Why Race Matters: Race Differences and What They Mean

Why Race Matters: Race Differences and What They Mean

Why Race Matters: Race Differences and What They Mean

Why Race Matters: Race Differences and What They Mean


Opposing the denial of race differences and the claim that they do not matter anyway, Michael Levin explains why these differences do matter. He summarizes what has been written about the differences in intelligence and temperament, and, more important, explores their larger significance. Finding significant genetic difference between races, Levin unflinchingly considers the broad social and philosophical implications of these variations. No one making an effort to think clearly about race can ignore Why Race Matters.


This chapter presents basic biological and statistical ideas, with special attention to their bearing on race differences. This material is also intended to help interested readers pursue the primary literature.



The concept of race is often said to lack scientific merit (see, e.g., Montagu 1972, Yee et al. 1993, Hoffman 1994). Ironically, denial of the reality of race often prefaces a denunciation of race bias, with little explanation given of how people can respond to a trait that no one possesses and no one understands. It should be obvious as well that repudiating race forbids advocacy of racial preferences, although few critics of the race concept have faulted affirmative action on this account. Whatever they may say, the parties to such disputes assume that the notion of race is reasonably clear.

It is true that human races no longer exist if "race" is taken to mean, as it sometimes does in biology, a large, isolated breeding population. Yet, in addition to universal understanding of what foes of race prejudice oppose and friends of racial preference advocate, there is wide agreement on ascriptions of race. One hundred randomly chosen individuals sorting passers-by on an urban street would, without hesitation or collusion, almost always agree on who is black, white, or Asian. Moreover, the race others would noncollusively ascribe to an individual is almost always the race he unhesitatingly ascribes to himself. Such systematic agreement must rest on some objective basis--possibly misconstrued, but present and detectable.

The definition of race that captures ordinary usage, its usage in popular polemics (e.g., Hacker 1992: 7) and the usage of evolutionary biologists (e.g., E. Wilson 1978: 48-49) refers to birthplace of ancestors, although the precise . . .

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