Irrational Biological Classifications

C. A. Silva (
Sun, 19 Jan 1997 16:42:02 -0500

On 11 Jan 1997, Ron Kephart wrote:

> "Glenn J. Conrad" <> wrote:
> > According to almost all research, the three groups you mentioned are
> > biologically different on average. Most of the differences are related
> > to their differing geographic environments. I suggest you read my
> > posting "The logical guess" on the sci.anthropology.paleo newsgroup; It
> > may interest you. Glenn
> There is no doubt that contemporary H. sapiens exhibits a great deal
> of biological variation, and that at least some of that variation is
> due to adaptations to local environments. The question is, to what
> extent does that variation justify setting up "racial" categories?
> And, further, to what extent would those categories conform to our
> folk categories of "black, asian, white" if they were set up?

What amount of variation would justify *your* setting up racial
categories? In other words, what do *you* mean by race?

> Taking "black" and "white" as an example, we know that people labeled
> black and white in North America are genetically more similar to each
> other than either is to the parent population; this is the result of
> gene flow between these two populations in North America.

This is so astounding that I do not believe it. I'd like you to summarize
the studies that purport to show this for us. In fact, you are the only
one I know to have ever claimed it.

We also
> know that in North America, as a result of the hypodescent rule (see
> M. Harris' Patterns of Race in the Americas) a "white" person can
> parent either a "white" or a "black" child; a "black" person can parent
> only a "black" child. This is irrational, from a biological perspective.

It only goes to show that white is an exclusive category and that black is
a residual one. Same goes for palamino horses. The slightest taint gets a
horse classified, not as palimino but as "other." So also for breeds of
dogs. Only purebreds can qualify for the type; the rest are mutts. And in
all cases, there are some animals that pass for purebreds. And in all
cases, the origins of purebreds were not purebreds themselves. They are a
product of evolution, not of some mythic Platonic archetype.

I fail to see why any of this is "irrational" from what you call as
"biological" perspective. Classification depends on both reality and the
purposes of the classifier. If the purpose is breed purity, we'll get the
classifications we find.

> In other cultures, there are other ways of categorizing people that
> focus on actual physical features and socioeconomic status, rather
> than strict descent. Which means that "races" are ethnosemantic,
> rather than biological categories.

Tell us about them in some detail, please, and why they are more rational
that the taxonomies used in the United States.

> Our Northamerican folk categories do not reflect an underlying biological
> reality, and the continued insistence that they do will insure that
> differences in human social and cultural behavior (such as performance
> on "IQ" tests) will continue to be mistakenly attributed to biological
> differences, as in The Bell Curve, etc.

Do you have evidence that *all* the differences in social and cultural
behavior can be explained by non-biological factors? If biology is a
factor, perhaps we need some better biological concepts than race.

> And, of course, it didn't help much to have the Oakland School Board
> claim that AAVE or Black English is "genetically transmitted" or
> something to that effect.
> I guess I'm babbling, but I'm so tired of trying to make this point
> that I may give up soon and go into hibernation.

Please stay above ground long enough to answer my questions.