Re: Identifying Race

Arthur L. Baron (abaron@STU.ATHABASCAU.CA)
Thu, 22 Aug 1996 13:35:24 MDT

> At 09:11 PM 8/21/96 +0000, Arthur L. Baron wrote:
> >
> >
> >Let me try. Anthropologists traditionally fall into one of two camps: race
> >no race. Race can be defined as a human population whose members have in
> >common some hereditary biological characteristics that differentiate them fr
> >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 rac
> >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 positi
> >is that physical anthros cannot agree on how many races there are.
> >
> >Frank Livingstone wrote, "There are no races, there are only clines." A cli
> >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?

Thanks to Ron Kephart's response here. It is so difficult to classify what
traits would belong to which race, and for what purpose. If skin colour is the
major criterion, then what race does the, give or take, one billion East Indian
population belong to - currently classified as dark skin caucasions?

> 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.
But how does one determine a cut off point within a defined species. Consider
the RH factor in blood. 85% of caucasions are RH positive (the chemical factor
RH is in the blood of 85% of caucasions), those who don't have this factor are
said to be RH negative; can a species be defined by a dominant or recessive
gene? Rh neg originally developed as a mutation in Europe and subsequently
spread to other areas of the world. The highest concentrations of Rh neg are
found in the Basques of northern Spain and southern France and among some
isolated village communities in Switzerland. American Native Peoples,
Polynesians, Melanesians, and Australian Aboriginal Peoples have no Rh neg
gene. Would all be considered the same race based on this gene, and whose
blood is more mutation free?

If you ask me what racial group I belong to, I would drag my knuckles off
the ground, scratch my head, pick my nose, and answer the Lucy moiety.

If you asked me what my ethnic origin is, I might say: a third generation
displaced northern European North American, or a sixth generation displaced
eastern European North American, prior to that I don't know, nor care.

> 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

Did the disscussion by R. Holloway touch on the ethics of genetic manipulation
- this would be interesting discourse.

arthur baron