Research Article

The Perils of Polysemy: Racial Realism in the Real World

  • John P. Jackson Jr. orcid logo (Michigan State University)


This paper critiques the biological race realism of Quayshawn Spencer. Spencer's recent embrace of “radical race pluralism” (RRP) is welcome but incomplete, because it needs methods that distinguish different communicative contexts for how American English speakers use “race” and related terms. I offer a pragmatic approach to identifying such contexts that combines pragmatic argumentation theory, rhetorical polysemy, and a pragmatic approach to definition. One consequence of embracing RRP is that Spencer's theory of “OMB race talk” is unsupportable because it collapses three distinct communicative contexts: genomic research, legal and regulatory governance, and ordinary talk. By so doing, OMB race talk blocks attempts to fight racism and violates ethical standards that should allow people the agency to define their own identities.

Keywords: race, population, ancestry, pragmatism, polysemy, definition

How to Cite:

Jackson, J. P., Jr., (2022) “The Perils of Polysemy: Racial Realism in the Real World”, Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology 14: 13. doi:

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Published on
26 May 2022
Peer Reviewed