Genetics, Science, Spotlight
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On the Reality of Race and the Abhorrence of Racism

Most people believe that race exists. They believe that Denzel Washington is an African American, that George Clooney is a Caucasian, and that George Takei is an Asian.* Many intellectuals, however, contend that this belief results from an illusion as dangerous as it is compelling. “Just as the sun appears to orbit the earth”, so too do humans appear to belong to distinct and easily identifiable groups. But, underneath this appearance, the reality of human genetic variation is complicated and inconsistent with standard, socially constructed racial categories. This is often touted as cause for celebration. All humans are really African under the skin; and human diversity, however salient it may appear, is actually remarkably superficial. Therefore racism is based on a misperception of reality and is as untrue as it is deplorable.

With appropriate qualifications, however, we will argue that most people are correct: race exists. And although genetic analyses have shown that human variation is complicated, standard racial categories are not arbitrary social constructions. Rather, they correspond to real genetic differences among human populations. Furthermore, we believe that scientists can and should study this variation without fear of censure or obloquy. Racism isn’t wrong because there aren’t races; it is wrong because it violates basic human decency and modern moral ideals. In fact, pinning a message of tolerance to the claim that all humans are essentially the same underneath the skin is dangerous. It suggests that if there were real differences, racism would be justified. This is bad science and worse morality. Promoting a tolerant, cosmopolitan society doesn’t require denying basic facts about the world. It requires putting in the hard work and effort to support the legal equality and moral dignity of all humans.

Race exists, but variation is complicated

Scholars who have assailed the concept of race have forwarded three general arguments against it. Although the arguments are worth consideration, they do not ultimately show that race is a useless or fictional concept. The first two objections are aimed at a straw man, and the last, we will contend, is entirely wrong.

(Objection 1): Human variation is clinal or gradual, not discrete. Skin pigmentation, for example, does not come in four, five, or seven distinct colors, but varies gradually from very dark near the equator to very light in Northern Eurasia.

This charge against the validity of race is undoubtedly correct: a lot of human variation is gradual, not discrete. However, we are not familiar with any prominent proponent of the usefulness of race who would disagree with this contention (assuming they actually understand the evidence). The famous German intellectual and early theoretician of human variation, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1775), who is often accused of clumsily categorizing humans into discrete racial groups, contended that, “no variety [of human] exists …so singular as not to be connected to others of the same kind by such an imperceptible transition, that it is very clear they are all related, or only differ from each other in degree.”

For a period of time, polygenism, or the belief that the races arose from separate creations, was popular, but it was widely discredited by genetic and archaeological evidence clearly demonstrating that modern humans originated in Africa (a view promoted by Darwin, who also happened to believe that human races existed). Today, most researchers would agree with Blumenbach, including, for example, Nicholas Wade, who recently wrote a book about race that provoked a furious backlash. In that book, Wade asserted that “because there is no clear dividing line, there are no distinct races — that is the nature of variation within a species. Nonetheless, useful distinctions can be made” (p. 92). This is the key point: although the argument that human variation is continuous rather than discrete is correct, it does not vitiate a sophisticated understanding of race. It only refutes a platonic conception that few contemporary scholars take seriously.

(Objection 2): Human genetic variation is much greater within human populations than among human populations; therefore, variation that exists between groups is of little scientific interest.

This claim is true in a circumscribed sense, but is largely irrelevant to the question of whether population group differences are biologically meaningful. As pointed out by Jeffry B. Mitton and A.W.F. Edwards, the original finding that genetic diversity among human races is insubstantial compared to genetic diversity within races was based on a peculiar way of measuring genetic variation. Roughly speaking, the original claim about genetic diversity was based on analyses at single genetic loci (spots on the chromosome where genes are located) and not on analyses that considered the correlated structure of multiple genetic loci (many locations). Failure to consider multiple loci assures that broad, distinct patterns of allele (gene) frequencies get lost in the noise of diversity at single loci. This sounds painfully abstruse, but the basic point is this: patterns that are nearly invisible for individual genes become visible if one examines multiple genes at the same time (i.e., looks at gene 1 + gene 2 + gene 3 + gene 4…et cetera).

Consider a simple but illustrative example.a Imagine that a friend is describing an animal one adjective at a time (e.g., “big,” “furry” et cetera). You are trying to guess the animal. At first, it is difficult to guess because there are many “big” animals, and there are many “big” and “furry” animals. But as her description continues, it gets much easier to guess correctly because each adjective adds to the prior adjectives. The information that allows you to guess correctly does not reside in any one adjective but in the list of adjectives strung together (“big,” “furry,” “antlered,” “white tailed,” “hooved,” “spritely,” “brown,” et cetera). The same holds for population groups. Each genetic locus, like each adjective, is relatively uninformative; but a string of 200 or 300 loci is very informative.

Empirical studies bear this logic out. The geneticist Hua Tang and her colleagues, for instance, found that self-reported ethnicity corresponded almost perfectly with genetic clusters from 326 microsatellite markers  (a microsatellite marker is a piece of repetitive DNA in which a series of DNA base pairs are repeated). Other studies have demonstrated even more power to identify people’s ancestry accurately. These studies illustrate that, whatever the meaning of the claim that there is much more variation within than among races, researchers can, if they use the appropriate procedures, distinguish human ancestral groups from each other with remarkable accuracy. The significance of these genetic differences among groups is entirely an empirical question.

(Objection 3): Human racial classifications are arbitrary. For some purposes, categorizing by skin color is useful; for other purposes, categorizing by, say, antimalarial genes, is useful. These classifications, although equally valid, lead to radically different racial categories.  Thus, one particular classification scheme is no better than the other and none are particularly illuminating.

By any reasonable understanding of the word “arbitrary,” this claim is incorrect. Perhaps the most prominent proponent of this argument is the gifted and persuasive writer Jared Diamond, who wrote, “There are many different, equally valid procedures for defining races, and those different procedures yield very different classifications” thereby ultimately concluding that we shouldn’t codify human differences into arbitrary racial taxonomies. Diamond is absolutely correct that there isn’t a divinely mandated procedure for correctly classifying human variation.  It does not then follow, however, that racial categories are entirely arbitrary, created at the whim of self-interested researchers or racial bigots.  Of course, social interests absolutely do affect some racial classifications within a society, but that is a complicated subject we can’t fully explore here (see endnote).

Group categories are constrained by commonly accepted principles such as coherence, parsimony, and predictiveness. Classifications that are incoherent or that have little predictive value are not valid. There will be some flexibility about classification, but not the anarchic freedom Diamond’s arguments seem to suggest. One might, for example, propose classifying Scandinavians with Nilo-Saharan speaking ethnic groups in East Africa because both can digest lactose into adulthood. But, such classifications would violate the principle of parsimony. These groups diverged from each other before developing the ability to digest lactose into adulthood, evolved on separate continents, and do not share other visible traits such as skin pigmentation and hair texture. Therefore, it makes little sense to categorize them in the same ancestral group.

Race, then, is not a platonic essence and racial groups are not discrete categories of humans. Instead, race is a pragmatic construct that picks out real variation in the world (which corresponds to shared ancestry) and allows people and scientists to make useful inferences. In this way, racial categories are like film categories (e.g., drama, horror, comedy).  Film categories are certainly real in the sense that they offer predictive power. If one knows that A Nightmare on Elm Street is a horror film, one can be reasonably certain that it will be dark, scary, and violent. But film categories are not immutable essences that perfectly sort movies into distinct types. A genre-based satire like Scream, for example, does not snugly fit into any of the traditional film categories. It might be horror; it might be comedy; it might be some previously unknown combination of the two. Furthermore, there aren’t a fixed number of film categories. The amount and the granularity of film categories depend upon the interests of the people using them. Your friend might use four (horror, comedy, drama, and science fiction), whereas Netflix might use an apparently limitless and startlingly specific supply. (See Daniel Dennett’s book for a variety of points and related examples centering on the topic of species).

The same principles apply to racial categories. If one knows that Thomas is a Caucasian, one can be reasonably sure that Thomas has relatively light skin, and that he has recent ancestry in Europe.  But racial categories, like film categories, aren’t immutable essences that perfectly sort humans into distinct groups. There aren’t a fixed number of racial categories, and the number researchers use is partially a matter of convenience. One might start with five continentally based categories (i.e., Caucasians, East Asians, Africans, Native Americans, and Australian Aborigines) and then add more categories as one’s analysis becomes more granular (e.g. Ashkenazi Jewish, Mizrahi Jewish, and so on). These categories aren’t real in some metaphysical sense, but they are useful, and they do have predictive value.  In this, they are like many other constructs in the social sciences such as self-esteem, intelligence, and agreeableness.  They represent traits that cluster together; they predict outcomes; and they can be quantified.

The Ethics of Race

Although the argument that racial categories are fictitious and useless is ostensibly a scientific one, it has been promulgated by progressives to combat racial bigotry. After all, if race is an illusion, then racism is as unreasonable as the fear of ghosts. This would allow researchers and intellectuals not only to denounce racism, but also to mock racists for their basic misunderstanding of biology. But what if meaningful race differences do exist? Should intellectuals continue to promote a false narrative because it serves laudable social ends? This dilemma can be avoided entirely if intellectuals promote a narrative of tolerance that is not attached to an empirical claim. Racism is wrong because it violates the dignity of individual humans. This dignity is not predicated on the biological uniformity of the human species, but rather on the unique worth, esteem, and integrity of all individuals.

Furthermore, high-minded narratives about the similarity of humans and the unreality of race are unlikely to convince the average person. Abstruse analyses of fine-grained genetic differences among populations of Africans, for example, will likely not prevent most people from clumping Africans into one group and Caucasians into another. And, in fact, such folk classifications do correspond to shared ancestry and discernible genetic variation. People see race because race exists, not because they are dupes of an oppressive mythology.

We are not naive about the dangers of candidly discussing human racial variation. It is doubtless true that demagogues and charlatans have used real and imagined data about racial differences to support abhorrent policies and to foment racial strife. And it is also doubtless true that the suggestion that racial groups may vary on socially valued traits contradicts contemporary egalitarian norms. However, studying and discussing racial variation is also potentially rewarding. It might promote the development of better, more personalized medical treatments and public policy interventions; and it would certainly increase our understanding about the evolutionary history of our species. Furthermore, not candidly discussing human racial variation is also potentially dangerous.

Denying the reality of race leaves a vacuum for extremists to exploit. If moderates and progressives refuse to discuss human racial variation, then only the most extreme and often deplorable people will.  We can assure you that if we don’t talk about it as research scientists, it will not prevent racial demagogues from using it to support ugly and intolerant social policies. And it will also cede the scientific high ground to those demagogues, compelling moderates and progressives to resort to semantic games or purposeful obfuscation and straw man arguments.

Conclusion

Most people believe that there are human races. They believe this not because they have a sophisticated understanding of genetic variation or human evolution, but because they see and categorize perspicuous phenotypic (and possibly behavioral) differences. Although many intellectuals have contended that these differences are largely superficial and distort underlying genetic realities, most research suggests that there are meaningful genetic differences among racial groups and that these differences are largely consistent with common racial classifications. Race is as real and useful as other constructs in the social sciences such as neuroticism, self-esteem, and intelligence. Therefore, with appropriate care and caution, scientists can and should study racial variation. This argument may appear alarming to people concerned about racial justice. But it doesn’t need to be. Tolerance and cosmopolitanism don’t require the leveling of diversity; they require the celebration of it. Race exists, but racism does not have to.

 

Bo Winegard is a graduate student at Florida State University. Follow him on Twitter @EPoe187

Ben Winegard is an Assistant Professor at Carroll College. Follow him on Twitter @BenWinegard

Brian Boutwell is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Saint Louis University. Follow him on Twitter @fsnole1

 

Endnotes

For a similar, yet more expansive version of the arguments included here (as well as similar examples of concepts) see:

Winegard, B., Winegard, B. & Boutwell, B. (2017), Human Biological and Psychological DiversityEvolutionary Psychological Science, doi:10.1007/s40806-016-0081-5

 

 

*It is important to note that the social constructionist arguments about race are nuanced and are worth considering. We also recognize that much of the concern over race stems not from classifying individual ancestries, rather it stems more from worry over the attempts (both past and present) to “rank” racial groups based on some purportedly “objective” criteria of worth. Ranking groups is a pointless and meaningless exercise, and we concur that it can produce tremendous harm. Yet, describing the biological underpinnings of race, attempting better to understand how natural selection might have sculpted those differences, and ultimately trying better to grasp the evolutionary heritage of our species so that we might have a more complete understanding of our legacy, is a worthy scientific enterprise. Most importantly, despite that we spend very little space to discussing the social construction of race, this should not be interpreted as a failure to recognize the nuance embedded in social constructionist arguments. We were simply limited in the space we could devote to it.

a To our knowledge, we have yet to see a similar example applied specifically to race.

 

 

49 Comments

  1. Rich Smith says

    You call Blacks; African Americans? You call Yellows; Asians,. But you call Whites, Caucasian. This is a bigoted article written by racists. If you are to be consistent, not prejudiced, the correct terms:

    White: Caucasian
    Black: Negroid
    Yellow: Oriental

    • Agreed. If we’re going to have our knickers in knot about racism, then either stick all to the old formal terms, not the new PC terms. African American is racist: blacks have been here for much longer than some of the newer immigrants. Asia is a continent. The old terms were much more precise. Use them if you’re serious about a return to reality.

  2. The implication that the progressives’ attempt to minimize the importance of racial categories is in any way near as dangerous as the converse, i.e., the regressives’ success throughout history in overstating the importance of such categories, is absurd and woefully ignorant.

    The progressives’ position is not a denial that racial categories exist from a genetic perspective, or that differences exist between them. It’s more a recognition that the precise nature of such such differences have been misunderstood, and their importance exaggerated, by those who possess less of a concern for science than for the promotion of a political or social agenda.

    Furthermore, progressives are simply reminding us that when one speaks of “race,” one is simply speaking about differences that exist within the SAME SPECIES. And as a single species, by definition the similarities far exceed any variations that might otherwise exist.

    Moreover, the progressives recognize that in the modern world it is becoming increasingly difficult to find any individual who belongs solely to a single, discrete racial category. As a consequence, any traits which one might attributed to a supposed member of a given racial category becomes increasingly meaningless.

    • Motte-and-bailey.

      I invite you to come with me to some humanities conferences. Many, if not most progressives do indeed deny that “racial categories exist from a genetic perspective.” Or, if they don’t, they emphasize so strongly the “complexity” or “the precise nature of such differences” to the point where even careful categorization becomes impossible.

    • Fred Welfare says

      It is true that unity of the species outweighs diversity of the species in terms of biological traits where most adaptations are shared between all species members. However, the issue of race is a social-historical difference between human groups. The caste-like nature of each race where social integration is blocked by reproductive taboos, by practices of endogamy, has been extended to classes and ethnicities within each race.

      I think you are referring to individual differences or exceptions to basic cultural practices of inclusion and exclusion. The realpolitik of racial difference and the institutional rules related to these differences may in some places have become less rigorous in the ‘de jure’ sense due to the rationalization of law in the modern period, but social relations still occur primarily within racial subgroups and more rarely between members of these racialized groups.

      It just seems to me that efforts by the media and celebrities, or ‘top-of-the-food-chain’ corporative colleagues, represent their relationships between members of different racial or cultural groups in utopian ways that belie public opinion perhaps because they are insulated from reactionary racists found in every racial subgroup! Efforts of social integration run up against political reactionaries and exogamic taboos which places the scientific problem of unity of the species under suspicion.

  3. “Racism is wrong because it violates the dignity of individual humans. This dignity is not predicated on the biological uniformity of the human species, but rather on the unique worth, esteem, and integrity of all individuals.”

    Can you please define what “racism” is? If person A forms a private country club, and is comfortable only with members of his own race, is he “violating the dignity of individual humans”? Should such behavior be banned?

    If a woman has an aesthetic preference for what her partner looks like partly because she wants children who look like herself?

    Society would condemn both individuals, and punish the person with the private country club by law.

    We accept that individuals have preferences about other humans they work, socialize, and live with. Sometimes their preferences are honorable, sometimes they’re arbitrary, and other times they’re neither (“we just hit it it off”). Why do we allow this for the most part but then condemn it as “racism” when it’s based on certain physical characteristics, and say that it violates human dignity?

    What society calls something “racist,” it’s usually about to interfere in something it should leave itself out of.

    • Bitfu says

      Great comment. It’s essentially the flip-side of Greg A’s comment above. [While I disagree with Greg A philosophically, I appreciate his reply to the article.]

      While Greg A is saying many use race-classification as an excuse to keep the marginalized down, you’re saying Progressives use the classification of ‘racist’ to exercise their own abuse of power.

      FWIW, I find it best keep a distinction b/w ‘racism’ and ‘racist’. To me, ‘racism’ implies a group effort. If it’s a group of people (can be a small number) that is suppressing another race by limiting opportunities, etc. than this is ‘racism’.

      If, on the other hand, it’s simply a bigot spewing racial animus, then we’re dealing a ‘racist’. [And no, a group of ‘racists’ does not necessarily mean we’re dealing with ‘racism’. ‘Racism’ is about power.]

      The distinction is important because as a society, we can deal with ‘racism’ by implementing laws and protections that ensure equal opportunity. We cannot, however, control the ‘racist’ through laws, etc., because we can’t control the thoughts and impulses of individuals.

      While imperfect, this distinction is a decent litmus test for me when assessing the latest racial controversy (or nonsense).

      As for Progressives, I honestly believe they could care less about race. Progressives care about power, and exploiting racialiciousness is–along with climate control–an important pillar for their agenda. As a side note: The whitest places on earth are the various Progressive enclaves throughout the country. Ever watched those Bernie Sander’s ‘Get out the Vote’ videos? Hilarious. Imagine that group of vegan-college-grads spreading their message of organic, free-range, live-off-the-earth goodness on MLK Drive. [I don’t care which MLK Drive, either. Pick one…anywhere in the country…and find me a single Progressive within 10 miles…of any MLK Drive in this entire country. You can’t. But go to the least racially diverse enclaves like Madison, WI, Boulder CO, etc…and you won’t be able to open your eyes without seeing some earnest vegan in dreads who eschews Walmart, factory-farm-beef, and showers while proclaiming his sanctimonious intolerance of intolerance.

  4. First, the issue under discussion is all a large multiplicity of bell-like curves:
    ..1) hugely overlapping gene-based curves of physical characteristics,
    ..2) hugely overlapping curves of the environmental brain-condition/brain washing of the 2-6 year old kids
    ..3) hugely overlapping curves of mating success/failure learnings and future attempt planning.

    Second, these all play into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and, especially, the
    ..a) social group membership, and
    ..b) social group position..

    Third, all this is compounded/”complexified” by the restriction:
    ….the human brain can only really “know/remember” the complete details of about 120 people
    ….=> max tribe size from our heritage of 15,000 years ago,
    ……..which is hugely expanded by heuristics, technology, and social group dogma.

    All of which supports the strategic imperative of the wildly successful human species
    ….to create and protect offspring.
    If it was easy, everyone would fly to Alpha Centauri

    • michael ryan says

      Susan its true that say African American and Caucasian Americans IQ curve overlaps as you put it “hugely” and the same could be said for other traits.We wouldn’t be having this discussion if human races were not so alike that we advocate on behalf of each other ,[ or at least Europeans have the trait of advocating on behalf of others].But on that overlapping IQ curve the average is still a standard deviation, and the tails are much thicker on the african curve if you do the math it alone would account for all the of what is blamed on racial hatred. Now add in curves for future time orientation, promiscuity, aggression and it becomes clear its not hate whites are pressing as hard as they can on the scale for blacks. By now you are thinking no doubt Im a hater, while pointless to argue I will simply say if you are not willing to face the problem squarely you can not solve it. tens of trillions has been wasted in the US alone on solutions that dont take reality into account

  5. Gene's R Us says

    Generic research has recently shown that descendants of proto-Europeans contain 2-4% Neaderthal whereas purely African descendants do not…. hmmm. A number of years ago one of S.J.Gould’s columns in Natural History called “slavery a contingency of history”, in essense saying more primitive Homo could have survived and we probably would have enslaved them without much concern.
    The more recent generic findings speak to this idea, but not loudly.

  6. Lloyd says

    I will concur with Ron (above). The words “racist” and “racism” have been reduced to little more than verbal farts. Only partially in jest, I often tell my students that expunging it from one’s vocabulary will raise your IQ by five points. It is telling that you spend many well thought out words to explicate a reasonable understanding of the term “race” but spend not a word to define, explicate, limit, explore the term “racism”. You merely assert that whatever it is, it is wrong!

    And, your assertion that “Racism is wrong because it violates the dignity of individual humans. This dignity is not predicated on the biological uniformity of the human species, but rather on the unique worth, esteem, and integrity of all individuals.” is neither self-evident nor clear. Why does it not extend to other species in equal measure? Why does it extend to human beings who are so severely diminished in their capacity that they do not interact with ordinary humans in a manner equivalent to an affectionate and intelligent dog? What is this “worth, esteem, and integrity”? and on what does it rest?

    • Geoffrey Howe says

      I suppose one useful definition of racism is to treat someone better or worse based on their race, when you should be applying more pertinent criteria.

      For these reasons, saying you find black men more attractive is not racist. Race has a large impact on appearance, and thus is pertinent to physical attraction.

      However, in hiring practices, race is almost always irrelevant. The ability to do a job, and to do it well, is vastly more important the the prospective employees race (if it’s relevant at all). Likewise, a black mans money spends just as well as a white man, and refusing service to someone because of their race would also be racist.

      This might be considered an objective definition, as success in business is dependant on hiring the best possible employees, and having as many customers as possible. Turning away skilled workers or paying customers based on race will result in a reduced income. While a business need not be primarily for making money, it is by far the most common motivation.

      Now, the trick would then be to determine when race IS reasonable criteria. It’s pretty obviously important in physical attraction, and pretty obviously unimportant in Mathematicians, but what about, say, actors? While sometimes it’s obviously acceptable, such as in period pieces where race is important to the story, what about cases of “Most of our audience is white, and are more likely to watch a moving starring a white protagonist”? Is that racist on the part of the producers? On the part of the audience? That’s a long discussion in and of itself.

      As a side note, I thought of another possible definition before discarding it. One could call racist anyone who makes judgements about a persons character, personality or skillset based on their skin color. However, this is a less useful definition than the above, because if I make a prejudgment about someone based on their skin color, but do not take action based on that prejudgment, then what harm is done? However, if I do take action based on that pre-judgement, then I’ve fallen afoul of the first provided definition.

      • Crescent says

        Race might have to do with appearance, but the judging of these appearances has obvious cultural factors.

        Take a black guy dating in China vs. the US and see how well he fares. Arbitrary standards for physical superiority such as skin color or an epicanthic fold are perpetrated social mores that should be challenged.

        I don’t mean public shaming, but kids should not grow up feeling that the color of their skin among other innate features has a bearing on their ability to be loved by someone.

      • John Fuerst says

        “I suppose one useful definition of racism is to treat someone better or worse based on their race, when you should be applying more pertinent criteria.

        I’m not sure how to interpret the “, when”.

        What if there was a multiracial state, the primary institutional goal of which was to maximize racial diversity. Or an ethnostate, the primary institutional goal of which was to promote the continuance of a particular bioculture. Given those purposes, race would often be the pertinent character. Would discriminating in line with such goals be your-sense racist?

        • Geoffrey Howe says

          I would say those are racist as why would promoting racial diversity be a “Primary Institutional Goal”. Primary goals of a state should be the happiness and safety of it’s citizens, high ability to impact other nations, stability, etc… Diversity may be a sub-goal according to one of these (Our citizens will be happier if they co-mingle with people of all races), but it wouldn’t be a primary goal.

          However, while those examples are interesting, they don’t exist in any meaningful sense. Even racist countries in the past weren’t concerned with keeping black people down (or white people up) as a goal in and of itself. They did such things because of the benefit to a primary goal of doing so (slavery brings about large amounts of low cost workers, for example).

          So I don’t see them as useful defeaters for my definition of racism, as they are not situations likely to come up. It’s not a perfect definition by any means, and what exactly constitutes an appropriate situation to use race as a judging factor is going to vary highly between individuals, but I think it gets the job done well enough.

          • John Fuerst says

            re: “I would say those are racist as why would…”

            Based on your definition — treating individuals differently conditioned on race, when race is irrelevant to the operational goal — the reason for the goal seems irrelevant. If I wanted to make a realistic movie about the war of the roses, we would agree that ethnicity/race would be a pertinent factor when it came to casting, thus justified with respect to the goal. Is making such a movie, the goal, itself justified given that ethnicity/race would be a pertinent factor? Perhaps you would say “yes” because such movies give some pleasure. But if you want to say, “no”, you are smuggled in another definition of “racism”. Now the same logic would hold with regards to hiring staff and making a e.g., realistic renaissance fair. And it should hold with regards to e.g., immigration policy and making an ethnostate — or an ethnotown like Orania — for surely the people that would set these up would derive happiness from the homogeneity. So either you have to rework the definition of “racism” or allow that unambiguously racialist institutions are not “racist” — and I was uncertain which you wanted to do,

  7. Bo Winegard says

    Well, Thomas Jefferson thought it was self-evident : ) Then again, he did not apply it all races, at least in practice.

    I think it is a sacred value. The actual philosophical underpinnings are so complicated that they would require an entire article (or even book; my favorite on ethics is Sidgwick’s “The Methods of Ethics”). And, of course, you raise interesting questions that cannot possibly be addressed in a short article on race. But, the basic point is this: We should judge people as individuals and apply the law equally and impartially. I’d love to discuss the rest sometime : )

  8. Bo, I just don’t think that the idea that we “judge people as individuals” is coherent outside of a few very specific contexts, when we have the time and motivation like in marriage or close friendship.

    Take police work, for example. “Racial profiling,” gets a bad rap, but all police work is “profiling” of some kind.

    When you apply for a job, your employer is going to judge you based on where you went to school and how you groom yourself, based on stereotypes about people who go to certain schools and dress a certain way. So why would it be wrong to make some judgments based on race and gender?

    You see my point. The Left’s project is about creating certain “protected categories” and then deciding we can never discriminate based on them. But which categories we choose are pretty arbitrary, and the protected classes naturally end up advantaged.

    Judging people based on their group characteristics is unavoidable. In my opinion, what we should be asking whether a certain practice has a net positive or negative utility, or whether it passes a cost-benefit test. .

    • Bo Winegard says

      Fair enough. These are complicated issues that would require thousands of words to address appropriately.

      In short, though, I think I would be willing to sacrifice some accuracy in assessment to avoid using racial categories to judge individuals. Of course, you are correct: race contains information. But such judgments are inevitably invidious. I am not certain individuals can avoid using racial categories. But to the extent that they can, I think they should.

      But your points are strong and worth contemplating. I am not a dogmatist about this. The important thing is to have an open discussion.

  9. I think that race is a loose way to talk about the larger concept of human genealogy, namely, the degree of relatedness among large groups of people. I understand that race, so construed, is tough to define, but though it may resist definition, that does not mean that it is unreal. To show that something could be real while also being impossibly hard to define rigorously, let’s consider the very quotidian concept of family-membership. Take my family, for example: We can’t define membership in my family according to any number of essential traits without excluding many people with whom I am related.

    Thankfully, we nowadays have a more direct measure of relatedness, namely the genetic phenomenon of sharing a certain number of genes (alleles) above a threshold that is probabilistically determined only to be exceeded by close kin, but which becomes less reliable the more distant the family tie is. But think about what this means for race: We share with others various coefficients of relatedness that we cannot practically measure with certainty but which nevertheless is a real fact about the natural history of the world, namely, the full history of reproductive events of all humans.

    I am not defending a more specific philosophy of race, either that there are a certain definite number of them and that knowing someone’s genealogy can help predict his behavior. And I will grant that any attempt to get more specific than “a measure of relatedness among large groups of people” is bound to be socially constructed. But this does not mean that race is not an in principle measurable phenomenon. Simply put, what I think race is is as a loose way of referring to shared ancestry which is entailed in the perfect knowledge of every living human’s genealogy but which, thanks to the impossibility of this perfect knowledge, cannot be known with the level of certainty that we might wish for from something so existentially meaningful.

  10. Magnificent post!

    Human variation is clinal or gradual, not discrete. Skin pigmentation, for example, does not come in four, five, or seven distinct colors, but varies gradually from very dark near the equator to very light in Northern Eurasia.

    This charge against the validity of race is undoubtedly correct: a lot of human variation is gradual, not discrete. However, we are not familiar with any prominent proponent of the usefulness of race who would disagree with this contention (assuming they actually understand the evidence).

    Or, as I put it, because the visible color spectrum is continuous, with no sharp line between colors, color doesn’t exist. Yellow = orange! 🙂

    Though even further, often across the globe, natural barriers or the vagaries of history can create sharp discontinuities between human groups. Is there a smooth transition as you cross the Himalayas? Or the Sahara?

    The geneticist Hua Tang and his colleagues, for instance, found that self-reported ethnicity corresponded almost perfectly with genetic clusters from 326 microsatellite markers

    Well, to be more accurate, self-reported continental race very closely matches genetic data. This is not as true for precise ethnic origin, of say White Americans in the U.S. (e.g., Irish-American vs German-American vs Norwegian-American, etc.). This is mostly due to vast intermarriage between those groups and individuals’ ignorance of their own ancestry.

    That said, the correlation between self-reported European national ancestry and genetic ancestry is pretty high, 0.7-0.9.

    People see race because race exists, not because they are dupes of an oppressive mythology.

    But don’t worry Brian, one day you too will see five lights.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_eSwq1ewsU

    Tolerance and cosmopolitanism don’t require the leveling of diversity; they require the celebration of it.

    Quite laudable. But you must know different humans than I do. 🙂

    Race exists, but racism does not have to.

    Unfortunately, racism/ethnocentrism is heritable (like all things). It (like other human foibles) can’t be eradicated:

    Heritability of Racial and Ethnic Pride, Preference, and Prejudice | Human Varieties

    Great work, as usual Brian.

  11. This charge against the validity of race is undoubtedly correct: a lot of human variation is gradual, not discrete. However, we are not familiar with any prominent proponent of the usefulness of race who would disagree with this contention (assuming they actually understand the evidence).

    Or, as I put it, because the visible color spectrum is continuous, with no sharp line between colors, color doesn’t exist. Yellow = orange! 🙂

    Though even further, often across the globe, natural barriers or the vagaries of history can create sharp discontinuities between human groups. Is there a smooth transition as you cross the Himilayas? Or the Sahara?

    The geneticist Hua Tang and his colleagues, for instance, found that self-reported ethnicity corresponded almost perfectly with genetic clusters from 326 microsatellite markers

    Well, to be more accurate, self-reported continental race very closely matches genetic data. This is not as true for precise ethnic origin, of say White Americans in the U.S. (e.g., Irish-American vs German-American vs Norwegian-American, etc.). This is mostly due to vast intermarriage between those groups and individuals’ ignorance of their own ancestry.

    That said, the correlation between self-reported European national ancestry and genetic ancestry is pretty high, 0.7-0.9.

    People see race because race exists, not because they are dupes of an oppressive mythology.

    But don’t worry Brian, one day you too will see five lights.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_eSwq1ewsU

    Tolerance and cosmopolitanism don’t require the leveling of diversity; they require the celebration of it.

    Quite laudable. But you must know different humans than I do. 🙂

    Race exists, but racism does not have to.

    Unfortunately, racism/ethnocentrism is heritable (like all things). It (like other human foibles) can’t be eradicated:

    Heritability of Racial and Ethnic Pride, Preference, and Prejudice | Human Varieties

    Great work, as usual Brian.

  12. This is a fantastic essay, although I was surprised to find that culture wasn’t mentioned.

    It seems to me that most of what we call racism is actually about cultural differences, not racial ones. If you ask a racist what they have against another race, you’ll mostly get a string of negative cultural traits and behaviours that are associated with people of that race.

    This is the reason why, say, a white English person makes a negative generalisation about (white) Germans, our reflex is to think of it as racist, but then we hesitate because they’re the same race.

    Our terms aren’t defined precisely, and we’re using “racist” for both racial prejudice and cultural prejudice.

  13. It seems to me that most of what we call racism is actually about cultural differences, not racial ones.

    Where do “cultural” differences come from?

  14. RaceRealist says

    The problem is:
    If I say Africa is poor and underdeveloped because Africans have lower IQ and it is genetic, most people today would say this is racist.
    Same for Detroit. Achievement gap. high crime rate of usa black etc…

    Maybe this is racist but it is very true nevertheless. To claim that the difference between Singapore and Haiti is only a question of history, culture and environment and that the genetic have nothing to do with outcome make 0 sense to me.

    Human are more intelligent than chimpanzee, this is “specist” but true.
    racist is just a political insult.

    • Africans Americans have higher crime rates than one would expect based on the simple correlations with IQ. Either there is something non-linear going on, or there are other relevant factors.

      • michael ryan says

        IQ is not the only human trait, aggression, future time orientation,for instance would both exacerbate criminal behavior. And in fact blacks score high in aggression and low in future time orientation.

  15. Jens says

    Well over here in Europe the argument (against human races) usually voiced is actually none of the above, but simply this: race = subspecies and all humans belong to the same one, namely Homo sapiens sapiens, period. Perhaps false, but I’m surprised this use of the term isn’t even mentioned in this article.

    • John Fuerst says

      Huh,

      Can you check a few of your genetic/biological/zoological dictionaries? For example, Allaby’s (2014) “A dictionary of zoology” (Oxford Reference) gives me:

      Subspecies. Technically, a race of a species that is allocated a Latin name. The number of races recognized within a species and the allocation of names to them is somewhat arbitrary.

      Race. An interbreeding group of individuals all of whom are genetically distinct from the members of other such groups of the same species. Usually these groups are geographically isolated from one another, so there are barriers to gene flow.

      In this dictionary at least, “subspecies” refers to races that are assigned to the taxonomic category immediately below species. And it’s implied that not all “races” are “subspecies”, for one, because finer grain “races” can be nested within courser grain ones. Whatever the case, what do they call what were once called local and regional races?

  16. Fred Welfare says

    Race is not a category of analysis that stands alone. Race is both biological and cultural. Race is mediated by socio-economic class and by regional values. For example, race does not have the same connotations in the US South as it does in the US North, generally speaking. More granular analyses of specific contexts, e.g. inner cities, may reveal a different racial attitude, politically and emotionally, than in surrounding locales.

    The definition of race is too often given as a biological group difference which should imply sexual and marital boundaries but these are often ignored, and not as a cultural difference where the individuals of different ethnicities (races) understand the history of their lineage differentially, and not as whole cloth from the political ideology of the present day. We know from ethnographies of both colonialism and post-colonialism that governmental policies and their differential implementation play on the cultural practices of specific groups – promoting governmentally determined goals which have often led to capitalistic opportunism by the business class.

    The egregious effect of biologism is that the real cultural differences including the effects of social and economic class never see the light of day. The Winegards and Boutwell (authors) state explicitly, ” Ranking groups is a pointless and meaningless exercise, and we concur that it can produce tremendous harm,” as part of their call for more scientific analyses of genetical race differences. I disagree. I think describing the inequalities, ranking the groups, is a necessary social scientific exercise. I also think the basis for these differences in terms of the specific rules people are following which cause the group differences, and the laws which sustain ranked differences between groups, should be explicated forthwith. Racism as vulgar expressions of domination and exploitation by individuals or by institutions, e.g. marriage and education, is not simply a genetically-based trait!? Race should be understood in its complex and multidimensional context.

    I think that races can be understood as groups where group differences vary by location from the effects of business climate, educational resources, social government policies and government practices. Ethnographic methods, data analyses and ethnomethodological analyses provide a useful spotlight to address both the within group differences between individuals and between group differences where groups are not entirely defined by race or color but by cultural locations.

  17. Race is so politicised that it is a brave scientist who will go anywhere near it, but thank goodness there are a few who dare to challenge the politically correct view of race.

    The huge extent to which political ideology influences science in respect to race is very instructive in itself.

    We are all aware of Nazi racial ideology and what ugly nonsense it was, seeing racial differences between different groups of Europeans where they clearly did not exist and attributing hatful meaning to them. But in overreaction to that, academics (especially Jewish academics, who were traumatised by the Holocaust through personal loss) went to the opposite extreme of denying the importance, even the very existence, of race altogether, even when they are manifest.

    By far the most important thing about race lies in the fact that man is an inherently tribal animal, inclined to have a strong sense of tribal identity, in which race naturally plays a central role – a role that the modern, multi-racial state denies, suppresses and demonises, because it needs its citizens to identity with itself as their tribe or nation.

    This begs the question as to why most western states have promoted multi-racialism, when it was bound to insult most peoples sense of racial identity and incite feelings of xenophobia?

    The explanation I have come up with is that it is a modern manifestation of the age-old strategy of “divide and rule”, whereby society is divided into a morally superior, now supposedly “colour-blind”, elite and the morally inferior, naturally (human nature being what it is) less colour-blind, masses, who must submit to the authority of and domination by their “moral superiors”.

    Excuse me talking politics like this, but when discussing race there is no getting away from politics and political ideology, which it is even more important to understand than the biological basis of race itself.

    Here is a link to a blog in which I elaborate further in these ideas: http://unapprovedcomments.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/the-wests-overreaction-to-nazism.html

  18. santoculto says

    Race is not itself a social construction, is not exactly the process but the product of this process, in other words, race is a result/a product of social building that result in a social construction. Light eyes don’t appear by magics but by long term and emphasised selection, or, cultural.

    In the same way a culture that over-valued ”intelligence” will select people with this ”traits”.

  19. Pingback: Accettare le razze per rifiutare il razzismo – hookii

  20. Great points, guys. Your terminology recommendations would make this article much more persuasive to a wider audience. Good thinking!

    • Whoops. My previous comment was directed at the first three comments.

  21. Stan d Mute says

    The elephant in the room of course is the sub Saharan African, about whom one may never speak truthfully. At risk is your career, your livelihood, and even your life itself. There are few other examples in the 21st century where simple statement of objective truth can routinely leave you destitute and homeless, beaten, raped, imprisoned, and even murdered. And this problem only grows worse from each year to the next. As Caucasians develop realistic engineering plans for human exploration of Mars, the sub Saharan African still engages in cannibalism, murders and makes potions from his albino neighbors, and left to his own devices lives in mud huts foraging for grub worms in rotted timber. Even when given every advantage of Caucasian civilization and technology, the sub Saharan African cannot surpass the cognitive function of a mentally handicapped Caucasian or East Asian. And his behavior is, if anything, much worse even than his cognitive performance with rape and assault frequency at many multiples of the rate of other races. Yet to even acknowledge these facts is to risk livelihood, life, and limb. Thanks entirely to Caucasian intervention and charity, the sub Saharan is the fastest growing population on earth with numbers exploding from a couple hundred millions in the mid 20th century to four billion at end of 21st century according to UN estimates.

    This may well result in the complete destruction of western civilization given our immigration policies. It may result in extinction of humanity given this population’s inability to comprehend germ theory of disease and importance of sanitation. Yet to even suggest we ought study the impending crisis will destroy any academic’s career (i.e. James Watson) and force him to beg (or sell his Nobel) for his supper.

  22. Ross Williams says

    This article is mostly abstract intellectual bs including arguments about definitions that have little relationship to how race is actual understood by society as a whole.

    There is a diary in our local historical society written by an englishman working in the logging camps. He says “I am the only one of my race and complexion here. All the others being Swedes.” This would have been the understanding of most people in that time. Swedes. English, Irish, Italian, Germans, French, Russians, Turks etc were all distinct races. And yes, you can likely find genetic patterns that correlate to those racial categories, but that wasn’t really how people determined what “race” someone belonged to. Instead it was their language and customs that stood out.

    There are clearly genetic patterns associated with continents Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. But we have a racial category called “hispanic” that lumps people who are mostly indigenous Americans genetically with people with largely European and African genes based on the language they speak. That may not be an academic “race”, but it is certainly part of the discussion of race and racism in society at large.

    • santoculto says

      Categorical concepts may be flexible in the space and time OR have different semantic epicenter (compared with other similar) such as ”hispanic”. Hispanic gas been wrongly understood and firstly by the american government as ”racial category” but all racial categories have cultural component, exactly the hispanic semantic epicenter, as well happen with jews.

      Maybe american government (gullible moment) is using ”hispanic” in the same spectrum to the ”only white” or ”afro-americans” by pragmatic reasons, because is easier identify a salient cultural group that is racially diverse and easily dispersed to the all national already existent racial/demographically categorical groups.

  23. Whew! It’s still whitey’s fault. I was a little worried at first.

  24. The biggest problem is that the whole question of various genetic clusters that define the final phenotype are there but the discussion is muddled by the political norms and demands in the United States. Politics always trump science when the discussion is brought to public.

    Once people get to power, they want to decide about what should be known and what is bad knowledge…they also want to ban words and ideas and once there is a homogenic population of thought (as in the Hum depts of US universities, >90% left) all differing “bad” thoughts and words are silenced. People, too.

    Safe spaces that’s what the Academy wants today. And electrolytes, like in Idiocracy.

  25. Zambulu says

    It’s odd that no one has asked for proof, that there are no races. Clearly, it’s observable, and immediately, the super-sensitive people get all excited and start yelling “racist!”. But you see the differences between a poodle and a doberman, but they are both dogs. What people define as “race” is clearly much more than skin color. Saying it is about “skin color” is silly. But there are genes that make whites produce other whites, and yellows produce other yellows, and blacks produce other blacks. (Using descriptives of skin color, as that’s what most think it’s about…) So genes do produce offspring that show the differences. You don’t get a black person producing a baby with straight auburn hair, or a white producing a baby with a prognathian jaw. Yet, any discussion of this is deemed “racist”. We are told to “celebrate our differences” and when we talk about them, we are called racists.
    But there is no real evidence that the differences don’t exist. We are told that we are genetically all the same— that there is NO difference genetically between a Caucasian, Asian, or African. How can this be? Surely there are genes deciding what we are all like.
    Until people stop being so “offended” by things that are not meant to be offending them–which is a way to censor and control others– we won’t have truth or freedom. To say we have to all agree that we are all alike, and make everyone the same, is a form of control. How can people who claim that “diversity” is great, turn around and declare everyone is the same? It’s ignoring the differences. Why is diversity a bad thing?
    If race didn’t exist, there would be no Affirmative Action or other programs. How can you single out if there is no race? What would be the qualifying factors, if skin color doesn’t exist? It seems that those who declare “race doesn’t exist”, want it to exist, when they can profit from it.
    People have to stop being silly, and trying to censor everything.

  26. Boywonder says

    This is wrong, every race today have 46 chromosomes making us all human, that’s why there’s the human race, it’s also proven that we all came from Africa but then started to migrate through out time, we all have the same ancestry, Bill nye proved it, the science channel proved it, my old 10th science book proved it.

  27. Boywonder says

    It’s a scientific fact that race isn’t real, race is real cultural but not in science

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