Re: What Are the Race Deniers Denying?

27 Sep 1996 20:41:15 GMT

In article <52e5ac$>, Susan <> wrote:
> () wrote:
>>I've been hearing long enough statements denying the existence of race in
>>humans, but I've never been clear just what it is that is being denied.
>>Would someone please define the word and show examples of species in which
>>a) there are clearly demarcated races, b) other species where there is
>>only blurring, and c) where humans fall along the continuum?
>I'm not exactly sure of what you are asking here, but what you've raised
>is exactly the point-- there is no definition of race in humans that
>always applies. Most of them have so many caveats attached that they
>aren't particularly useful.

Thank you for your reply, but disagreements over classifying groups happen
all the time. The most fundamental difference, perhaps, is between the
splitters and the lumpers. So you'll find anthropologists (in the past, at
any rate) numbering anywhere between 3 and 35 races.

The problem is that the term was originally
>concocted on the assumption that the differences between "races" are
>greater than those within the "racial" groups. This is only true of you
>select stereotypical individuals as representatives.

Are you sure that anyone made this assumption? It is probably true of
*certain* characteristics. If you have 35 races, for examply, I'd bet
there would be no or virtually no overlap in skin color between those of
the lightest and the darkest of the 35 races. There are probably
*thousands* of such cases when you get down to the gene level. The earlier
classifiers, of course, did not know anything about genetics and even
predated Darwin.

Instead, if you
>line humans up all over the world, what you find is a continuum in which
>any lines drawn are either arbitrary,

You certainly would find continua in races, since they are not *species*.
In fact, there are such things as *clines*, where A can breed with B, B
with C, C with D, ..., and Y with Z, but A cannot breed with Z.

or don't match up (i.e. using
>different criteria produces different groupings, rather than each group
>being defined by a group of traits that always vary together).

Is this unique to man? That is the question I am asking. Or rather, where
does man fall along a continuum among species with clearly demarkated
races at one extreme (they are probably on the way to become distinct
species) and hopeless blurring at the other extreme?

In the
>end, there is far greater variation within each group than there is
>between them, which is opposite of what a racial classification would

Again, where is man along the continuum.

>I don't know enough about non-human animals to know whether the term is
>usefully applied there or not. But in humans, it keeps slipping away if
>you try to apply it with any kind of consistency.

Well, I hope someone reading these Newsgroups will be able to tell us
about non-human animals. I'd like to know more about that. Besides the
*number* of human races and other kind of discrepancy will pop up except
among the extreme splitters. This is whether to place a certain group in
race A or race B, or indeed to just they that they are a mixture (which
would not happen if we were dealing with species, not races). But if a
sizable minority of anthropologists classified American Indians among the
Australoids, I'd say the applicability of race to humans needs some
serious rethinking.

> I've asked
>>this question before and got no satisfactory answer. But these Newsgroups
>>have a high turnover, so some race denier may be here that can answer my
>>question. I am NOT interested in learning that race is a sociological
>>concept, one that has no *necessary* connection to the biological concept.
>>I am quite well aware of this. What I want to know about is the biology,
>>since I don't think any race deniers deny that races exists in the
>>sociological sense.
>Again, I'm a little confused-- are you suggesting that "race deniers"
>don't acknowledge that there is biological variation? I certainly doubt
>that. The problem is, as I said above, that the biological variation
>which exists can't be carved up into neat racial groups.

But if all the race deniers are denying is that races cannot be carved up
into neat little groups *like species can*, then they are not saying
anything at all.

>Also, I might point out that the confusion of the biological variation
>and the sociological variation is what tends to cuase trouble, i.e.
>people believe the sociologically defined races, and then confuse them
>with biological traits (i.e. if African Americans are defined
>sociologically in a particular way, then the biological differences one
>can also observe may be used as an explanation for the sociological
>differences). This is a version of the "naturalistic fallacy" so often
>raised here in ol' sci.anthropology!

Just a bare claim like this would be inadequately supported. I believe
that any child can learn any language (although this has not been
documented in every possible case: has anyone every tried to teach an
Australoid Estonian?). But this does not mean that the race concept cannot
be applied to humans. It just means that all of us have the faculty of
language at a pretty abstract level. (It's interesting--certainly to city
dwellers!-- that the portions of our brain reserved for things like
certain plants, animals, and other features of our early environment are
quite large. (I read this in the Tuesday science section of the _New York
TImes_ last year and should dig it up.) There could be racial variation in
this regard, even in historical times. Suppose that Jews with larger
proportions of their brains that get used in Talmudic disputations had
larger families, as I believe is the case. Then this may go to explain
their high intelligence, as well as perhaps a tendency to get preoccupied
with details. (I'm not sure about this last, but I was astounded when an
amateur Talmudic scholar and observant Orthodox Jew responded when I asked
him about Jewish concepts of the afterlife, proceeded to recite all the
various authorities on the matter, but without his having any interest in
who was right. Hell, for him, was not a burning issue! I'm not claiming
that Jews are a race, though there are some geneticists who think that
they more closely resemble each other than they do to the majority
populations in which they reside. It seems, for casually browsing groups
like soc.culture.jewish that DNA sequencing studies is forcing a consensus
on this matter.)

Anyhow, I am quite open to entertaining biological differences as part of
an explanation of observed social differences. But for now, I just want to
find out what the often routine denial of the very existence of race
in humans is actually based upon. But thanks for trying: its just that you
never got the necessary background in comparative biology.