Re: Race

Vance Geiger (geiger@PEGASUS.CC.UCF.EDU)
Sun, 13 Oct 1996 01:14:00 -0400

L@UBVM.CC.BUFFALO.EDU> Subject: Re: Race

I appreciate your point about baggage, but wonder if you could
elaborate abit on which terms you would use. How doyou speak in
general terms about paterned biological variation? Would you
refer to it in the adjectival sense as "racial" but leave out the
nominative form "race"? How would you prefer to talk about
specific biological patterns among particular human groups, i.e.,
Khoisan, Bushman, San Bushman, Ituri Forest Pgymy, Pgymies, Congo
Pgymies, or how would you refer to the Ainu if discussing
hirsuitism among East asians, including Northern Japan? What
terms and labels do you think get us out of the racial baggage of
the past?
Ralph Holloway

Reply: Why not concentrate on the variation. Hirsuitism, where
is it found, in what proportions, possible adaptive explanations.
This is very different from saying: East Asians tend toward
hirsuitism. In the first instance the focus is on the variation
and possible reasons. In the second it becomes a physical
characteristic defining people.

In the first instance you can speak in a general way about the
patterned biological variation, the physical characteristic. In
the second instance the patterned biological variation becomes
secondary to defining people who live in a particular place
according to the physical characteristic. It depends on the
general goal. To discuss variation among homo sapiens or to
categorize populations of homo sapiens according physical
variations. These are two very different goals.

In the first instance you begin with homo sapiens and discuss
variations within the species. In the second instance you begin
with different groups of homo sapiens and explain why they are
different. Not the same thing.

On Science: In the AN article you mentioned epicanthic eyefolds.
When I was a TA we used to teach undergrad students how to
recognize eyefolds in the Biological Anthropology anthropometry
labs at the University of Florida, so all is not hopeless.

What if epicanthic eyefolds are not adaptive? What if cold has
nothing to with selection for epicanthic eyefolds. What if
founder's effect, or even assortive mating played the significant
role. What does this say? Assortive mating is a process that
has biological consequences, but the biology is mediated by....
what? Is it not possible that culture can have significant
biological consequences? The extra layer of skin may afford some
protection in harsh climates, or it may not. It is interesting
to note however, that many people who migrate to the US with
epicanthis eyefolds seek to have their eyes "rounded" altering
this biological characteristic. Sit with some Vietnamese
sometime and watch VN soap operas and they can tell you which
actors have had their faces altered and how. This too is
variation (though not genetic). Is this kind of variation
something to revel in as well?