What is the logic of “white/black” racism? The basic argument is that “black” people evolved out of Africa with diminished cognitive capacity, and that “black” people manifest this diminished cognitive capacity in lower standardized testing results, such as I.Q. tests, which then reaffirms itself in correlated poverty rates.
Other stereotypes about “black” people exist, but at its most fundamental level, it’s the idea that “black” people are cognitively, genetically inferior that is the underlying tenet racists have for racism and the society-wide subordination of “black” people. Then, so it goes that racism, it can be argued, makes sense based on this society/culture’s story.
In general, contemporary racism is stereotyped as more of a “Right Wing” phenomenon. While liberals, long on the defensive (about 500 years), tend to use a “nature versus nurture” argument and overall make racism a moral argument of “good” (non-racist) people versus “bad” (racist people). In this scenario, the logic of the narrative of Evolution, and the racism it engenders can go unresolved.
How does the Left’s “nature versus nurture” argument undo the “Right Wing’s” logic of the evolutionary narrative? It doesn’t, because “nature” is often left at least somewhat unresolved.
In this situation, the contemporary “Right Wing” has some disdain for Liberals for “ignoring the facts” (of “black” inferiority). While the Left is outraged at the Right’s “lack of morality.” As we know, “Race” is a continual volatile issue, resulting in such things as the race protests/riots that recently rocked our nation, and the death of George Floyd (where one can see the police officer, Derek Chauvin, acting “racist” out of the logic of the narrative).
It might sound crazy, but in fact even framing racism as a “race” issue is part of the problem. “Race” exists within the logic of a culture that defines the human as a purely biological being, whose genetics have generated its consciousness from within reality. This idea of “race” then already belongs to a specific cultural field, and to our culture’s “story” — namely Evolution.
Accepting the idea of race means you accept the idea that biology has, at least to some extent, determined the type of consciousness we will have. And that the world we live in is the only possible reality as manifested by our inherent biology.
What we are really dealing with is not a “race” problem. It is a more fundamental misunderstanding of what humans are and why we behave the way we do. Contrary to the idea put forward during what is usually, and self-servingly, called the French and English “Enlightenment,” biology does not determine consciousness. Story does.
The culture/society we live in presents the idea that social stratification, which is done around the idea of intelligence (i.e., how you do in school), is, at least partially, the “natural” and the only possible “scientific” and ostensibly genetically preprogrammed outcome. It posits that some people (or “races”) are just smarter than others (and therefore deserve what they get).
On just about every macro level, our society/culture reflects the founding story of Evolution as we act out its logic, i.e., acting and thinking like white and black people etc., and competing for resources (which are established in Economics as “Naturally Scarce”).
The simple fact is that all cultures have done this exact thing — produced their realities in relation to their origin narratives. Genetics rule us at the level of the body, but not at the level of consciousness. Just as the Dogon, Aztec, Pomo or Romans acted out their respective stories, our society reflects the logic of its origin story — Evolution. Our consciousness is bound by our specific origin narrative, which defines for a culture what its people are and what they are to do (in our case compete in a market amidst Natural Scarcity).
As a culture-specific concept, “Natural Scarcity” is not a scientific concept. It’s a metaphysic concept. It takes the basic concept of nature and puts a relative value on it. In this way, enslavement to Natural Scarcity functions for our society in a parallel way to how Original Sin functioned within the culture/society of medieval Europe.
Culture, in all its forms, has always been bound by the rules of its respective story. In our present case, successful competition for resources (getting money) puts you at the top of the hierarchy the way celibacy defined for the medieval Clergy the idea that they were less enslaved to the metaphysic of Original Sin and thus deserved to wield power over society.
Mega corporations wield their influence today as the culture category who have redeemed themselves by mastering “Scarcity,” creating and amassing wealth while poverty remains an endemic problem for those who have not so “proved” themselves. Thus, we work to master “Scarcity” in the same way medieval Christians devoted themselves to the Church. The constant here is that cultures/societies are based around origin narratives, in their case, Genesis, and in ours now, Evolution. And it is the story aspect of these narratives that socialize consciousness, determining outlook and behavior, and manifesting in status.
It might not be easy to see at first, but we pursue the goals of our stories, (centrally trying to make money), with the same dedication, for example, that the pre-Western contact Pomo would have pursued basket weaving to show their culture-specific rationality, proving the truth of their narratives to themselves.
The form of rationality/intelligence that brings our present society/culture into being is no more real or true, no more “reality,” than that of any other cultures including that of the pre-Western contact Pomo. What we call “intelligence” is often only the kind of thinking needed to bring this society/culture into being, which it does along with its tropes of race and class.
Without the story you would not have the consciousness.
There is utterly no evidence in science or biology, whatsoever, nor could there be, that biology can make Roman, Aztec, Dogon or Pomo consciousness. Consciousness comes from story. This is no less true for us, and our present phenomena of “Western Man.” The fact that biology cannot resolve the puzzle of consciousness has led to what evolutionary biologists call the “mind/body” problem, one in which they have been unable to resolve. Nor will they ever until they take story into consideration. Biology can explain how it is possible to see a black person, visually, but you experience their blackness according to the logic of your story.
Humans are a complete, absolute rupture at the level of consciousness with the animal kingdom; a species that defines its own consciousness through story and language rather than biology like a dog, a monkey or a pig does. While genes/biology determine your hair and eye color, etc., it does not at all determine the type of consciousness a person will have. Evolution is an established scientific fact at the level of purely biological life, but it functions as a story at the level of human consciousness.
Every culture believes the story it is in and experiences their society/culture as reality — as all the evidence of anthropology points to. We are no different. Wars, for example, are fought over competing ideologies/stories. And clearly, as we can see, racism can only exist because it is backed, to whatever degree you believe, by the narrative of Evolution.
Out of our overall story. dazzling triumphs have taken place, taking the form of, for example, real medical breakthroughs. We have also unlocked an incredible human capacity to invent and create things (like the cell phone!). However, this is taking place at the cost of some glaring cognitive blind spots, resulting in things like racism and poverty (on a global level as the narrative has expanded).
Unfortunately, these dichotomies are presently wed at the hip, bound by the single master narrative as we act out our present story of Evolution.
At present, the paradigm seems to be shifting away from racism at multiple levels. This is true at the level of academic thought overall, at least as I have experienced it. And it is true at the social level as a counter-pressure is created over time, by people who just feel that racism is wrong (as the original rigidity of the story of Evolution has broken down).
Throughout human history we have been bound by the stories that have been set upon us or we were simply born into — such us with Evolution. But we are at a unique moment in history where it is possible to see that as humans, we are free to live in any story we create for ourselves.
This essay is based on the work of Professor Sylvia Wynter, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University.
Matthew Hamburg is a resident of Ukiah, California. For comments and feedback contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org