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One might think that this series would be more popular if it was about ghosts, not racism.
That might be an accurate assessment, because the number of white Americans who are said to believe in ghosts is a greater number than the number of white Americans who believe in racism (Ghosts of Racism).
But, as regular readers know, I don't write about subjects to be popular, I write about them to shine light on those subjects that are not well understood (like a new-ground-seeking spelunker), or that are avoided for whatever reasons.
A lot of what our culture calls "racial" is what scientists call phenotypic, or outward appearance, and of course the same can be said of gender.
Our general walking-down-the-street visual way of analyzing race or gender, as we pass someone on the sidewalk, is "she is a female", "he is a male", or as regards race, "black", "African American", "White", "Asian", "Hispanic", "Indian", and the like (that is visual, phenotypic analysis).
But how do scientists make determinations based on what we can't see as we walk down the street, such as genetic factors, and/or cultural factors based on scientific analysis and study (i.e. genotype)?
Over time there have been radical swings in scientific understanding, going from Eugenics to this:
"In fact, “There is no genetic basis for race,” says Fullwiley, who has studied the ethical, legal, and social implications of the human genome project with sociologist Troy Duster at UC, Berkeley. She sometimes quotes Richard Lewontin, now professor of biology and Agassiz professor of zoology emeritus, who said much the same thing in 1972, when he discovered that of all human genetic variation (which we now know to be just 0.1 percent of all genetic material), 85 percent occurs within geographically distinct groups, while 15 percent or less occurs between them. The issue today, Fullwiley says, is that many scientists are mining that 15 percent in search of human differences by continent."(Harvard Mag, Race in a Genetic World). That back and forth continues today, albeit to a lesser degree than to the degree it once was:
"A recent shift in the ways some scientists think about race is “misguided and deeply troubling,” says Jonathan Kaplan.(Claims for genetic 'race' differences on rise again). This is happening while a revolution takes place concerning the human genome, the human microbiome, and epigenetics (The Human Microbiome Congress, The "It's In Your Genes" Myth - 2, One Man's Junk Gene Is Another Man's Treasure Gene?, The "It's In Your Genes" Myth).
“Until relatively recently, the consensus in the biological and anthropological literature was that, biologically speaking, there were no human ‘races.’ Part of what was meant by this was that the racial categories used in ordinary discourse about human populations did not have any biological underpinnings—that human ‘races’ as socially identified populations did not form biologically meaningful categories.”
Since at least the 1970s, most serious researchers were persuaded that all but the most trivial difference between human races were the result of social forces and not genetic in origin.
“Contemporary population genetics research, however, is now being used to argue for the biological reality of ‘race,’ and is taken by some to suggest that a focus on racial disparities in health, academic performance, and other areas, requires that we take seriously the genetic differences between ‘races,’” said Kaplan, a Center Research Fellow and associate professor of philosophy in OSU’s School of History, Philosophy and Religion."
In this series I hope to, in the spirit of Agnotology, show where some of these opposing understandings originate, and then are perpetuated (like climate change), but since this post is long enough already, let's finish with this quote:
"I believe it is inaccurate to refer to African Americans as a race or racial group (much as it is similarly inappropriate to refer to Latinos that way) -- unless you move away from the more classical definitions of race." - Neil Risch, Director, Institute for Human Genetics(The Atlantic, Race, Intelligence, and Genetics For Curious Dummies). I have a lot of recent, 2014 papers to use in future posts in this series.
Stay tuned if you like.
The next post in this series is here, the previous post in this series is here.
Don't feel bad if you are like the rest of us and go off an a tangent sometimes ...
(Bill Maher’s Medical Meltdown).