Re: Identifying Race

Robert Snower (rs222@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Wed, 21 Aug 1996 22:43:43 +0000

At 09:11 PM 8/21/96 +0000, Arthur L. Baron wrote:
>Let me try. Anthropologists traditionally fall into one of two camps: race and
>no race. Race can be defined as a human population whose members have in
>common some hereditary biological characteristics that differentiate them from
>other human groups. In more genetic terms, a race is a breeding population
>that differs from others in the frequency of certain genes. Membership is
>determined only by hereditary biological traits and has no connection with
>language, nationality, or religion, although these often act as isolating
>mechanisms. There is no such thing as an Aryan race, a French race, an
>American race, or a Christian race.
>The other camp argues that there is no such thing as race; in their view race
>is a product of imagination and reason that corresponds to no reality in the
>world of nature. This position is advocated by Ashley Montagu, Frank
>Livingstone, Jean Hieraux, and C. Loring Brace. One reason for their position
>is that physical anthros cannot agree on how many races there are.
>Frank Livingstone wrote, "There are no races, there are only clines." A cline
>is a geographical transition from higher to lower incidence of a biological
>trait, a gradient in the frequency of a trait over a geographical range.
>This works for my pseudo-biological, politico sensibilities.
>arthur baron

This sounds good to me, except words like "cline" make it less lucid, and I
can't see that "transition" has much to do with it. Aren't you simply
arriving at a purely biological concept of "race," abstracting from "ethnic
groups," which is a "cultural construct," groups which theoretically need
have zero biological basis, but in point of fact, usually show some measure
of average biological resemblence?

Start with a biologically defined species. Then identical twins have to be
the same race. They are, let us say, 100% the same race. Now take the two
members of this species who are least alike, on the basis of their genes.
We postulate they are 0% the same race. Every other pair of people in this
species are a definite percent the same race, according to the similarity of
their genes. Greater than 0%, less than 100%. Hereditary biological
traits that we are able to discern (and perhaps on occasion geography) are
simply markers which might be used toward classifying people as being a low
or high percentage of the same race.

Ethnic groups find their kinship in a psychological/cultural cohesiveness, a
metaphor of the biological. But this non-biological cohesiveness is
reinforced, more so or less so, by a percent in the above sense of the real
biological relation of its members, on average.

I cannot think of the virtue in trying ever to make an actual determination
of the percent of racial similarity between any two people, or among the
individuals of any ethnic group, except for the purposes of preventive
medicine which Holloway pointed out.

Best wishes. R. Snower