Barack Obama's Dynastic Appeal
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In my new column, I respond to Kenan Malik's criticism in Prospect of my definition of race. His assumption that it's absurd to call the British royal family a racial group got me thinking about dynasticism again, and I finally figured out something about the essence of Barack Obama's appeal that should have been obvious to me a year ago.

It's absurd that in a huge country like America that a Bush or a Clinton has been on every national ticket since 1980. I viewed Obama's victory over the Clinton dynasty as a defeat for the forces of dynasticism, but now I realize I was being naive, that has brilliantly tapped into the public's dynastic logic, just on a larger and subtler scale.

Here's an excerpt, but you'll have to read the whole article to see how.

How to Think About Race — and Barack Obama

A new but characteristically confused debate over whether race is a biological reality reminds me of the value of having a simple definition of "race" in mind.

Left-leaning British-Indian science journalist Kenan Malik's latest book, Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate, has so far only gone on sale in the U.K. But he argues online: "Race is not a real biological entity."

In a hostile review of Malik's book in Prospect, the fine British intellectual magazine, Mark Pagel, a British evolutionary biologist, lands a flurry of blows:

"Malik knows these facts about our genetics, but wants to insist that, unless 'race' corresponds to absolute boundaries, it is a useless and damaging concept. But to deny what everybody knows and to swap the word race for something less politically charged like ‘group’ is just an act of self-denial and certainly no more accurate than the dreaded ‘r’ word. It is also patronising—I would like to think we are all grown up enough to accept the facts and ready ourselves for the deluge to come. I say deluge because the more we measure, the more genetic differences we find among populations …"

Unfortunately, Pagel doesn't deliver a knockout punch because he lacks a definition of race. Like Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart wrote in his famous opinion in a pornography case, Pagel can't define race, but he knows it when he sees it.

Malik responded in Prospect by noting, with some justice, "The debate over race has moved on. To judge from his review of my book, Mark Pagel hasn't noticed."

To illustrate the state of the art thinking among the race realists he opposes, Malik writes:

"In the 19th and early 20th centuries, races were viewed as fixed groups, each with its own distinct behaviour patterns and physical characteristics. They could be ranked on an evolutionary hierarchy, with whites at the top and blacks at the bottom. Today, with a few exceptions, race realists reject the idea that there are essential, unbridgeable differences between human populations, or that differences signify inferiority or superiority. So how do they define a race? Usually as 'an extended family that is inbred to some degree' in the words of Steve Sailer of the Human Biodiversity Institute. ... But once everything from the British royal family to the entire human population can be considered a race (because each is an "extended family inbred to some degree"), then the category has little value."



Along these lines, here's an update of an update of Richmond's speech concluding Shakespeare's Richard III about the dynastic marriage to end the War of the Roses between the Yorks and Lancasters:

We will unite the white rose and the black:
Smile heaven upon this fair conjunction,
That long have frown'd upon their enmity!
What extremist hears me, and says not amen?
America hath long been mad, and scarr'd herself;
The rev'rend shouted his congregation's ire,
The consultant plotteth Will Horton ads
The undiverse fleeeth to the exurbs
All this divided White and Black
Divided in their dire division,

But then Barack Sr. and Stanley Ann
The true succeeders of each racial house,
By God's fair ordinance conjoin together!
And let their heir, God, if thy will be so.
Enrich the time to come with smooth-faced peace,
With smiling plenty and fair prosperous days!
Abate the edge of racists, gracious Lord,
That would demand both parties make borders secure,
And make America less inclusive
Let them not live to taste this land's increase
That would with insensitivity wound this fair land's peace!
Now civil wounds are stopp'd, peace lives again:
That she may long live here, God say amen!


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