Re: What Are the Race Deniers Denying?

Gerold Firl (
21 Oct 1996 20:13:47 GMT

In article <54fpph$>, Ron Kephart <> writes:

|> (Toby Cockcroft) wrote:

|> > What are the race deniers denying is your question and the answer is the
|> > whole notion of 'race'.

|> Let me come in here with one important qualification to the above.
|> We, as anthropologists, are denying that it is possible to
|> organize the present world-wide population of Homo sapiens sapiens
|> into discrete "racial" categories in any scientific and biologically
|> meaningful way.

Unfortunately for anthropology, this dictum has achieved some measure
of success, though I have to wonder if there is an appreciable
difference between public and private support for this quaint homily.
>From the perspective of evolutionary biology, it is quite clear that
the geographical variation found in the human species is entirely
consistant with a taxonomic subdivision into races (or subspecies;
the terms should be treated as equivalent if we are discussing this
in terms of what is "scientifically and biologically meaningful".)

Of course, there is room for endless debate as to what level of
discrimination between subpopulations is taxonomically appropriate,
and there are also debates as to whether a cladistic or eclectic
analysis is preferred. (A cladistic taxonomy uses the pathways of the
evolutionary tree exclusively in determining relations between
populations, whereas an eclectic analysis also considers morphology,
the degree of physical divergance.)

So, it's not the case that the human species can not be organized into
scientifically meaningful races; the problem stems from the fact that
we can be meaningfully analyzed in many different ways. This doesn't
mean that the entire exercise is meaningless, only that there are
different criteria which can be applied, and different levels of
lumping or splitting desired. Taking the lumping approach to its
ultimate extreme, and saying that there are no racial subdivisions
whatsoever, must be understood as a political stance. It's not
consistant with the level of taxonomic differentiation applied to
other species.

|> For us a much more interesting and biologically
|> meaningful question is "In what ways does this world-wide population
|> vary, and what are the adaptive advantages for that variation, if
|> any?"

Same thing. Human races do show geographical variation, as you mention
above, and there are (fairly) distinct boundaries in many cases, so
it's convenient to assign names to the various groupings. Standard
taxonomic practice.

|> We do NOT deny that nonscientific notions of "race" exist. Nor do we
|> deny that these folk classifications, along with their accompanying
|> ideology, have had sometimes horrendous consequences for those so
|> classified. For these folk "racial" classifications, the relevant
|> questions are: "Why and how did folk classifications of "race" develop?;
|> How does this development reflect different social, political, and
|> economic patterns (compare, for example Brasil and the US)? How has
|> this affected the history of the human beings involved?"

Interesting questions indeed, but questions for history, sociology,
and anthropology - not biology.

|> We know that Europeans, in their intensive contacts with the Rest
|> of the world beginning around 1500, raised racism and ethnocentrism
|> to the level of national policy (10,000,000 West Africans ripped from
|> their homelands and forced into the service of European capitalism on
|> plantations in the "New" World, for starters). The justification: the
|> Africans were not Europeans, so it was OK.

Interesting analysis; did you read the petition to the UN on the
plight of india's untouchables, posted to this newsgroup today? The
caste system of india is a 3000 year old system of aparteid, codified
now into hinduism. Slavery, now considered a "peculiar institution",
has been a part of the human landscape for as far back as anyone
knows. The really unique aspect of this whole issue is the current
effort to expunge racism from western culture; a noble goal, but not
one to which you should try to sacrifice scientific objectivity.

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