The history of something is usually written once the thing in question no longer exists. Has the concept of race ceased to exist? From the standpoint of a consensual view in population genetics, it has. Racial thinking is based on typologies and, in biology, typological thinking has been replaced by population thinking with the advent of genetics. However, does it mean that the concept of race no longer exist? In other words, does this scientific revolution of genetics mean that people do no longer classify themselves and others according to racial typologies?
My point is that this question cannot - or at least should not - have an objective answer. More precisely, it is that any attempt to objectively answer this question is detrimental to the very project, or ideal, of colorblindness. More broadly, my argument is that the use of scientific methodology is making the objective of colorblindness unattainable. For instance, let us say that a social or behavioral scientist is trying to evaluate objectively whether the racial categories of black and white exist for a given subject. In that case, the scientist would have to reify the very thing that he or she is trying to establish the existence of.
Words categorize things and the use of terms such as "black people", "black person", "white people" or "white person" indicate the reliance on categories. The use of such terms presupposes the existence of an underlying reality of blackness and whiteness. In other words, an "essence", which is precisely what biological thought is supposed to have overcome. So how is it that racial categories still seem to be active for most people? Most answers to this question have emphasized the history of colonialism, slavery and segregation. They are not wrong.
Yet, the answer given here is much less obvious. It suggests that the very structure of the social and behavioral sciences is the reason why Academia itself has a hard time overcoming racial categorizations. Looking at the history of ethnology will help see this clearly because it was defined as "the science of man and of the human races" when this science first became an institutional discipline. Indeed, the leaders of the first ethnological society in the world were confronted to a theory expounding racial equality In the mid-19th century. They way they they refuted this theory makes matters clear, at least in my opinion.
According to Victor Schoelcher, the activist who secured the last abolition of slavery in France in 1848, there was no innate difference among the human races in terms of the intellectual abilities that had naturally or physiologically been given to them. As a member of the Ethnological Society of Paris, Schoelcher was given the following answer by the leading members of this Society: "If your theory were correct, there would be no science of Ethnology".
Of course, the conceptual revolution that the social and behavioral sciences have lived in the course of the 20th century should not be forgotten. Yet, my argument is that there is a structural opposition between the willingness to produce facts and the desire to uphold a norm. In my opinion, colorblindness is a norm which is circumvented by the use of "factually" based statements produced by the social and behavioral sciences. Is it a fact that I perceive this person as black or white, which is to say, is it a fact that I focus my attention on the belonging of that person to this or that racial category?
Who other than the individual can "objectively" answer this question about his or her own subjective perception? The same applies about perceptions of gender and their impact on how it affects the perceived intellectual quality of a subject. The social and behavioral sciences have created an inextricable mental trap. Worse, they have robbed the public of their ability to produce societal change because their experts have kidnapped the thinking subject and turned it into an object of study.
Only sociologists, anthropologists, psychologist, and all the combinations thereof have the authority to inform political decisions. As a matter of historical fact, this is the reason why those sciences were created in the age of democratic revolutions. To rationally inform political decisions as divine right theories were on the wane. Yet, as the world is about to know a new period of unification with the help of a single language and a world-wide net, it is time for thinking subjects to reclaim the authority.
Hence the relevance of history of science as an academic discipline today. Rather than producing facts about behavior and sociality, it expose the past theories and lets the thinking subject decide which is valid. In the case of the race concept, it focuses on what has been thought about this concept rather than trying to empirically determine what people think about it. This disciplines lets the subject think what they will about what <em>is</em> the case about race. It moves the focal point of inquiry away from this question which is unanswerable because everyone can answer it for themselves.
Dealing with the race concept through the methodology offered by the history of science allows the assumption that race <em>should</em> not matter to grow. As opposed to the social and behavioral sciences that are focused on determining what <em>is</em> or <em>is not</em> the case, our approach places the emphasis on introspection. Now that the age of positivism has passed, the existence of a necessary biological determination of behavior should be questioned. In the case of race, this questioning is essential on two accounts.
First because people should not be studied as representative specimens of the historically contingent racial category that they perceived to be belonging to. Second because considering people as thinking or deliberating subjects is the only way to see equality among them. This, of course, if people are to free: but it seems to have been the underlying project of the social and behavioral sciences to deprive people of this freedom. The connection between political power and those sciences has always been strong since they were first cultivated in institutional settings from the 1830's onwards.
Anthropology, ethnology, psychology and sociology; here is their order of institutional appearance. It is time the theoretical foundations of those sciences is questioned. An object of study cannot simultaneously be a thinking subject. Something has to give.