Re: What are race promoters promoting?
25 Nov 1996 14:55:01 GMT

(Susan 1)
Susan S. Chin wrote:
: >My understanding is that races are geographical variants of a species.
: >The morphological differences between populations become greater the
: >farther apart these populations are.

(Greg 1) wrote:
: This understanding runs into a lot of problems. Ituri pygmies, Bantu,
: !Kung Bushmen and so on all share geographic proximity and are all
: considered part of the "Black" race in the "3 race" typology you put
: forth, but they are divided by profound phenotypic differences. What
: have in common is a dark skin pigment and residence on the continent of
: Africa.

(Susan 2)
*Precisely. The 3 African groups you mention, all share dark skin pigment
*as a result of their origin and evolution in the African continent. They
*differ phenotypically likely due to local adaptations to various
*environmental differences in their original habitat(s). I'm not familiar
*with exactly what these habitats were, but it would surprise me if the 3
*phenotypically differing groups share identical evolutionary histories
*and habitats. They may be in geographic proximity today, but were they
*always this way?

(Greg 2)

Phenotypic variation is based upon present environment, not past
What you mean is that past environments caused a change in gene frequency
(higher frequency of short stature in the Ituri) or, in other words, a
in genotype. If the Ituri and the Bantu had similar genotypes, they would
have similar phenotypes because they share a similar developmental

Assuming that your argument that these three groups originated in
local environments that shaped the frequencies of genes in their
populations disparately is true, then in what sense are they all "Negroid"
you say, remember, that there are three basic types, and I assume that
the one all three of these fall into)? This was my original point; that
variation within the so-called "races" is very high once you use any
other than skin color.

Once again, I agree that there is variation from one human population to
next -- it just isn't a bounded variation.

(Susan 1)
: >The similarities between populations
: >are due to similar adaptations to environmental demands.

(Greg 1)
: Since humans use culture to do the bulk of their adapting, actual
: adaptational differences are few (like the sickle cell trait). Most
: so-called adaptations to climate are the result of phenotypic plasticity
: or non-adaptive factors like gene drift and the founder affect.

(Susan 2)
*If humans used culture to do the bulk of their adapting, at
*what point did this begin? When we became anatomically modern Homo
*sapiens, we stopped evolving biologically? Obviously the human lineage
*has evolved biologically through time, why would you expect this to stop
*at Homo sapiens? Or at the level of "races"?

(Greg 2)

Note first that I did not say biological adaptation was absent -- on the
contrary, I even gave an example of it (the sickle cell trait is an
adaptation to malaria). What I said is that most adaptations are made
culturally. Amazon basin groups did not adapt physically to eat the
poisonous Manioc root, they developed a technology (cooking) to
make the root edible to their already existing systems. Fire and possibly
clothing -- not a change in metabolism and body temp. -- made it possible
H. erectus and later species to leave the tropics (we are all still
physically adapted to an ambient temperature of 81 degrees F., even, the
in Greenland). Other variations -- kinky or non-kinky hair, flat or
noses, epicanthic folds, the "blue spot", "long" or "round" skulls etc.
be the result of "sexual selection" or merely gene drift, but are not
adaptations to a specific environment. Most observable human variation
of this sort. Melanesians and Australian aborigines also have dark skin

and you are probably right, this is due to a history in the tropics -- but
that doesn't make them evolutionarily very close to either Bantus or
The race concept implies similar characteristics are based on close

Other 'adaptations' -- such as larger lung cavities in high altitude
populations -- are developmental -- a result of phenotypic plasticity, not
a change in gene frequency (evolutionary adaptation).

(though there are some real and interesting -- if minor -- genotypical
adaptations in a few high altitude environments)

(Susan 1)
: >This racial
: >differentiation occurred once early hominids spread beyond Africa and
: >Old World.

(Greg 1)
: This is certainly one view of human origins -- that Homo erectus evolved
: separately into H. sapiens in different places. This theory has a
: of problems. One is that DNA comparison suggests a much closer
: relationship than that. Another is that this scenario (various H.
: species evolving in isolation) would more likely lead to actual
: speciation. If this had happened, the "races" would not be able to
: interbreed at all. Finally, the assumption that H. erectus was somehow
: "driven" to involve into H. sapiens wherever they were implies a sort of
: directional evolution which few biologists credit these days.

(Susan 2)
*I made a very general statement in saying "early hominids spread beyond
*Africa and the Old World." Are you disputing the idea that the human
*lineage began in Africa, and spread from there? Early hominids does not
*imply Homo sapiens!

(Greg 2)
Look at what I said -- I spoke of H. erectus, not sapiens. The only
pre-sapiens hominid we know left the tropicswas H. erectus -- no habilis
Australopithecines in Europe. So, no I'm not disputing that. What I
YOU were implying (and perhaps I was wrong)
was a multiregional origin for H. sapiens -- each original "race" evolving
from erectus along separate trajectories due to isolation and then later
mixing so as to blur the original distinction and confuse racial
. While acknowledging that this is a hypothesis with some currency (see
Wolproff. "Multiregional Evolution: The Fossil Alternative to Eden: in THE
HUMAN EVOLUTION SOURCEBOOK, for instance) I was arguing against it -- at
least at the level of separate origins for H. erectus. The "Eve" theory,
based on DNA analysis, holds that all humanity shares a common ancestor at
time depth of 200,000 years -- in Africa.

(Susan 1)
: > Limited interbreeding between populations lead to these
: >phenotypic differences which we can easily recognize as a "racial

(Greg 1)
: First of all, I think you must mean genotypic, for if all differences
: phenotypic, there would certainly be no races. There is unquestionably
: genotypic variation within and between human groups -- it just doesn't
: break sort into easily identifiable "racial" groups unless skin color
: your single criterion.

(Susan 2)
*No, I meant phenotypic. The definition of phenotype used here is "the
*observable expression of the genotype." Phenotypes are *based* on
*genotypes, how else would these observable characteristics come about?
*Culture is definitely not the answer. Phenotypes are the expression of
*interactions between the environment and an individual's underlying
*genotype. What produces phenotypical differences is the different
*way the environment affects the expression of the underlying genes (thru
*evolutionary time). This is commonly known as adaptations.

(Greg 2)

Yes, but phenotypic adaptations are not heritable. A Norwegian can tan
he or she wants, but their child will not be born tan. Only if there is a
change in gene frequency (genotype) will that happen. In suggesting that
people evolve to meet the needs of particular environments -- and then
these traits with them to new environments (i.e the pygmies being in some
environment that selected for shortness -- whatever environment that would
-- and then carrying it with them to their present homeland where they are
surrounded by much taller groups) you suggest a change in genotype, not
phenotype. And of course, genotypes do vary from group to group, but not
a simplistic "racial" way -- unless you want to admit to hundreds or even
thousands of "races" which still grade into one another.

(Greg 1)
: Another view (from the one you propose above) is that there has been
: considerable gene flow throughout human history, and that humanity
: represents a continuum of physical variation which we arbitrarily divide
: into artificially discreet races.

(Susan 2)
*Races don't exist because not everyone fits into a discrete category, it
*therefore is arbitrary? If that's the case, then colors don't exist
*because they're in a continuum as well (and here I mean colors in
*general, not skin color). Racial groups exist. Individual races, that's a

*much messier proposition.

(Greg 2)

Colors ARE arbitrary distinctions from a continuum, and different cultures
distinguish them differently. Navajos make no distinctions within the
of frequencies that English speakers subdivide into "blue" and "green",
instance. Other groups distinguish only between "dark" and "light", or
"dark", "light" and "red". There is an entire literature on this,
in part (and still continued -- I saw him lecture on it a few weeks ago)
Brent Berlin (see Berlin and Kay 1969 BASIC COLOR TERMS). The structures
our eyes and brain probably produce what little "universality" there is in
color terminology (in that there seem to be limited number of
schemes) but the arbitrary division of the spectrum according to our
perceptions, needs, and cultural constraints is
well known. Color is subjective, not objective.

Human variation exists. Racial typologies are messy because they are
artificial. They conceal the real sources and extent of variation.

(Susan 1)
: >physical anthropologists recognize 3 major groups.

(Greg 1)
: The vast majority of Physical Anthropologists do not recognize this and
: have not for many decades.

(Susan 2)
*A current citation please.

(Greg 2)

These came right off of my shelves, and thus may not be as "current" as
would like. If you want even more current ones, I can get them easily
enough. I'm surprised, actually, that you even ask for this. If you
more sources, I'll get them, but please don't accuse me of using older
sources because newer ones don't back me up: that would be a pain for me
ultimately embarrassing for you. Heck, do your own literature search and
find out for yourself -- I could always skew my
sources toward those that seem to say what I want.

For the sake of clarity, I'll repeat: the consensus of physical
anthropologists today -- whether you agree with them or not -- is that
typologies are neither demonstrable nor useful as research tools.

These first two are textbooks, and I assure you, quite typical ones. But
again, don't trust me: browse through some textbooks at a university

(speaking of the history of 'racial' typology)
"The fact is, generalized references to human types such as "Asiatic" or
"Mongoloid" "European" or "Caucasoid," and "African" or "Negroid" were at
best mere statistical abstractions about populations in which certain
physical features appeared in higher frequencies than in other
no example of "pure" racial types could be found. These categories turned
out to be neither definitive nor particularly helpful ( William A.
ANTHROPOLOGY 1994, pg. 280)

"We have briefly reviewed the history of the approaches scholars have
toward human diversity. Although we question the value of race as a
it may be instructive to list definitions of race, which may delineate the
reasons why anthropologists are dissatisfied with the concept. (Nelson and
Jurmain, PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 1982, pg 199)

"The validity and utility of race, as a concept, is still debated by
anthropologists. Typological divisions of humankind, however, which once
occupied so much anthropological effort, appear to be a phenomenon of the
past ( Nelson and Jurmain 1982) pp 201)

And to show a bit of the decades long history of this break with "race" in
anthropology, I cite from one of the seminal multivariate studies (an
but a goodie).

"Human racial classification is of no social value and is positively
destructive of social and human relations. Since such racial
is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance
no justification can be offered for its continuance (R. Lewontin in
EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY 1972, volume 6 pg 397)"

For a more comprehensive work:

(Susan 1)
: > Subsequent migrations
: >have obviously blurred the lines of what criteria should be used or can

: >be used to differentiate the "races." But if looked at from the point
: >view of geographic origins, most humans today can trace their heritage
: >back to one or more likely, several geographically distinct areas.

(Greg 1)
: Again, this is an assertion which has never been demonstrated and which
: much data (like skeletal analysis and DNA analysis) suggests is untrue.

(Susan 2)
*Again, a current citation please.

"There is a basic assumption in Typological classification that races
in a pure state at some time in the past, before migrations of recent
produced the mixtures of today. Mongrelization is the term often used by
racists. But migration has always existed; with culture, humans are
of taking a goodly portion of their environment with them, and as Hooten
succinctly aphorized, "when groups meet they may or may not bleed, but
always breed". Pure races, it would appear, are pure nonsense (Nelson and
Jurmain, PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 1982 pp 198-99)."

I don't have any of the more recent DNA stuff in front of me, but if you
aren't aware of it, I wonder where you've been for the last ten years.
(Don't take this the wrong way: when I taught my first 102 class a few
ago, I discovered that primate taxonomy had changed radically from what I
learned as an undergrad in the early 80's, mostly due to DNA analysis. I
missed it because my focus is belief systems, and the rest of anthropology
was passing me by. I now try to stay current).

(Greg 1)
: It is one paradigm of many, and to survive it must be supported by
: evidence than alternative paradigms.

(Susan 2)
*What are the alternate paradigms?

(Greg 2) .I've touched on them. Basically, trying to understand human
population genetics -- within and between population. Typology was not
merely imprecise, it had no utility. It didn't explain anything, and was
entirely dependent on the variable you chose to delineate "race". For
instance, skin gets progressively darker as one moves from Europe south
Africa, but frequency of Blood type B increases as you move from east to
in Europe. If you break races by skin color, you get one set of races;
groupings, another. Nose shape, another. If you use multiple factors,
really starts to break up, but POPULATIONS become damn interesting.
"Populations" are often arbitrary, too, but they are admittedly so and
a tool to understanding evolution, adaptation, and cultural/biological
interfaces that affect geno- and phenotype.

And if you think that population is just a new word for race, look at some
the literature. If it is, then we have hundreds and hundreds of "races".

(Susan 1)
: >Recognizing that races exist as a phenotypic category,

(Greg 1)
: Again, you certainly mean genotypic here.

(Susan 2)
*No, I meant phenotype.

(Greg 2)

If you mean heritable characteristics which distinguish distinct "races"
mean genotype. Sure, you can't see a genotype, only a phenotype, but if
aren't arguing that "races" have distinct heritable characteristics, I
what you are arguing. Why haven't the people of East Indian descent born
Singapore developed epicanthic folds -- or those of Chinese descent lost
theirs? They both live in the same environment now. It's because their
expressed phenotypes derive from differing genotypes.

(Susan 1)
: >one that doesn't
: >always place individual humans neatly into clear categories either
: >phenotypically or genetically, doesn't negate the fact that the
: >differences we observe between people today are due to the geographic
: >origins of their ancestors.

(Greg 1)
: Again, this is one of many views and must be supported. Archaeological
: and Paleoanthropological data bear out that there were once other
: of humanity, but there is no clear evidence that human variation used
: be greater than it is now, as you suggest. Again, analysis of DNA
: suggests a closer genetic unity the farther back you go -- though I
: readily admit that DNA analysis has some problems.

(Susan 2)
*Just looking around at modern human populations will tell you geographic
*racial groups do exist, if only on a phenotypic level since it has
*been problematic finding "genetic" criteria to group modern human

(Greg 2)

Well, this is the unsystematic way we got stuck with racial typologies in
first place. People in Africa all "look" more like each other than they
"look" like Europeans. This "common sense" notion has failed under close
scrutiny, as do many "common sense" notions. Sure the world LOOKS flat .
. .

I think there must be something about your "phenotype" argument I'm not
grasping. Are you claiming that there is no real genetic variation -- or
that phenotype is the proper criterion for recognizing races? If the
1. With DNA analysis available now, I see no reason to use phenotypic
variation as a way of understanding evolutionary relationships. Studies
plasticity, yes, but even those studies are inevitably enhanced by a
understanding of the genetic envelope within which phenotypic variation
2. If a "genetic" basis of race has been a problem how much more so the
plastic phenotype, which is peculiar to individual history and influenced
such factors as nutrition, disease, altitude, and a host of other factors.

(Susan 1)
: > Differences aside, we are more alike than we
: >are different. We're all members of one race, that of the human

(Greg 1)
: I agree.

(Susan 2)
Glad we found something to agree on :)

(Greg 2)
Me too. It's nice to debate with someone on this ng who has some sense
can frame a cogent argument. Check out a few other threads and see what I

--Greg Keyes