The Reactionary Nature of Identity Politics, Part Two | Opinion

This is part two of a two-part series. The first part can be read here.

Those who want to view everything through the prisms of race, sex, gender and sexuality—the "identitarians"—claim that African-Americans and women are the victims of "structural (or systemic) racism" and "patriarchy." In a previous essay, I showed that there is no evidence to support such claims of racial and sexual subordination—and, indeed, that all the evidence is to the contrary. Nonetheless, there was one argument in support of such claims that I did not examine: Identitarians like Ibram X. Kendi claim that lack of proportional representation of races and sexes in all domains is evidence of structural racism and patriarchy.

The problem with Kendi's claim—and others' similar claims—is that lack of proportional representation is not only not evidence of structural racism and patriarchy. The pursuit of proportional representation is itself absurd and only selectively endorsed by identitarians.

Racial groups are artificial constructs because we humans compose one interbreeding species. No matter what racial or ethnic boxes there are to check, when someone from one box mates with someone from a different box, their child will need a new box. Indeed, each of us is that child. As a biological matter, although there are population groups that have been more or less isolated and inbred—a fact that may have some significance for medical or certain genealogical purposes—race is less a biological reality and more an ultimately indefinable sociological one. Do "whites" include both Swedes and Iranians? Do "Asians" include both Japanese and Burmese? And the regimes that have tried to answer such questions authoritatively—think Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa and the Jim Crow South—are not models any sane society should seek to emulate.

Moreover, and this is the point, no matter how one divides up humanity racially, individuals within those races will vary along any dimension that is socially relevant. Some will be smart, others not so smart. Some will be fleet, others slow. Some will be risk takers, others risk-averse. And the bell curves for these traits will not be identical from race to race, but will be substantially overlapping.

Sex, on the other hand, is a biological reality. It is a function of chromosomes and reproductive organs. We humans are mammals. And just as the difference between bulls and cows is biological, so too is the difference between human males and females. (Gender is not the same as sex. In a shift from its grammatical origins, gender now usually refers to norms of behavior. Gender is changeable, a matter of choice in that one can choose whether to conform to certain gender norms. Sex, on the other hand, is unchangeable.)

Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Louisville
Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Louisville Jon Cherry/Getty Images

The biological differences between the sexes are not limited to reproductive organs or chromosomes. They show up in brain structure, musculature, hormones and so forth, with predictable average differences along various dimensions of aptitudes and preferences. The bell curves of male and female aptitudes and preferences will substantially overlap, but they will not be identical.

Given these facts, it would be beyond unlikely if members of different races or sexes were proportionally represented in all social domains. The NBA is 80 percent black and has almost no Asians. Is this an example of "structural racism?" No. Nor is the fact that women perform childcare more than men, or that men are injured or killed on the job much more often than women, evidence of "structural sexism." Men and women have, on average, different preferences and aptitudes, and this has as much to do with biology as with acculturation. Proportional racial and sexual representation is not justice, but idiotic perversity. And even the identitarians who advocate it don't practice it themselves, when it comes to their own lives; when it comes to everything from undergoing surgery to car repairs, they go for skill, not proportional representation.

The mid-century civil rights movement was opposed to having consequential judgments based on race, ethnicity and sex. Its aim, rather, was to see that the individual's talent, effort and preferences determined his or her fate regardless of how his or her race or sex was faring as a group. And if individuals are judged based on their own conduct and character, then no one need fear the facts about how races, ethnic groups and sexes compare, whatever those facts turn out to be. And if those groups don't matter—as they shouldn't—then the facts about how groups qua groups compare cannot be threatening or the basis of policy.

It is the current identity politics, with its destructive focus on race and sex, that spawns the lies about racial oppression and patriarchy and the destructive, zero-sum game of identity politics. The identitarians are not "progressives"; they are dangerous reactionaries.

Lawrence Alexander is Warren distinguished professor of law and executive co-director of the Institute for Law and Philosophy at the University of San Diego.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.