Is “German” a Race?

I stumbled on a great page at Edge.org about “What ideas should be retired in 2013?” where they asked some famous(ish) academics and thinkers exactly that. The answers are really great!

The one from Dr. Nina G. Jablonski about Race is one that I agree with on Every. Single. Point.

So, when discussing Kant, why did she have to include the reference to the German (Kant’s native tongue) translation of the word “race?” In context, it makes no sense.

The philosophers David Hume and Immanuel Kant both were fascinated by human physical diversity. In their opinions, extremes of heat, cold, or sunlight extinguished human potential. Writing in 1748, Hume contended that, “there was never a civilized nation of any complexion other than white.”

Kant felt similarly. He was preoccupied with questions of human diversity throughout his career, and wrote at length on the subject in a series of essays beginning in 1775. Kant was the first to name and define the geographic groupings of humans as races (in German, Rassen). Kant’s races were characterized by physical distinctions of skin color, hair form, cranial shape, and other anatomical features and by their capacity for morality, self-improvement, and civilization. Kant’s four races were arranged hierarchically, with only the European race, in his estimation, being capable of self-improvement.

(Bold is mine.) Could it be a matter of German-baiting in an article deploring the sordid history of racism? I don’t think I can handle the irony.

So, Dr. Jablonski…your writings on race look really good. Nearly 70 years after the Second World War, maybe it’s time we gave the sport of Teutonic Bashing a rest.

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