Review: Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides Are Wrong in the Race Debate by Kenan Malik

Review: Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides Are Wrong in the Race Debate by Kenan Malik
A nicely provocative and stylish polemic

It's exciting when someone promises to show how both sides of an argument are wrong. Kenan Malik's position, in short, is: "Race is not a rational, scientific category. Anti-racism has become an irrational, anti-scientific philosophy." To defend the first statement he embarks on a lucid discussion of modern population genetics and medicine, then hops back to the 18th century to begin a historical survey of ideas about "race". There are some curious blips (it is weird to call David Hume "doggedly mainstream") and some pleasing new angles - for example, Malik's point that phrenology was originally welcomed as a progressive idea, "because it suggested a practical way of improving one's lot" through brain training.

Where it all goes wrong is with the Nazis, and the subsequent idea among Malik's opponents on the anti-racist left that Hitlerian eugenics and genocide grew out of too much reason, rather than too little. "The fight against barbarism turned into a war against the Enlightenment," Malik writes. In our day, he concludes, the tendency of "celebrating racial identity" is predicated on the same assumptions of racial difference as those held by racists themselves, and a kind of "intellectual apartheid" is among the results. A nicely provocative and stylish polemic.


Steven Poole

The GuardianTramp

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