Re: In which I change my mind again.

Ralph L Holloway (rlh2@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Thu, 10 Oct 1996 02:02:29 -0400

On Wed, 9 Oct 1996, Ronald Kephart wrote:

> > Anyway, as for "race" I agree with Ralph Holloway human biological
> > difference exists, there are "groups" that have certain characteristics
> > that they share with no others.
> I am troubled a little by this, and maybe Ralph will be gracious enough to help
> me (us?) out. My impression was that the various traits typically used for
> "racial" classification, which certainly do exhibit variation, some of which is
> non-random, do not cluster reliably with each other. I thought that a "race",
> to be meaningful at all, would have to exhibit a cluster of traits which were
> absent, as a cluster, from other "races". If you take just two traits that are
> typically used by our racial folk model, skin color and hair form, you find that
> they do NOT travel together and that all possible combinations do in fact occur.
> Then if you take blood type, which is "invisible" and therefore wasn't available
> for the initial setting up of folk racial categories, blood types don't co-occur
> with either of these other "racial" traits.

I have never understood this argument regarding clustering of traits. Who
is it that says that traits have to cluster in the first place? When
ornithologists speak of different races within a bird species do they talk
about clustering of traits? Do plant biologists who discuss races of
plants within a species, sometimes merely based on petal color or
something similar, talk about clustering of traits? All that has to vary
is the frequency of one allele across a geographic range, and some
structural (or behavioral) reason for lack of panmictic mating. Blood
typing suggests literally thousands of "races" or breeding "isolates", and
I use quotation marks as the "isolation" is only relative and not totally
absolute, hence clines of various degrees of sharpness. There was a time
when Boyd's classification tended to match the roughly six or seven major
geographic continental regions classically used to name "races". But
simply because Australian Aborigines can demonstrate blondism as well as
Europeans, is hardly an argument for the need of any and all outward
phenotypic manifestations to cluster in order to have racial variation.
And when there is considerable clustering of traits, e.g., dark
pigmentation, tightly spiraled hair, and alveolar prognathism, surely you
not want to regard Africa as biological homogeneous, a continent that has
probably more biological variation phenotypically and genotypically as
anywhere in the world. Africa is simply more diverse that the Khoisan
people here, the Bantu there, and Nilotic groups up there. I do think that
attempting to name all of the different groups on the basis of a few
phenotypic characteristics such as pigment and hair form is not
aparticularly sophisticated way to proceed. On the other hand< I don't
think all of the babies need to be tossed away with the bath water, to use
a wretched simile.

> This, I repeat, is not to deny that there are traits, including skin color,
> sickle-cell, blood types, etc., that vary non-randomly and that are definitely
> explainable in evolutionary terms. I just think (and my impression is that
> Ralph agrees, but apologies if I'm wrong) that the more interesting question for
> us now is to discover how and why these different traits evolved and what they
> tell us about human history, not how can we use them to place people into what
> were, to begin with, folk taxonomic categories designed to support a eurocentric
> worldview.
Oh, I do agree here. Unfortunately, the political correctness attitude
that surrounds these characteristics and genotypic bases makes it
difficult, if not outright dangerous to study human variation. Try it with
the brain sometime, that one part of the human body for which we simply
won't tolerate any variability unless it does occur absolutely randomly.
Folk taxonomic categories are likely to be a universal phenomena, but I
will agree we (European-derived) have tended to fixate on them.
I am involved in sort of an ongoing argument regarding Phil Rushton's
claims about Black mating patterns, testosterone, and several other
behavioral and bodily parameters. It's quite interesting, as the claim of
higher testosterone appears to have some basis in the literature,
particularly around high stress for blacks and their health status. Here
is an area where replication studies would be of tremendous value to
issues of public health, at least for Blacks, if the claimshave any
validity. Go to the literature and see how many articles there are on the
variation of testosterone titers in males throughout the world. You will
find but a couple, and each raises more questions that they answer. Why?
Because people are afraid to study such things. It's almost as simple as
I will state my position once more. I revel in variation. It is th
best damn thing that the human species has. It should be studied and
intensively so, appreciated, admired, and welcomed, and encouraged, and
more than tolerated, simply enjoyed.
Ralph Holloway

> > "Race" as it is colloquially used IS a
> > social construction. I would say that it is legitimate, only in that the
> > concept can affect how society interacts, but lets leave that one for the
> > sociologists.
> Oh god(s) no, Matt, let's NOT leave it to the sociologists, or the
> psychologists, or the lawyers, or anybody else. WE are the folks uniquely
> qualified to research and speak out on this topic. As long as we leave the
> field to these people, the assumption that the folk model of race has the same
> scientific status as the analytic model of race will continue to impede popular
> understanding of the issue.
> > I would also like to note that the study of human difference
> > and variation is not in and of itself "racist." Again, as with anything in
> > science its the questions we ask.
> Agreed; see above.
> Ron Kephart
> University of North Florida