Stunted Empiricism: Through the Looking Glass With White Nationalism

Today The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates posted a brief essay about his hope that advances in DNA testing and technology will someday make race based political or cultural prejudices impossible to manipulate for political gain. Coates takes as a starting point Jon Lee Anderson’s super smart New Yorker piece about the brutal defeat of the Tamil Tigers. Coates focuses his comments on the all-too-often, and too often successful, tactic of cynical politicians invoking race in order to consolidate political power. In short, at some point not too distant from now, refined DNA tests will render such political parasitism moot because. As Coates writes:

….if you focus the lens down to the genetic level, it becomes apparent that [interracial] pairings have actually been the norm since antiquity—or, to put it in more colloquial terms, we’ve always loved to love. Hopefully the advent of sharper and more ubiquitous DNA testing will make it increasingly difficult for wicked leaders to deny that basic fact about our species.

It’s a smart piece, and it’s a nice idea,  but at least in the case of American white nationalism, Coates misunderstands the operative analytical tactic of much vernacular race hatred – that which is felt in the bones and that doesn’t need to be conjured and manipulated by political leaders. White nationalism is a stunted empiricism that demands that race and genetic analysis remain solely skin deep.

Even if the through-the-looking-glass logic of white dispossession paid any attention to things such as DNA analysis, then Coates’ humane, scientifically sane argument would only spur them to greater race panic. If science proves that we’re all that much more alike at the root, at the level of DNA, then that’s all the more reason to exclude or promote based on visible racial characteristics. The idiotic hate and paranoia about becoming a minority is ever-intermingled with fears of extinction. Dilution at the molecular level, they would surely claim, is the cultural and political threat of extinction made staggering, biologically real. They’d double down on the hate, and see what they need to see: white skin.

I agree with Coates that we’re a species that “loves to love,” but the mass psychosis of race-based hate won’t be won through mere advances in technology.


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