chapter  1
24 Pages

“Conserve” Races? In Defense of W. E. B. Du Bois

Race and ethnicity continue to be among the most vexing problems in American life. At present there is no widely shared consensus in answer to the questions of whether, and if so how (and if not, why not), consideration should be given to the race and/or ethnicity of a person, or to a racial/ethnic group, when deciding questions having to do with the preservation, creation, or distribution of important resources, awards, and sanctions. Nor is there a settled consensus among persons in the various natural and social sciences in answer to questions of whether, and if so how (and if not, why not), it is possi­ ble to characterize and classify racial and ethnic groups, and thereby identify individuals with precision as members of a particular racial or ethnic group, on the basis of real, objective, shared features, in rigorous accordance to the most settled norms governing the production and validation of empirical knowledge. Without a consensus secured by knowledge of this kind, it seems, adjudicating the vexing questions of race and ethnicity in political, social, and economic life cannot be accomplished with the guidance of secure, general principles based on such knowledge that insure a just and democratic liberal nation-state in which the play of invidious notions of race and ethnicity are curtailed as much as is possible.