Update on the Tutsi genotype project. Many years ago I was given the genotype of an individual who had three Tutsi grandparents and one Hutu grandparent. You can see the result above in comparison to the single Hutu and the dozen or so Tutsi. This individual is shifted toward the Kenyan Bantu groups (while the Hutu individual is on the edge of that cluster). For those curious, the “Ethiopian” samples seem to be stratified between those who are Oromo and those who are Amhara. The latter is more West Eurasian shifted than the former (the “Ethiopian Jews”, the Beta Israel, tend to cluster with the various Habesha groups).
In relation to this project, some of the reaction from the peanut gallery has been what you’d expect. Ultimately, the reason I’m doing this is that Tutsi who are making recourse to personal genomic services are coming back with results that don’t make sense in light of the narrative that the government of Rwanda, and to some extent, the media and the academy, put out there. That is, that the Tutsi-Hutu categories can be chalked up to the machinations of the Belgians. White people. A social construction having to do with wealth and modes of production.
To be frank, I’m more interested in what the Tutsi correspondents have to say than the online white saviors (one of the Tutsi individuals had second thoughts about involvement, and their genotype is no longer in the project).
It is quite common in various parts of the educated set to assert that nationalism and ethnicity and identity have shallow roots. The academic view can often be distilled down to Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (apparently this is the most assigned book among undergraduates, explaining its influence). Though Anderson’s thesis is not quite as general as people make it out to be, I do think it leads one toward the conclusion that national, ethnic, and communal identity is shallow, superficial, recent, and, of European causal origin.
If one takes these as a given then the essential, necessary, and causal role of the Belgians in fomenting conflict in Ruanda-Urundi is perhaps warranted. As it happens, I reject the generality of Anderson’s thesis. Rather, I believe that Azar Gat’s argument in Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism is much more persuasive. Gat is not saying that the French nation originated with Vercingetorix. But, he does argue that the elements of national identity which crystallized and converged with the French Revolution were deep and longstanding.
Just as with Anderson’s Imagined Communities, I believe that Edward Said’s Orientalism has elements of truth, but that its insights are over-generalized. For example, it seems clear that the British did have some ideological interests in mind when interpreting the history and ethnography of the Indian subcontinent. But they did not invent the categories of Muslim and Hindu in any substantive fashion. Nor did they invent the ethnolinguistic diversity of the subcontinent which resulted in imperfect integration of the culture of the far southern states, which speak Dravidian languages, with the Hindi “cow-belt.” This diversity preexisted the arrival of the British.
Don’t get me wrong. I do think that the Great Divergence occurred. I do think Europe for various reasons developed on a separate and distinct path. But, I do not think European history and European experience is so sui generis that the cultures and societies of the world today must be, and can only be, understood in light of their post-colonial experiences with Europe. The colonial experiences were impactful, but history did not begin with the colonial period. More crassly, non-white peoples existed with form and texture before they were observed and shaped by white people. White peoples’ agency is not the predominant element in non-European social identity.
In relation to the causal agency of white Europeans in relation to non-white peoples, imagine if the general consensus was that the massive death tolls of the Thirty Years War were due to the malevolent choice of certain Protestant princes in the prior century to align and foster religious reform. The reality is most people would argue that the causes of the war were complex, multifaceted, and somewhat contingent. The same sort of framework applies to situations outside of Europe. Instead, what we get are reductive explanations of the form “because white colonialists!”
So what’s going to explain the pattern of reducing non-European societies to bit-parts in a drama of European history? The cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer contends that theories give you “information for free.” Postcolonial theory then is a cheap and easy way to understand causal processes in history without having to read and know any history. There are no details necessary. Just apply the theory and produce results!
But why now? For a few years now the grad student Zach Goldberg has been writing about the “Great Awokening”. This refers to the radicalization of many white progressives on racial issues since ~2015. Zach’s plot above shows that The New York Times mentions of “racism” shot up over the last few years. The same with a host of other variables.
Before 2015 I might have agreed I was “socially liberal.” Today I wouldn’t say that, because I disagree with the utility of assertions of the form “all white people are racist” and “all men are sexist.” I have no idea honestly what I’m agreeing to if I say I align with social liberals since the revolution in views is moving so fast.
But there is another wrinkle which I think is important to acknowledge about the Great Awokening: it hasn’t been associated with a massive change in behavior by white liberals from what I can see. Arguably, most of my friends are white liberals, so I’ve been able to observe them over many years. Their rhetoric is different (or more precisely more frequent). But their behavior is very similar.
I will give two anecdotes to illustrate what I’m talking about. After 2016 many of my white academic friends began to post incessantly on Facebook about the recent upsurge in racism, and how frightening it was to be a racial minority. Curiously, I noticed that many of the Facebook threads were populated exclusively by white people talking about how horrible racism was. The American population is 63% non-Hispanic white. And a much lower fraction among younger cohorts. This was not a random sampling of the population.
At one point I actually decided to speak to an experience of racism on a thread, and how much it has declined since the 1980s and 1990s. So many of the people talking seem to be speaking of abstractions since they were non-Hispanic white and seemed to be friends overwhelmingly with only non-Hispanic whites. They were totally unaware that the extent of casual racism had declined radically since the 1980s because they themselves knew very few nonwhites intimately from what I can tell.
The second anecdote occurred in a city that happens to be a bit under 50% non-Hispanic white. I was having a casual dinner at a friend’s house. This friend is a sincere white progressive and academic. In the middle of eating their elementary-age child interrupted and asked bashfully why my “skin is brown like that.” Basically, this child had not experienced nonwhite people in preschool or school, and from what I could tell I was one of the few nonwhite friends of this academic. The reason that this is notable is that it reflects the high level of racial segregation in their lives that white progressives in racially diverse urban areas often choose. This is not surprising in light of the fact that the most diverse counties are the most assortative in mating (this is presumably due to larger numbers of ethnic minorities who can find mates).
These facts are open secrets. Just look at where more progressive-than-thou white liberals actually live (around people just like them), and who populates their Facebook friends list (again, people just like them). Since this is so universal there isn’t a great shame in this sort of behavior. As they say, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.
But the abstract nature of white progressive concern with racism and inequality causes serious problems in their understanding of the world around them. They begin to see everything around them as the playing out in history of “white supremacy,” as if it’s the ground of all being. It is a metaphysical abstraction. This problem is more serious for millennials and zoomers, who have been educated more recently.
The new regnant ideology has changed the way I write historically inflected pieces. When I wrote The Blood On Brown Hands Is A Legacy Of All Of History, it came in at 5,000 words. I consciously loaded it with erudition to make it clear to white progressive readers that I actually have forgotten more history than they’ve ever known. On some level, I will accept that most white progressives are sincerely anti-racist, but my experience as a non-white person who disagrees with their “sacred values” on race is that unless I come to the table “with receipts” (as they’d say) they will dismiss me as an ignorant rube who has been brainwashed (non-whites tend to lack independent agency in their ontology unless they express the views that they believe non-whites should express; I won’t question their motives, but I’ve experienced this way too often to not anticipate it).
They know because they are white. They are the agents of all history. They will redeem the evil which they have wrought by their sacrifice of copious internet virtue signaling.
Addendum: I will make one note: the quality of conversations about racial discrimination and racism is quite different when one is talking to a woke white person who is married to a nonwhite person. Probably the cause here is that racism and racial diversity are concrete, rather than abstract. There’s something to actually grapple onto that’s beyond someone’s imagination and beliefs. It’s not just a theoretical debate.