Re: Definition of Race

Gerold Firl (
7 Feb 1995 13:55:48 -0800

In article <3h0l4e$7kj$> Chloe McCracken <100430.2001@CompuServe.COM> writes:

>I would like to agree with pretty much everything Calvin says and
>add to this a definition of race from a dictionary of anthropology:

>"However as a folk concept in Western and non-Western
>"societies the concept of race is a powerful and important one,
>"which is employed in order to classify and systematically exclude
>"members of given groups from full participation in the social
>"system controlled by the dominant group."

This is one use that has been found for the concept of human races, but it
is far from the only one. Much of the current discussion of race appears to
assume that this is the *only* possible use. Not so. Once we have outgrown
our tribal xenophobia, race will still remain, and will still have useful

I am currently reading _all about arthritis_, by brewerton. Arthritis is a
disease which has many forms. It is not really a single disease, but a
designation for a number of different diseases, which have the common
property of attacking the joints. One point which brewerton makes several
times is the racial variation of susceptibility to different kinds of
arthritis. He doesn't mention controls for environmental variations which
may correlate which racial variation, and which may well conflate the
variation. Nonetheless, the diagnosis and cure of diseases which have
variable rates of virulence among different races (tay-sachs and
sickle-cell anemia are obvious examples; more subtle relations are still
being uncovered) is one example of how understanding racial variation will
directly aid in improving the quality of human life - and not just for
members of the "dominant group".

The claim is often made that the observed racial variations are illusory,
in fact being only "skin deep". I question this assertion. I expect that
just about any physiological parameter one can measure will have inter-
racial differences; the length ratio of the tibia and femur; mass of liver
per liter of blood; tooth geometry, etc. One can claim that such variations
are not important, or not interesting, or might lead to dangerous social
repercussions if fully understood, but I see this as an abnegation in the
face of primitive xenophobia, unworthy of a society fully committed to
liberty. And from the standpoint of the medical profession, where the
diagnosis and cure of diseases may hinge upon a full comprehension of why
ankylosing spondylitis is relatively common among members of race A, and
extremely rare among race B, the denial of racial variation is clearly

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf