Todd Essig, Ph.D.

Todd Essig Ph.D.


Confusing race and religion is dangerous

Religion is about faith and practice, not blood

Posted Aug 23, 2010

I had to read it twice. I couldn't believe what was on the screen at Psychology Today. But there it was:  "Anybody who believes Barack Obama is Christian must also believe that Michael Jackson was white" and then that President Obama is a Muslim because his "father was a Muslim Kenyan, descended from a long line of Muslims." Yikes!

What's going on here? Had Rupert Murdoch bought PT and brought us under the Fox umbrella? Or worse? Has it suddenly become acceptable to (mis)use psychology to support the classic genocidal lie that people of different religions are different races? 

Think about it.This dangerous religion-equals-race ideology lumps Latin American Catholics with Irish Catholics; puts Moroccan Jews in the same genetic bin with my ancestors from Lithuanian, Polish, and German shtetls; and erases racial differences between Indonesian Muslims and Lebanese Muslims. Doesn't make much sense, does it?

And the Obama religion-equals-race claim is even more outrageous. Let's do a quick thought experiment: Imagine if as a child President Obama's father had met a Christian missionary and converted well before he ever met the President's mother. Let's say further he even became a minister, stayed with Obama's mother, and raised his son in a devout Christian household (far-fetched I know, but it is just a thought-experiement). In that scenerio do you think it possible anyone would say he was a Muslim because he had two Muslim grandparents? And if they did, what would it say about the person holding those views?

But lets give Dr. Kanazawa the benefit of some collegial doubt. Maybe he was inadvertently using this hot-button political issue to illustrate the concept of endogamy and make his overall point that genetics is destiny. Or maybe he was trying to use a hot-button issue to generate some traffic. Either way he should get a pass. The problem is the idea, not the writer. Regardless of the writer's intent, the ideas of psychology should not be (mis)used to support a destructive ideology that has been recruited in the service of partisan political battles. 

Yes, of course, President Obama is a genetic mix of a white mother and black father and he shares a genetic legacy from each. And the relative social isolation of his paternal ancestors can be used to illustrate the concept of a deme—a group that over time becomes genetically distinct—as was done. But the President is also a man who identifies, and is identified, as a Christian black man who himself married a Christian black woman and is helping raise their two Christian black children.

President Obama has as much Muslim blood as you or I have: which is precisely and exactly none because there is no such thing as Muslim blood. Neither is there any such thing as Catholic blood nor Jewish blood. There is human blood, wonderfully diverse human blood.  And the fact of the matter is that our President is just like we are—he is not genetically distinct because of the faith of his father—despite the efforts of right-wing racist idealogues who find his otherness terrifying and unacceptable.

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