One of the more amazing breakthroughs in science is also becoming one of the more controversial. The further we delve into the mystery of who we are and what makes us that way through the study of genetics and D.N.A. results in answers being postulated to questions of racial characteristics that are making people uncomfortable.
From the earliest days of evolutionary theory people have tried to pervert scientific fact in order to prove the supremacy of one people over another. The social Darwinists of the early twentieth century extrapolated that rich, poor, and other social status indications were the result of natural selection; a survival of the fittest played out in society’s hierarchy.
Of course they and subsequent subscribers to supremacist theories, including the Nazis, only used supportive arguments, and discounted any facts that countered their theories. The Nazi myth of the pure Aryan bloodline arose from tales of Teutonic knights. (Interestingly enough new anthropological research has shown that Aryan’s were native to India not a people passing through from Europe and back again. see forward to Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series for more details)
Geneticists fear a similar recurrence of events with the new information they are uncovering. Until very recently it was thought that as little as only .1% of genetic code was pertinent to racial traits. That under the skin we were pretty much all the same. Not only have scientists started to rethink that original ratio and increase it up to .2% with the potential for it being as high as a full 1%, they are coming to realize the amount of influence that .1-.2% has is far greater then was first presumed.
By examining the D.N.A. of a particular person they are able to establish their exact racial breakdown based on previous definitions of country of origin. For example a sample can show that a person is made up of a mixture of German, West African and Native American racial types. They can even pinpoint the exact percentages of each strain.
While it’s tempting to see this as a breakthrough for crime detection, it has been pointed out that these figures do not definitively translate into physical characteristics. Even if a person has predominant West African genes it does not mean they will have the physical characteristics of an African American.
As an example of genetic quirks and throwbacks I would cite the example of a family of Mohawk Indians I know. While the parents are both dark skinned and black haired, along with one son, the other son has flaming red hair, green eyes and is as pale skinned as any European. Both sons are the birth children of the same parents, but one carries a regressive gene from some earlier generation. So although their D.N.A. samples would have a similar complexion(no pun intended) the two sons share few obvious physical traits.
But where this issue starts to get both serious and exciting is the topic of race specific traits. For example one anthropologist has postulated that Ashkenazi Jews(ones of European decent)have a gene which passes along traits of higher intelligence then other Europeans. They claim that over a thousand years of laws that pushed them into business forbidden Christians caused a type of natural selection that had those fittest to thrive in an intellectual capacity prevailed.
By stating the possibility that intelligence could be a genetic trait, and that different races could have different genetic potential for achieving higher intelligent quotient the racial supremacy can of worms is opened. As more scientist delve into the genetic map in an effort to discover hints to how certain deceases are passed from one generation to another, more racially specific data is being uncovered.
While the merits for discovering how and why certain deceases are passed and whether or not a certain race’s immunity can be replicated are obvious. What need is there for us to figure out why one type of people can run faster then another? What common good is being filled by that information?
Furthermore when you consider how young the human race is( the oldest being around 120,000 years old), the amount of time passed for any significant distinctions to have developed through genetic mutations is limited. The difference between the human genetic code and a gorilla’s is only 1%. So how much real differences can have developed between humans in our limited time on earth. There is more genetic variation between two frogs sitting side by side in a swamp then two humans.
Solely studying genetics discounts far too many factors. Even in the example cited of the Ashkenazi Jews the role of environment and social conditions was cited as being the reason that the “smart gene” developed. This does not mean that other races given the same situation would not respond in the same manner. If it had been people of African decent would not the same thing have happened?
But instead of looking at it from this angle the scientists said let’s see why Jews are so smart. Instead of developing a general hypothesis which would have said what effects does this type of environment have upon the evolutionary process in humans, they deliberately limited the study to one racial group based upon a generalized stereotype.
Until they are able to reproduce identical environmental conditions for all genetic possibilities to react too, how can anybody postulate one group is smarter, or faster, or anything better or worse then anybody else. It is irresponsible to make statements like this without qualifying them in some manner.
This type of information is too important to be dealt with in a trivial manner. It is reprehensible that scientists are utilizing racial stereotypes as a basis for research. To claim that Ashkenazi are genetically smarter,(If you ever met my mother’s family that argument would fall apart in front of your eyes) or that Kenyan Blacks are inherently faster based on information from a still inexact science falls into the province of trying figure out how many angels one can fit on the head of a pin. One seriously has to wonder what motivated this research in the first place.
scientific information was taken from articles in the Globe and Mail dated Sat. June 18th and June 25th/05 written by Carolyn Abraham. They are the first of two articles dealing with race and genetics that are being run in the paper for the next couple of weeks. If you are able to access the paper either on line or in hard copy they are well worth reading. gypsyman