When I first heard the idea that race wasn’t real I, like I would imagine most people would, just rolled my eyes. It seemed like the kind of idiocy that only an academic could come up with in order to publish, not perish. Academia is constantly churning out ridiculous claims in a quest to have something new to say in a desperate attempt to get into the journals. For a while there was a cottage industry of papers claiming that every major historical figure was gay, but that fad seems to have died down. I figured the whole “social constructivism” fad was a consequence of post-modernism/post-structuralism which denies that anything is real and that ontology is socially constructed by power relations. I figured it would die off with the rest of the post-modern flash in the pan. But this idea hangs around, and it in fact gains in acceptance.
The debate about the reality of race is not a biological debate. People can agree about all the facts about the migrations of people around the world, and the results of modern genetic findings, and yet still disagree over whether race is real. That is because the debate today isn’t a debate about biology; it is a debate about metaphysics. The debate is about what it means to say something is real. Specifically, it is about what is it for a kind to be real; philosophy and science is still for the most part operating under the deeply entrenched “either essentialiasm or nominalism” dichotomy. I haven’t read Nicholas Wade’s book yet, but my sense is that he will not convince the unconvinced because he does not take on the abstract ontological issues upon which social constructivists rely, or provide competing realist ontology.