestral descent that can result in discriminatory action."


Dr Adam Rutherford starts by laying down the connection between racism and science and clarifying the need for his book. It’s meant to be a tool to argue with anyone making discriminatory claims on the basis of science, noting that not only overt racists hold stereotypes that are scientifically incorrect, but also well-intentioned people with subconscious biases.


The first part of the book recaps the history of genetics and racism, and illustrates that there are in fact no distinct human races. "Of all the attempts over the centuries to place humans in distinct races, none succeeds." Genetics show that the physical appearance of different groups of people does not imply a genetic difference. Rutherford explains that contrary to popular assumption, "There is more genetic diversity in Africa than the rest of the world", "which means that people within Africa are on average more different to each other than anyone else on Earth is to each other."


The second chapter debunks the concept of racial purity, which many racists base their views on. Rutherford illustrates that every human alive today is a direct descendant of the entire global population 3.400 years ago, which means "every Nazi has Jewish ancestors", and every white supremacist and racist has Middle Eastern and African ancestors. There is in fact no such thing as racial purity.


"When all you've ever known is privilege, equality feels like oppression."


Part 3 of the book disproves the common belief that genetic variation between different groups of people account for discrepancies in athletic performance (e.g. the common belief that "people of African descent [...] are genetically predisposed to having physiologies that render then naturally at an advantage for sprinting").


Finally, the fourth part centers around misconceptions and myths on the connection between genetics and IQ, concluding that the culture one grows up in has a much larger impact on IQ and academic achievements than genes do.


The book succeeds at proving that there are no genetically different human 'races'. And while acknowledging the impact of Rutherford's arguments and appreciating the insights, one thought stayed on my mind throughout the whole read (which he touches upon only in the final pages). I was thinking that EVEN IF there were genetic differences between groups of humans, why would those justify different treatment or discrimination of those groups?


The claim that I don't understand about racism is why some groups of humans should be seen as better than others. But as Rutherford mentions, "there are clear political motivations underlying discussions of human variation and race", which become apparent if you think about the time when racism started to emerge. So while I think the scientific facts in this book can help change racist beliefs within our society and need to be made widely known, I think we also need to address the issue from the angle of psychology. Because even if genetics would show differences between different groups of people, these do not warrant different treatment or discrimination. And in turn, even with the proof that these genetic differences do not exist, racists will probably find another reason to antagonize groups that are different to the one they identify with.


"Racism is not simply wrong because it is based on scientifically specious ideas. Racism is wrong because it is an affront to human dignity."

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