Racism vs. love of kin


A little while ago, Catholic Twitter got all in a whirl about race and racism. The twitter accounts with a Vatican flag in their name started posting about their dislike for “teh Blacks,” alleging that Black people are a “subspecies” of humanity, that White people shouldn’t marry someone who isn’t White, and so forth.

These are disgusting and hateful views, and it ignited mainstream Catholic Twitter to fire back. Twitter priests started posting long threads about the evils of racism and the Church’s condemnations of it. Even otherwise ideologically divided sides of Catholic Twitter briefly came together to collectively throw up.

The problem the Twitter tizzy has revealed to me, though, is the difficulty of coming up with philosophically rigorous definitions for the terms involved. The Twitter racists ignored the substantial evidence against their position (as is not surprising), and instead kept firing back that their unacceptable racism was just a logical extension of the acceptable love for their own kin and kind. And just as the racists ignored their counter-evidence, mainstream Twitter ignored the racists.

But their objection struck me as something needing refutation. We have in competition two equally common sense and apparently Catholic ideas:

  1. It is proper to love and prefer your kin, country, culture and immediate neighbors to the rest of humanity..
  2. It is evil to love and prefer your race to the rest of humanity (racism).

We can break this down further to see the possible contradiction:

  • 1a. Kin, country, culture and neighbors (etc.) are to be preferred
  • 1b. Kin, culture, country (etc.) are geographically and genetically defined
  • 2a. Racism is the love or preference of your race over other races
  • 2b. Racism is evil
  • 2c. Race is geographically and genetically defined
  • C. Race seems to be essentially the same as Kin, Country, Culture (etc.)–> therefore we can’t condemn preferences based on one while esteeming preferences based on the other.

We must find some satisfying way to distinguish race from kin, country, etc. (let’s abbr. KCC) in order to maintain both 1 and 2. But this is actually difficult.

I’m going to attempt to do so. Racism is a terrible evil, and ought to be eradicated. Family fellowship is a terrible good, and ought to be defended. I’ll first flesh out the problem and determine the questions that need answered. Then, I will show the immorality of racism even if we assume the racists’ scientific framework is true, i.e. that some races are separate “sub-species” and they have different (or inferior) abilities. After that, I will show this scientific framework is false. I will then touch upon the question of ethnicity, and make some distinctions in this category. Finally, I will wrap it all together (hopefully).

And, as a note to the reader, this is loosely planned and somewhat stream-of-conscious-y, so buckle up for a wild ride. And again, as a note to the reader, I use mostly Black vs. White examples. This is because this is the biggest racial divide in America today–and nothing more is meant of it.

Starting out

The trouble begins with the observable facts that there are broadly-uniform human phenotypes, generally mapping to geographic regions, and mostly passing themselves down family lineages. Take a tour of the world (still today, but especially before modern mass migrations) and you will notice the peoples living in that European continent are pale, people in Africa are dark, etc. And, hence the names for these “races”: “white,” “black,” “yellow,” “red,” etc.

However, both scientifically and (especially) theologically, all of these “groups” of humans come from the same common ancestor and are all the same species.

This joining of obvious difference + obvious similarity within the human community lets us set the absolutely minimum edges of the topic, which we will see is enough to refute the claims of racists on Catholic Twitter.

Basic framework

Purported human differences can be either:

  1. real or not real, and
  2. significant or insignificant

From this there is a basic moral principle about discrimination:

It is wrong to make decisions or do actions based on differences that are either not real and/or insignificant.

With regards to insignificance specifically, the human difference in question must be significant with regard to that decision; some differences are significant in a narrow context, but not in a broader context (and vice-versa).

For instance, something like family relationships are indisputably real. Some people are more related to you than others. That categorization is likewise significant in many contexts. But kinship can still be an insignificant justification with regard to, say, appointment to an ecclesiastical office.

Even IF, then, racial difference turn out to be real, they are not thereby significant. In fact, upon reflection they clearly turn out to be insignificant precisely to those areas that “Catholic” twitter racists claim racial differences matter.

For example, access to certain basic rights is based on human dignity, which comes from simple membership of the human species. All races (if that turns out to be a real difference) are part of the human species, and therefore all have dignity. The societal or individual rights and obligations that flow from that dignity are therefore proper to every human being, regardless of color or any other quality; EVEN IF we were to go so far as to believe that there are separate racial “subspecies” of humans, and one such “subspecies” is superior in strength, intelligence, emotional control, or any other such stereotype. Because the freedoms and duties Twitter racists call into question about, e.g. Black people, do not come from skill or ability or quality, but dignity. Hence such rights apply to non-racially defined human groups who are less abled than most, such as the mentally challenged or even the comatose.

Other questions

Ok, so much for that. Racism destroyed! Finally, this country is healed.

Obviously, there’re many questions that still need answered beyond the minimum boundaries of unacceptable racism. For instance, is race something real? Is it significant? How/where is it significant? What differentiates it from family relations, culture, ethnicity, etc.? How/where are these categories significant? Etc., etc.

What Race is (and isn’t)

The definitions are complicated by the history of the words involved. “Race,” for example, etymologically just means ancestry or lineage. “Ethnicity” comes from ethnos, meaning people or nation, but later coming to mean gentile or pagan peoples specifically.

Race in the old sense of the word is just an extension of family, which is a real and sometimes-significant distinction. However, the modern usage of “race” cannot mean the old definition, which more closely maps to how we use “ethnicity” today.

“Race” today means specific exterior physical traits, most especially skin color and eye shape (particularly it refers to broad physical traits: basically binary light/dark, round/slant, etc.) We observe these traits being passed down in families, so it’s understandable to think that they are useful, visible markers of ancestry. But modern genetic advancements have shown that they are not.

It turns out that the physical traits that have come to define modern “race” don’t match up to genetic data.

The 5 “races” as defined by skin color* are not 5 branches of the human genetic tree. They are instead environmental variations that have arisen in virtually every “branch” of our family tree; and since every “branch” has also significantly cross populated with every other branch, skin color is a useless genetic marker.

All that it says is that you have one of many possible combinations of genes that give increased melanin pigment. But how you got those genes is still a mystery, on the population level. Dark-pigmented humans have emerged from genetic lineages tied to Europe, or Africa, or whatever else.

That means that any given “Black” person might be more closely related to a given “White” person than to another given “Black” person.

Here’s a hypothetical scenario to show how this may be. Let’s take 4 completely stereotyped persons: Eric, Jamal, Tanner, and Che. Let’s further take 2 ancient ancestral tribes, Population X and Population Z. Jamal and Che are dark skinned. Eric and Tanner are light skinned.

But it turns out that both Eric and Jamal descend from Population X, which had some members split and migrate to Africa and evolve dark (Jamal) and some move north to Europe and evolve white (Eric). Meanwhile, both Tanner and Che come from Population Z, which had some members migrate to Africa and eventually become darker (Che) while the rest of the population moved into Asia and became lighter (Tanner). So Eric and Jamal are more biologically related than Eric or Tanner, or Jamal or Che, despite the exterior similarities between Eric and Tanner, and Jamal and Che.

This in fact has happened a few times in human history; and combined with the sheer size of a population as large as “all those with dark skin” means that there are no unique, universal genetic markers nor genetic lineage in any “race” modernly conceived; and there is conversely more genetic variation within than between “races.”

All of that is to say that modern science has concluded that race isn’t real, at least as an essential biological category.

It still may have some descriptive and social meaning; after all, saying “that person is Black” doesn’t seem completely meaningless. People do look “black” or “brown” or “white” or “yellow” or “red” or “green” (ok, not that last one). “Black” and “White” are categories more like “straight teeth” and “crooked teeth” or “fat” and “skinny” than they are like “homo sapiens” and “homo neanderthalensis.”

So whether race has a real social or other meaning is a topic of debate among philosophers, but race as an essential biological category is not.** Beyond the minimum edges of the discussion, then, it seems race is not only broadly insignificant; it’s also broadly not real, as modernly defined.***

*Historically demographists talked about the “5 races,” being essentially Asian, African, Pacific, Native American, and European. These races were defined largely by color: Yellow, Black, Swarthy, Red, and White. And, extra unfortunately, usually defined in such a way to make the European White “race” the superior of them all.

**This is not to say that racism isn’t significant, nor to say that race can’t be significant as an identity. Indeed, in cultures like America the biologically unreal category of race has frequently taken on an important social/psychological reality among a community conditioned by racism–for example, the solidarity often felt within Black America over a sense of shared “Blackness,” which arose from mutual persecution and discrimination based upon arbitrary racist labels by White slaveholders.

***No, I’m not saying that only what is biologically definable is real generally. But race clearly has to do with physical bodies, and therefore if it is real, it is biologically real primarily. Unless you really want to contend that there’s a purely spiritual “Black soul.”

Ethnicity explored

What about ethnicity? That is tricky to define too; but I’m taking it as I think people generally mean it today, which is incorporating the old definition of “race” (ancestry or lineage) while including further delineations: namely culture or place of origin. Ethnicity is then hints at a person’s ancestry, culture, religion, language, and geographic region (I’m ethnically Italian, because my family was born from the people on the Italian peninsula, who spoke Italian, were Catholic, and lived the Italian way).

We are getting closer, then, to our original task. It seems we can broadly lump KCC (kin, culture, etc.) into ethnicity, which is at least different than race in biological content. An ethnic population isn’t necessarily beholden to a particular phenotype, except as an accident of a shared ancestral heritage (which, as we have seen, can include a broad range of skin colors). Ethnicity has roughly kept it’s original Greek root of a “people,” or a “nation” (in a non-political sense). And you ought to love your own people.

Racism is against justice and truth because it bases judgements and behaviors on a category that is neither real nor morally relevant (race). But race can be distinguished from ethnicity, which is morally relevant in certain contexts; and this is roughly what we mean by racism vs. love of kin.

So we’ve “solved” the problem. Race is a problem for any decision because it’s not (or barely) real at all, making it basically always insignificant. Ethnicity is real, and therefore has some realm of significance. The further question is only then where ethnicity is significant.

Ethnic hatred isn’t great, either

The elusive reality of “race” means that it is wrong to either prefer/love your particular race OR to hate/discriminate against other races. Either disvaluing a particular race or valuing a particular race over another is uncalled for. I’m “White,” and it is wrong to therefore hate “Black people.” But if race really isn’t a real category, it’s also wrong to even just like “Whites” without implying a hatred for other races. Either direction is an irrational prejudice.

But ethnicity is different, as we’ve seen. In most contexts, then, it seems proper to “love” or even prefer your ethnic group.

But that doesn’t imply it’s valid to go the other direction, too; namely, to hate or discriminate against a different ethnic group.

While we call irrational prejudice based on race “racism,” we can dub this second prejudice “ethnicism.” It’s an important moral distinction; I can love being Italian, I can have pride in Italian culture, my Italian heritage, and can actively choose to engage in and with that ethnic heritage above other competing ethnic claims. But I cannot thereby hate the Irish, or persecute the Irish, or look down upon the Irish culture.

It’s the difference between affinity for and discrimination against. I like Italians; but once I think they’re ethnically superior, I’m crossing the line of truth and justice.

Because Italians are not ethnically superior. While we can make particular judgements about cultures, no ethnic group is superior or inferior, because ethnic groupings are broad enough that there’s going to be sizable overlap between groups and diversity within a group. It’s much more sensible to think yourself superior to a particular family–the Joneses or the Smiths–than any particular ethnicity. Because maybe those Joneses really do have a bad genetic deal, and are all a little fat and dim (unlikely for any real family, but at least more possible vs. ethnic groups). But no ethnicity is so uniform to all be anything. You can find Italians fat and thin, dumb and smart, loud and quiet, prone to disease and strong as an ox. The same goes for the Germans, the Zulu, the Chinese, etc.

Ethics and Ethnics, con’t

So proper love for ethnic kin can turn to ethnicism if it switches from love of kin to hatred of not-kin. But love of your people can also simply disordered when you prefer your ethnicity in a context which such a category shouldn’t apply.

I hinted at this in referenced ecclesiastical appointments; but it can apply more broadly. The precise outlines of where it should or shouldn’t apply may be obscure and debated, and I haven’t devoted enough thought to clearly define these boundaries myself. But we can just note some areas that seem clearly to fall outside the bounds.

Let’s say you’ve decided to donate your kidney, and there’s several people in need of one. All else being equal, you can decide to give it to a family member just because they’re a family member, since family bears one of the strongest obligations upon you.

Perhaps you can decide to give it to a countryman over a foreigner just because they are a countryman, due to the obligations a national relationship bears (though I’ve intentionally avoided talking about countries, since the modern nation-state complicates things).

You certainly can’t decide to give it to a “White” person over a “Black” person just because the White person shares your race, for reasons discussed.

But it also seems you can’t give it to an Italian person over a Zulu person just because they’re Italian like you. Ethnic affiliation doesn’t give such strong of rights and duties, except for when accompanied by the stronger (and often parallel) duties from country or family unit. My relation to a random ethnically-Italian man whose only connection to me is we both distantly-descend from people somewhere on the Italian landmass is a weak connection, too weak to justly be the basis for deciding life and death.

We can extend this moral reasoning to a host of other situations in which ethnic affiliation, upon reflection, is not a just basis for a moral decision.


Racism and ethnicism are thus similar. Both are against reason. Racism has the “honor” of being completely irrational due to the unreality of the category it’s based upon. Ethnicism is simply disordered, but at least has some rational foundation, since ethnicity exists and has some real importance. But the ethnicist places either an undue importance or an unreal importance on that real ethnic category.

But they are dissimilar in their definitions and foundations. Ethnicity is a real and good category while race isn’t, allowing for a proper love of a certain ethnic background without thereby implying the existence of a proper love for a racial background.

There’s still more that can be said on these categories and definitions. And while I’ve tried to summarize and interpret the main philosophical consensuses, readers interested in greater depth on the topic may start here with the Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on race:https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/race/.

Lastly, to Catholics on Twitter: for the love of God, don’t be racist. There’s no intellectual foundation for it; it does nothing but make you and the entire Catholic Church look bad; and most importantly, it is against the faith you profess, and clinging to it endangers your soul.


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