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Experts: Race is not real

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Bad news for folks who are deeply invested in the popular conception of race. The most recent national conference on the topic, attended by experts in genetics, history and anthropology, reports that ‘race’ doesn’t exist. Again, people in the know say that what most Americans think of as race is a cultural construct, not supported by biology.

The Washington Post was there.

A professor who argues that race is a biological myth sat next to a professor who wants the U.S. government to pay reparations to African Americans. Their positions are not inconsistent, but they require a bit of explaining. Race is complicated. Nothing in the discussion is black and white.

“It doesn’t exist biologically, but it does exist socially,” said Alan Goodman, incoming president of the American Anthropological Association, which sponsored the meeting at the Holiday Inn in Old Town.

The event served as a brainstorming session for a $4 million project, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation, to create a traveling museum exhibit on race. If all goes well, the exhibit will debut in two years at the Science Museum of Minnesota, in St. Paul. The working title is “Understanding Race and Human Variation.”

What this means is the bedrock claim promoted by racists — that people can be divided into biologically exclusive ‘families’ based on superficial aspects, such as skin color or whether they have epicanthic folds — is false. For example, a person who shares your height, particularly if you are tall or short, has more in common with you biologically than other people who share your skin color or eye shape.

If there was a consensus that emerged from two days of conversation, it’s the notion that race is a cultural construct. Investigations into the human genome have so far failed to turn up any evidence that there’s such a thing as, for example, a Caucasian. Human beings are genetically rather homogeneous compared with other animals. But the lack of biological support for traditional categories of race does not change the fact that race is a lived reality. The exhibit should discuss this “paradox of race/no-race,” in the words of anthropologist Micaela diLeonardo.

But, how did the terms most Americans think of as defining race come into being? The term Caucasian originally referred to people who lived in the Caucacus Mountain area near the Black Sea. Oriental meant the direction, East, where the people who would be called Orientals, dwelt. Africans were merely anyone, from Egyptian to Zulu, who resided on the extremely diverse continent. Only with slavery, colonialism and imperialism, did the terms take on the value judgments now associated with them. A hierarchy needed to be established to try to justify the domination and exploitation of some peoples by others.

The conclusion reached by the conferees is not news to me. However, it strikes at the heart of what our racist brethen hold dear — the belief there is a ‘better’ race and they are members of it. Harry, the blogger at Little Geneva, is an adherent to Christian Identity ideology. He is not pleased with what the experts at the conference decided.

“Conservative, traditional values “ without racial inequality? As I’ve said, this is like calling use of the Internet traditional. “Nobody wants to return to a time when blacks or anyone else were second-class citizens.” It’s common for knees to jerk over that term “second-class citizen.” My suggestion is to revoke the citizenship of anyone who is not white and Christian — that is, if the desire is to have a real nation rather than a proposition nation. . . .

Members of the Christian Identity movement believe not only that white supremacy is right and proper, but that it is ordained by God.

Do I expect people to start greeting their height mates as members of the same ‘race’ within my life time? No. But, the work of the National Science Foundation is worthwhile. It will help dispel at least some of the confusion about what ‘race’ is.

What’s the art?

A picture of a child.

Reasonably related

In the interest of brotherhood and sisterhood, I have decided to extend the hand of fellowship to all persons who share one of my physical characteristics — crooked little fingers. Welcome to my ‘race.’

Note 1: This entry also appeared at Silver Rights.

Note 2: There is more good blogging at Mac-a-ro-nies.

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