08 October 2012

Race

Today I am going to write about "race". This topic important to me because it is a source of much of my frustration with the world and my lack of interest in continuing a conversation with someone that asks me, "What are you?". believes that the .

In order to build a foundation for a better understanding of our species I must first summarize what our society believes "race" to be. Then I seek to tear that understanding down and introduce you to the truth, as our current scientific understanding defines it.

"Race" as many of us know it

Very simply, many of us believe that the human species is composed of several unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. We have been conditioned to think that as groups, blacks are different and perhaps inferior than whites. This is just a simple example of our social conditioning; I'm sure that you can think of several more "racial" prejudices but I won't waste time on that because there is no scientific evidence to support these "racial" differences. None. The American Anthropological Association (AAA) has this to say about that:

Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic "racial" groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within "racial" groups than between them. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species.

The truth is that physical variations in the human species have absolutely no meaning except for the social ones that humans put on them. This was an idea that was sold to rationalize the horrific mistreatment of others. From the AAA:

From its inception, this modern concept of "race" was modeled after an ancient theorem of the Great Chain of Being, which posited natural categories on a hierarchy established by God or nature. Thus "race" was a mode of classification linked specifically to peoples in the colonial situation. It subsumed a growing ideology of inequality devised to rationalize European attitudes and treatment of the conquered and enslaved peoples.
As they were constructing US society, leaders among European-Americans fabricated the cultural/behavioral characteristics associated with each "race," linking superior traits with Europeans and negative and inferior ones to blacks and Indians. Numerous arbitrary and fictitious beliefs about the different peoples were institutionalized and deeply embedded in American thought.
Ultimately "race" as an ideology about human differences was subsequently spread to other areas of the world. It became a strategy for dividing, ranking, and controlling colonized people used by colonial powers everywhere.

So, what are you?

The next time that someone asks about what you are, take that opportunity to provide a smidgen of education about how we use the concept of race to maintain our prejudice. What they really want to know is what part of the world your family come from; instead of saying race, you could say population, ethnicity, or country of ancestral origin.

In closing I offer a bit more from the AAA:

we now understand that human cultural behavior is learned, conditioned into infants beginning at birth, and always subject to modification. No human is born with a built-in culture or language. Our temperaments, dispositions, and personalities, regardless of genetic propensities, are developed within sets of meanings and values that we call "culture." Studies of infant and early childhood learning and behavior attest to the reality of our cultures in forming who we are.

Further reading

"AAA Statement on "Race"." American Anthropological Association. American Anthropological Association, 2006. Web. 3 Oct. 2012. http://www.aaanet.org/stmts/racepp.htm.

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