Thursday, 18 December 2014

Of Course There Is Such a Thing as Race!

     In my younger days I enrolled myself in the bone marrow registry, as a part of which I was asked to state my race, or ethnicity. An impertinence! you may say, so they provided a reason. Matching marrow types is much more complicated than matching blood groups, and the various types are not spread randomly throughout the human race. If a patient requires a marrow donation, a search will first be made among members of those races where the required match is more common; it might not be the patient's own race, though it usually is.
     The major races of mankind are as obvious as different breeds of dogs. So why do so many people insist that there is no such thing as race, that it is merely a "social construct"?
     The reactions of such people can be quite irrational and emotional. For example, it is well established that negroes, and particularly, American negroes, dominate certain sports. (Yes, I know "African American" is the current PC term. However, "negro" was the term I grew up with, and it is perfectly respectable. Martin Luther King called himself a negro. The U.S. census form continues to include the category because they found that a lot of respondents were crossing out "black" and "African American" and writing, "negro".) Anyway, the reason usually given is social: that, as a minority, they found sport one route to achievement otherwise denied them, and thus developed the tradition.
     I have to admit, there is much to be said for this argument, and it may well be correct. However, it occurred to other commentators that, since the bodies of black people are obviously different from those of other races, there may well be a physical explanation. This sort of speculation was once considered quite respectable. Thus, I have a 1972 textbook entitled, Human Evolution, an introduction to the new physical anthropology, by the renown anthropologist, J. B. Birdsell. In one section, he argues against the proposition that negroes are of lower intelligence to other races, but in another, he speculates as to possible physical reasons for their pre-eminence in various sports. Today, anybody who opened his mouth with such as suggestion would be howled down as a despicable racist, because these days "truth" is determined by its supposed political implications, rather than by objective means. They appear to think that, if you can admit the superiority of one race in one field, it might be possible to allow its inferiority in another. Heaven only knows how they would deal with situations where the inherent superiority is clear cut! (Would anybody seriously suggest that a pygmy could make as good a weight lifter as a Nubian?)
     The no-such-thing-as-race propagandists haven't consulted us zoologists. We still possess the concept of subspecies, by which is meant a geographic branch of a species distinct enough to be recognized as such. And in order to avoid multiplying subspecies ad nauseam for every minor difference, the 90% rule of thumb was introduced. That means that subspecies should be so distinct that it will be possible to place 90% of specimens into one category or another. Now, let us apply this to the races of Australia. In this case, the area of non-overlap is not 90%, but 100%. It is impossible to confuse a full-blooded Aborigine with a full-blooded causasian. In fact, it is possible to distinguish them at the 100% level merely by looking at their fleshless skulls. Not only that, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders can also be distinguished at at least the 90% level. They are separate subspecies: QED. Indeed, the trouble with Homo sapiens is that it is so diverse that innumerable sub-races exist. Whether it is possible to distinguish Greeks from Scandinavians at the 90% level is something I do not know, but one thing is certain: a definite gradation of features exists as you move from one population to another.
     This brings us to another point: subspecies are really only relevant if a discontinuity exists between the two groups. Otherwise, you get a cline: a gradual change from one subspecies to the other. Thus, no zoologist familiar with koalas would ever confuse a member of the Queensland race with one from Victoria; they can be distinguished by sight alone. Nevertheless, there are a large number of populations in between with intermediate characteristics. Likewise, although no-one could ever mistake an Irishman for a Chinese, in the central regions of Eurasia there exist many groups which cannot easily be placed in either the Caucasoid or Mongoloid category. "There are no races," said Dr. Frank Livingstone, "only clines." It is not clear what is meant to be proved by this statement, except the obvious point that not every population fits neatly into a pigeon hole. In any case, it is not completely correct. There are many races which, up until the last few centuries, had been more or less genetically isolated for hundreds, if not thousands of years: the Andaman Islanders, the Amerindians, the Tasmanians, the mainland Australian Aborigines, even the Japanese.
     Zoologists also recognize the phenomenon of a zone of hybridization, which occurs when subspecies previously geographically separated are united and allowed to mix. Among the many human races there are a number which have been produced by the interbreeding of two separate races brought into contact by some act of history. These include:
  • the Aryans of northern India, the result of miscegenation between the indigenous Dravidians and Indo-Aryan causasians related to the Iranians, who migrated there in force three and a half millennia ago. Indeed, the current inhabitants of the subcontinent represent a cline. Those in the south are black, and mostly speak Dravidian languages. Those in the Indo-Gangetic Plain are brown, and speak Indo-European languages, while further north, in Afghanistan, they are essentially caucasian, and again speak Indo-European languages.
  • the Madagascans, the result of Indonesians who migrated there in the middle of the first Christian millennium, after first stopping at East Africa, where they picked up half of their genes and a tenth of their vocabulary.
  • the mestizos of Latin America, the result of European - mostly Iberian - men mating with Amerindian women over the last 500 years. Of similar origin are Canada's métis.
  • the Cape Coloureds of South Africa, formed by the interbreeding of white - mostly Dutch - men and indigenous - particularly Hottentot - women 300 years ago. (One of these groups was called the Bastaards. I can't imagine why.)
     Some discussions on race display strange contradictions. I remember one author in a legal journal arguing passionately that special laws should apply to Aborigines, but that an Aborigine should be anyone who claims to be one, because "there is no such thing as race." In support of the last proposition she referred to the Lewontin fallacy, which is that 85% of genetic variation is between individuals of the same race, and only 15% due to racial differences.
      Now, as an argument that race is not important, that isn't bad. It is no doubt salutary to remember that you can find a wide range of abilities in every race. But as far as proving that race doesn't exist - sorry, but that's not the test. The genes under discussion - even the 85% - are not distributed randomly. Every one of them is more frequent in one race than in others. Ask those on the bone marrow registry. Indeed, every race has a complement of genes unique to itself, and other genes which are completely absent among them. That's why you can distinguish white people and Aborigines, or Irish and Chinese, at the 100% level. A race is essentially a very large extended family: a group of people predominantly descended from a single source. (Incidentally, there are many examples where the genetic differences between species is less than those between the individuals of the species.)
     In fact, modern genetic studies have backed this up. We now know that Homo sapiens originated in Africa. From there it split into two, with the most archaic race still in southern Africa as the Bushmen who, despite their long contact with more culturally advanced groups, have hardly ever interbred with them. Of the second group, one part stayed in Africa, and the other crossed the Red Sea at its narrowest point to populate the rest of the world. Originally, they hugged the seaboard of southern Asia, leaving smatterings of their genes all alone the way, until the largest remnant settled in Australia and New Guinea. Meanwhile, a second group - or possibly a second migration from Africa - headed north. Somewhere, probably around the Black Sea, they again divided into two. One group turned west, and became the ancestors of the Europeans, while the branch which headed east evolved into the modern east Asians and Amerindians.

A Social Construct?
     Yes, race does become a social construct when dealing with individuals who don't easily fit into a specific pigeon hole. North American Indian reservations operate on a "blood quota" system. In order for someone to live on the reservation, and receive the various payments agreed by the original treaties, he must possess a certain minimum of genes from the specific tribe. Usually this is one sixteenth (ie a single full-blood great-grandparent) or one thirty-second (a single full-blood great-great-grandparent). In recent years this has resulted in many people being expelled from tribes they thought they had belonged to. In South Africa, under the apartheid régime, the Cape Coloureds were simply designated as a separate race, and after that any further miscegenation was forbidden.
      Now, whatever you may think of these practices, at least they are based on biological reality. Other strategies are not. One of the most common is the "one drop" rule, which stipulates that anybody who has a single ancestor ("one drop of blood") from a minority group automatically belongs to that minority. Originally, this was to preserve the racial purity of the dominant race. Now, of all the conceits of human folly, one of the silliest is pride of ancestry; no matter how illustrious your ancestor, it doesn't make you a better person. Let's just say that, if you are a stickler for racial purity, and you live in a multiracial society, it doesn't pay to research your family tree. After all, 200 years equals eight generations, which equals 512 ancestors at that level, assuming no inbreeding. Because of their ritual of baptism for the dead, the Mormons are great on genealogy. Also, until 1978, they proclaimed the doctrine that anyone with "one drop of negro blood" was barred from the priesthood and temple worship. That was a serious matter, because it meant being disqualified from becoming gods and creators in the afterlife. The outcome was predictable: many a conscientious Mormon dug deep into his family tree, discovered a "nigger in the woodpile", and it was good-bye to the priesthood and future godhead for himself, his (or her) spouse, and children till the end of time.
     These days the "one drop" rule is usually advanced to gain the special advantages provided to minorities. (One such person finally had enough of the racket.) Have a look at the photographs in this article, and this one - and, of course, the links provided by those articles. Now, try to apply the bone marrow registry test to these characters. Bearing in mind that a person's health, or even life, could depend on it, to what race should they be objectively assigned?
     In Brazil policies are even more arbitrary. Brazil doesn't actually have a colour bar but, due to historical reasons, society tends to be stratified like one of those desserts with the cream on top, the coffee in the middle, and the chocolate at the bottom. The Government therefore decided to give special benefits to black people, irrespective of whether the individuals themselves were disadvantaged. (As the black American economist, Thomas Sowell has pointed out, affirmative action always favours the most advantaged members of the disadvantaged group.) However, Brazil does not base its decisions on ancestry, but appearance. Now, it is well known that two people of mixed race ancestry can produce children either lighter or darker than their parents. Thus, in one notorious case, one brother was declared black, and so entitled to special benefits, and the other white, and so left out in the cold.

But Is Race Important?
     Well, it obviously it in the case of bone marrow transplants. However, in the vast majority of cases race is important only if people make it important. In a perfect world, everybody would be treated according to their character and abilities, rather than the colour of their skin, and everyone would end up in the place where his preferences and abilities led him. If that meant that the vast majority of top basketball players were black, so be it.
    Of course, that also means that if the known differences between the races in IQ are based on genetics rather than some social cause - and in this area I am not qualified to hold an opinion - then we will have to accept that the various races will never be equally represented in all fields. This does not mean that we should not attempt to remedy definite cases of disadvantage, only that it cannot be assumed that inequality of outcomes automatically implies inequality of opportunities.
     But, of course, we don't live in a perfect world. Only genuine racists would be concerned about the fine differences between sub-races, but it doesn't change the fact that the major races of mankind are as distinct as different breeds of dog. People cannot help but identify and self-identify according to race. A black man in an otherwise exclusively white club, even if treated exactly the same as the others, cannot fail to think of himself as an outsider, a ring-in, an honoured guest rather than a family member. Likewise, the sole white member of a black basketball team will see himself as an outsider. He might even come to assume that basketball is not a "white" thing.These are the reasons, therefore, why, once a racial minority reaches a certain critical mass, the different races tend to self-segregate in neighbourhoods and occupations. Once that happens, each will then adopt stereotypes of themselves and the others - stereotypes which are unfair to the individual, but often accurate as generalisations. The results are best described by one of Australia's most prominent historians:
If one Eskimo migrates to Broken Hill there is no problem - except, perhaps, for the lonely sweltering Eskimo. If 400 Eskimos go to Broken Hill there is still no social problem; and even the lonely Eskimo will be happier. But send 10,000 Eskimos to Broken Hill and - unless there is good will and luck in large doses - Broken Hill will have an Eskimo problem, and the Eskimo community will tell you they have a Broken Hill problem. [Geoffrey Blainey, 1984, All for Australia, Methuen Haynes, p 143]
      Furthermore, since races evolved geographically separated, it should come as no surprise that they have all developed different cultures. And cultural differences, more than racial differences, are what cause community conflict. There are hardly any cases where the presence of large, visible racial minorities has not resulted in major community problems.

       Here is a useful summary of racial realities by Steve Sailer. And a discussion by Geoff Chambers.