Re: What Are the Race Deniers Denying?

Gerold Firl (
1 Nov 1996 20:41:36 GMT

In article <01bbc82b$84f02460$>, "Ukali Mwendo" <> writes:

|> Gerold Firl <> wrote in article
|> <55b3bn$>...

|> > I see two problems with your statement above: first, you confuse the
|> > concept of "race" and "species". different races can, and do,
|> > interbreed and produce viable offspring. In many cases, the hybrid
|> > offspring show superior vigor compared to the parent stock. "Race" is
|> > equivalent to *subspecies*, not species.

|> Gerold, please help me understand what you are saying...
|> If "race" is equivalent to *subspecies*, then, doesn't it follow that since
|> the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons are extinct, and since we living human
|> beings are the only surviving Homo sapien subspecies - i.e. Homo sapien
|> sapien - that there are no other known human "races" (or, as you say,
|> subspecies) in existence?
|> ...a simple question, no?

Yes - though I'm not sure if I can give you a simple answer. I'll give
it a try.

>From the standpoint of a paleontologist, looking at hominid fossils
over the last few million years, the logical place to make the
distinction between homo erectus and h. sapiens is in southern africa,
somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 bp. The evolution of modern man
since then has produced a very distinct cold-weather adaptation, h.
sap. neandertalis, which constitutes a universally acknowledged
subspecies, or race. Their suite of specialized adaptations are pretty
easy to recognize on the basis of bones alone, which makes it much
easier to get consensus on their taxonomy. However, another key factor
here is the fact that they are extinct; if neandertals were still
around today, such a classification would be politically sensitive.

There are races in existance today who show sufficient physical
distinction to warrent classification as a subspecies; if the bones of
pygmies were excavated in sufficient numbers to show statistically
significant data on their size, and no pygmies currently existed, they
would also be given their own taxonomic designation. The yahgan of
tierra del fuego evolved extraordinary cold-weather adaptations; they
could sleep naked outdoors in conditions that would kill fully clothed
northern europeans. Their bones, however, do not reveal the extent of
those adaptations, and now the yahgan are gone. In spreading over the
globe, and adapting to every environment, man has produced innumerable
local varients, each slightly different. The question is, where do we
draw the lines? Or even, do we draw the lines? There is an appealing
egalitarian simplicity to saying that "we're all the same", but such a
stance runs into a couple of serious problems: first, it's obvious to
everyone that we're not all the same. To the human eye, we display a
large degree of variability. Now, one could argue that the apparent
variations are insignificant, a product of hyperdiscrimination. That
leads to the second difficulty: our taxonomic practice as applied to
other species. There, we make racial distinctions based on superficial
variations: no one would use a hereford or an angus as a dairy cow,
and ignoring the color varients of the african swallowtail would
obscure some very important evolutionary processes. If we make an
exception for man, then clearly it is being done on political, not
scientific grounds.

So, you asked why every individual on earth is classified as h. sap.
sapiens, if in fact we have separate races. I guess the best answer is
that since we have no consensus judgement of just exactly *how* the
family tree should be labeled, it's best, for now, not to label it at
all. Different people have tried their hand at a rational taxonomy,
based purely on physical appearance and historical inference, and have
come up with different numbers of races, and different divisions
between them. As our knowledge of genetics and evolution has improved,
so too have the classification models. Ultimately, however, the only
way to generate a family tree which can be somewhat objective is to
use quantitative analyses of gene sequences to measure relative
kinship between populations. That should produce a true family tree.
Until that time, we'll have to do the best we can with what we have.

Does that answer your question?

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