Re: Race

Ralph L Holloway (rlh2@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Tue, 15 Oct 1996 10:05:40 -0400

On Sun, 13 Oct 1996, Vance Geiger wrote:

> From: Ralph L Holloway <rlh2@COLUMBIA.EDU>
> To: Multiple recipients of list ANTHRO-L <ANTHRO-
> 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.

You've completely lost me. I was talking about variation, or so I thought.
Aside from the Ainu, East Asians tend to be glaborous, not hirsuit. The
hirsuitism is what seems to make the Ainu stand out as figure from ground
from other Asian groups in the Japanese Islands, albeit if their gene
exchanges with the surrounding peoples are lessened through cultural and
physical barriers, it islikely there would be other genetic factors, blood
groups, immunoglobins, etc, tec, that would tend to give the Ainu a
constellation of varying gene frequencies from their surrounding
neighbors. To what degree these might be measurable and to what extent
they are important in any adaptational sense is a problem for further
study. I am not aware of any in-depth analysis of Ainu biology which
definitively establishes any adaptive bases for their somewhat different
(not distinct) phenotypic appearance. Perhaps from your Florida experience
you could enlighten us.

> 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.

I don't see that they have to be such distinct goals. Unfortunately, for
better and worse, racial variation is among us, both as a historical and
phenomenal fact. I think you are taking categorization and confusing it
with description. You appear to want to place limits on how phsyical
variation can be discussed. I was trying to discuss variation and how it
patterns geographically, which does suggest that there might be some
utility in having names for the patterns, or being able to communicate
about them in some way. I mention Ainu, and you know what I am talking
about. I mention Khoisan, ditto. I mention Papuans, Fijians, Samoans, and
Solomon Islanders, and you (from your Florida experience?) probably know
what I am talking about, and if I say, but the Solomon Islanders are not
Africans despite their hair and pigmentation, the have gene frequencies
very different from the West African Bantu, you also know what I am
talking about. I don't have a "different goal". As I have indicated
before, numerous times, I think trying count all the different groups who
have different gene frequencies is a waste of time, as would be attempting
to name them.

> 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 can I say.? Bully for you? I am at Columbia University, and have
found that most undergraduates (and many graduate students) don't know
what an epicanthic eyefold is and one can reasonably argue, I suppose that
why should they?

> 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?

I appreciate all of the above, none of which I was arguing for or against
in any manner. I simply would like it to be studied because it is a part
of our species. I have no personal stake in whether epicanthic eye-folds
are adaptive or not. Since they are "there" they interest me. As for the
Vietnamese, and my revelry in human variation, I think you are distorting
my enjoyment of human variation into something malign, and are therefore
way off base. You ought to put a lid on your aggressive style.
Ralph Holloway