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And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall, tell ’em a hookah smoking caterpillar has given you the call…”

Late last month, a woman named Janelle Ambrosia went to pieces when a man in a parking lot turned on his motor, scaring her two young children.  The car didn’t move; it was the sound of the motor that startled them.  But the woman became so unhinged—threatening to throw her coffee at him and get her husband to kill him--that the man locked himself in, took out his cell phone and filmed her screaming at him at great and noisy length, calling him a “nigger! Nasty fucking nigger!”  His video of that confrontation went viral; in response, Ambrosia took to the radio to explain:  “If you look it up, ‘nigger’ means an ignorant person.  It has nothing to do with race.”

I heard that radio interview as I was plowing my way through Nicholas Wade’s book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. Wade is a science editor who has stirred... see more