Race and Hatred

Race and Hatred June 12, 2008

Previous in Series: Race and History

A couple of posts back, I said that it was problematic to define racism in terms of holding certain factual beliefs, because we typically don’t consider it particularly wicked to hold a mistaken factual belief. There is, however, a pretty glaring counter-example to this claim, namely Holocaust denial. Whether or not the Holocaust happened is a factual question, yet we don’t regard someone who denies the reality of the Holocaust as being merely mistaken, but as being somehow evil.

The fact that we regard Holocaust denial with such opprobrium is not due simply to the fact that it goes against the evidence. We would probably look more kindly, at least from a moral point of view, on someone who denied that WWII happened than on someone who just denied the Holocaust. Nor is there anything wicked about the idea of there not being a Holocaust as such. If the Holocaust really hadn’t happened, that would be a wonderful thing.

The reason, I think, why we treat Holocaust denial with such moral contempt is that we do not believe it can be arrived at honestly. The evidence is favor of there being a Holocaust is so strong, and the noxious associations and views of many of the leading Holocaust deniers so apparent, that we are inclined to think anyone who adopts such a view must do so not from an honest (though mistaken) appraisal of the evidence, but because of an ulterior motive, namely antisemitism.

Similar, perhaps in describing certain factual claims as being racist, we are saying not that there is something metaphysically racist about the claims, but that we think anyone who makes such a claim is doing so because they have an animus towards a particular racial group. Racism, then, would consist ultimately in the hatred of a particular racial group, and in the beliefs and actions motivated (consciously or unconsciously) by that hate.

Pretty clearly, hating people on account of their race is going to constitute racism on any proper analysis. And it is not so hard to see why racial hatred would be wrong, and seriously so. The question, though, is whether racial hatred can fully account for all examples of racist actions and beliefs. I used to think that the answer to this question was yes. Further rumination of the matter, however, has left me doubtful, and in the next couple of posts, I will attempt to offer some reasons for thinking that racial hatred can’t be the whole story when it comes to defining racism.

Next in Series: Racism without Race?

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