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The Trouble With Race

Everybody knows that racial tensions have been at the center of American political debate in recent months, but the story of racial and ethnic division is actually a global one, with a long and tortured history. For the lead package in the March/April issue, therefore, we decided to do a deep dive into racial issues in comparative and historical perspective. 

Kwame Anthony Appiah kicks it off with a sweeping review of the rise and fall of race as a concept, tracing how late-nineteenth-century scientists and intellectuals built up the idea that races were biologically determined and politically significant, only to have their late-twentieth-century counterparts tear it down. Unfortunately, he concludes, recognizing that racial categories are socially constructed rather than innate doesn’t make racial problems easier to solve.

Fredrick Harris and Robert Lieberman explore the paradox of a United States in which stark racial inequalities persist even as official

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