Re: Identifying Race

Ralph L Holloway (rlh2@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Tue, 20 Aug 1996 00:40:08 -0400

On Mon, 19 Aug 1996, Gary Goodman wrote:

> A "human race" supposedly refers to a specific designation of a human
> population or isolate within the species Homo sapiens sapiens, that is
> distinguished by apparent phenotypic differences that are ecologically,
> geographically, ethnically, religiously, or socially distinctive, and in
> turn genetically correlated. Whereas in all other species, these
> distinctions are chromosomically and physiologically distinguished into
> clearly separated groupings of the members of the species, this is in
> truth not so with the human species currently, and rarely, or to a very
> limited extent in the past 30 - 100 thousand years since Homo sapiens
> sapiens evolved as a distinct (sub) species.

You've certainly confused me with this statement. Homo sapiens sapiens is
a subspecies of what species and what arethe other subspecies? Are you
thinking of neanderthalensis? But since when did phenotypic traits include
religious, social, ethnic distinctions?

> So too racial thinkers and racists have sought to blur the various
> distinctions of meaning of the word "race," seeking to creating a
> significant biological difference out of geographic and environmental
> variations of trivial external characteristics of appearance and
> biochemistry. Not only those this allow the propagation of falsehoods of
> innate and unchangeable genetic differences between ethnic groups of the
> one and only human race, but also nonsensical arguments that these
> correspond and correlate to inherent psychological and behavioral
> differences.

Just who is to judge whether or not the variations which pattern
geographically (environmentally in most cases) are "trivial external
characteristics of appearance and biochemistry"? And were(are ) the
"trivial" external and biochemical characteristics of today "trivial"
"yesteryear"? I really don't know and don't expect to find out in a
climate where human biology is seen as trivial.

> At best, since there is biologically but a single human race, we must
> drop down below a variety, into terms of little generally accepted
> meaning with regard to humans especially, to place the classifications
> generally termed "human races." This is an infraspecial taxonomic
> classification not quite officially recognized: the Sub-variety (or
> perhaps a "microspecies" or Jordanon): signifying populations with minor
> regularly recurring variations within an isolate that can be generally
> passed along, only within selected and separate interbreeding groups of
> that isolate due to physical (or in the case of humans -- cultural) barriers.

Another way of looking at this is to get rid of the notion that we are one
"race". We are one "species", and we pattern into exactly the sorts of
smaller units you discuss above. The point I am suggesting is that there
are hundreds if not thousands of them, so why bother cataloguing them?
Especially since their frequencies fluctuate with each generation.

R. Holloway