The Problem with Race Realism

I cannot recall when I first heard the label “race realist” but, with due respect to all parties involved, I have never much cared for it. For one, no anti-racist I have ever met has deferred their smears because someone identified as a “race-realist” as opposed to a “racist.” Granted, any label “we” take on will be attacked, ignored, and called racist – however, the term “race realist” seems to have been developed in an attempt to gain mainstream traction, which has not happened. It has a propagandistic sound to it that is quickly detected by egalitarians, who are annoyed by what they perceive as a poor attempt at repackaging old and vile ideas. Admittedly, there are likely some out there who genuinely find that “race realist” fits their beliefs more than anything else, and perhaps the label has deflected a bullet here and there. But it is worth comparing art that could be considered “race realist” and art that could be considered “Identitarian.” In comparing the two camps, it becomes difficult to make a case that the “race realist” camp is superior in any way.

Looking over some of the largest controversies regarding “racism” in film, a curious pattern emerges. All of the films in question are attacked from the left, but hardly any would be championed as exemplar films by the readers of this publication. Lists with titles like “Most Racist Movies of All Time” are, of course, all over the internet, which is useful in that it shows regular targets. To begin with, a number of the films decried are explicitly anti-racist, such as Samuel Fuller’s White Dog, about an average White woman who winds up in possession of a dog of whose origins she is unaware, which turns out to have been trained by malicious Whites for the purpose of attacking Blacks. Mr. Fuller intended the picture to be a kind of tragedy about the lingering effects of racism, yet found himself garnering unwanted attention from the NAACP. Apparently, the trouble White Dog’s critics have with the film is that it acknowledges the mere existence of race.

Many other pictures on these lists fall into a similar category. Mandingo, serves as another example, a film set in the antebellum South in which a White couple is married, but both husband and wife begin sleeping with the Black slaves they own. In the end, the wife claims that the Black slave she had been having an affair with (Mandingo) raped her, and he is hung. It is essentially a film about the guilt Whites must feel for sexually desiring Blacks while living in a racist country – clearly an “anti-racist” moral. Yet the film acknowledges differences among races, and employs what one might call “stereotypes” throughout the film, and ergo was- and still is- smeared for “racism.”

Perhaps an even more absurd example than the above two is The Last Samurai. A fairly recent action film, Samurai tells the story of a PTSD stricken Civil War veteran who is employed by an urgent-to-modernize Japanese government to train their peasant army. This modern army is to crush the last remnants of traditionalist holdouts in Japan (you guessed it, the Samurai), but in due time the protagonist is captured by the Samurai, learns to admire them, and switches sides. The critics view this as a culturally imperialistic “white savior” film, and of course find the depiction of the Japanese to be crass and insensitive. All of this, despite the film being a corny story of a self-loathing White man who decides to completely abandon his culture and people because he finds a better one.

What the three films described above, and almost all the films on these “racist” lists, share is not messages of supremacy or deliberate maliciousness, but a basic understanding of the fact that races exist, and are different. For those on the political and cultural left who believe that “racism” will be solved by keeping anyone from talking about it, and that race does not exist, these films would indeed register as “racist,” “supremacist,” etc. With the news that Tim Wise has declared Jesus to be a symbol of racism, it is not hard to see how the likes of Heidi Beirich, Eva Longoria and others of their sort could find Nazis in every reel of every film here listed.

However, more than any of the smears attached to these movies by talking heads and bored bloggers, what they could be more accurately called is “race realist.” White Dog leaves no doubt that race is a biological fact, since an animal with no understanding of society can take note of it. Mandingo makes clear that love is not colorblind, and that human biodiversity has to do with matters aside from IQ. The Last Samurai shows one Western man’s perspective on living among an initially very alien race and culture. Judgements regarding these differences are up to the viewers, and if anything have a left-wing slant. But the label of “race realism/t” was always meant to be morally neutral, and a purely scientific acceptance of differences. Michael Levin, an important figure in the “race realist” movement of the 1990s, wrote in the preview to his book Why Race Matters, that:

I wished to make clear that no empirical facts about race imply that whites are better than blacks, a judgment so often imputed to hereditarians that only a full airing of the issue of value can put the imputation to rest. To this end Race presents a resolutely “naturalistic,” non-realist view of values…. The mean intelligence levels of whites and blacks were adaptations to selectional pressures at work in Africa and Eurasia, just as the lion’s strength and the gazelle’s speed are evolved responses to selectional pressures in their niches. And just as the lion’s talons are neither better nor worse than the gazelle’s speed—each creature simply is what it is—whites are not better or worse than blacks. Race is similarly neutral toward morality itself. An individual’s “moral” values are construed as those of his preferences that he wants everyone to adopt (and wants everyone to want everyone to adopt); and a group’s morality is the set of moral values shared by most of its members.

Such cold and clinical standards certainly do not make for good moral teachings, or artistic guidelines. In this light, the proponents of race realism become as guilty of scientism as the New Atheists. Self-identified race realists should consider this when thinking about what kind of culture they want to live in, or more simply, what kinds of movies they would want their children to see. For example, It’s A Wonderful Life cannot be considered a race realist film because all it shows is Whites, their culture, their heritage, and their values – and in a glowing way. Life registers as more of an Identitarian film than anything else; as do a long list of films worthy of being discussed in our circles, such as Stagecoach, Make Way for Tomorrow, and Paths of Glory. Each one of those pictures are much better than race realist – they are White.

None of this implies that race realism is “bad.” The science behind it is of extreme importance to understanding the world. The takeaway from this article should not be that all who identify as race realists are knaves or saboteurs, they are trying to survive in a hostile world as best they can just like the rest of us. However, we should remember that the study of race is not an end unto itself, and that ultimately, race differences matter less than race itself – a fact that the “race realist” label avoids.