Queensborough Community College Race Ethnicity and Humanity Essay

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CUNY Queensborough Community College


You should also consider or build off of the readings from last week.

Explain how and why Race is a social construct. Briefly explain the debate on whether there is a biological or genetic reality to race. What does the supporting evidence suggest? Are there any problems with this? How does an deeper understanding of "race" influence how you view the world and others?

Reading Material:

1) https://www.sapiens.org/biology/is-race-real/

2) Race is a Social Construct

3) The Proble of Race as a Social Construct

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Race Is a Social Construct? Scientists Argue Racial categories are weak proxies for genetic diversity and need to be phased out • By Megan Gannon, LiveScience on February 5, 2016 Credit: Christopher Futcher ©iStock.com More than 100 years ago, American sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois was concerned that race was being used as a biological explanation for what he understood to be social and cultural differences between different populations of people. He spoke out against the idea of "white" and "black" as discrete groups, claiming that these distinctions ignored the scope of human diversity. Science would favor Du Bois. Today, the mainstream belief among scientists is that race is a social construct without biological meaning. And yet, you might still open a study on genetics in a major scientific journal and find categories like "white" and "black" being used as biological variables. In an article published today (Feb. 4) in the Journal Science, four scholars say racial categories are weak proxies for genetic diversity and need to be phased out. They've called on the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to put together a panel of experts across the biological and social sciences to come up with ways for researchers to shift away from the racial concept in genetics research. "It's a concept we think is too crude to provide useful information, it's a concept that has social meaning that interferes in the scientific understanding of human genetic diversity and it's a concept that we are not the first to call upon moving away from," said Michael Yudell, a professor of public health at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Yudell said that modern genetics research is operating in a paradox, which is that race is understood to be a useful tool to elucidate human genetic diversity, but on the other hand, race is also understood to be a poorly defined marker of that diversity and an imprecise proxy for the relationship between ancestry and genetics. "Essentially, I could not agree more with the authors," said Svante Pääbo, a biologist and director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, who worked on the Neanderthal genome but was not involved with the new paper. "What the study of complete genomes from different parts of the world has shown is that even between Africa and Europe, for example, there is not a single absolute genetic difference, meaning no single variant where all Africans have one variant and all Europeans another one, even when recent migration is disregarded," Pääbo told Live Science. "It is all a question of differences in how frequent different variants are on different continents and in different regions." In one example that demonstrated genetic differences were not fixed along racial lines, the full genomes of James Watson and Craig Venter, two famous American scientists of European ancestry, were compared to that of a Korean scientist, Seong-Jin Kim. It turned out that Watson (who, ironically, became ostracized in the scientific community after making racist remarks) and Venter shared fewer variations in their genetic sequences than they each shared with Kim. Assumptions about genetic differences between people of different races have had obvious social and historical repercussions, and they still threaten to fuel racist beliefs. That was apparent two years ago, when several scientists bristled at the inclusion of their research in Nicholas Wade's controversial book, "A Troublesome Inheritance" (Penguin Press, 2014), which proposed that genetic selection has given rise to distinct behaviors among different populations. In a letter to The New York Times, five researchers wrote that "Wade juxtaposes an incomplete and inaccurate account of our research on human genetic differences with speculation that recent natural selection has led to worldwide differences in IQ test results, political institutions and economic development." The authors of the new Science article noted that racial assumptions could also be particularly dangerous in a medical setting. "If you make clinical predictions based on somebody's race, you're going to be wrong a good chunk of the time," Yudell told Live Science. In the paper, he and his colleagues used the example of cystic fibrosis, which is underdiagnosed in people of African ancestry because it is thought of as a "white" disease. Mindy Fullilove, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, thinks the changes proposed in the Science article are "badly needed." Fullilove noted that by some laws in the United States, people with one black ancestor of 32 might be called "black," but their 31 other ancestors are also important in influencing their health. "This is a cogent and important call for us to shift our work," Fullilove said. "It will have an enormous influence. And it will make for better science." So what other variables could be used if the racial concept is thrown out? Pääbo said geography might be a better substitute in regions such as Europe to define "populations" from a genetic perspective. However, he added that, in North America, where the majority of the population has come from different parts of the world during the past 300 years, distinctions like "African Americans" or "European Americans" might still work as a proxy to suggest where a person's major ancestry originated. Yudell also said scientists need to get more specific with their language, perhaps using terms like "ancestry" or "population" that might more precisely reflect the relationship between humans and their genes, on both the individual and population level. The researchers also acknowledged that there are a few areas where race as a construct might still be useful in scientific research: as a political and social, but not biological, variable. "While we argue phasing out racial terminology in the biological sciences, we also acknowledge that using race as a political or social category to study racism, although filled with lots of challenges, remains necessary given our need to understand how structural inequities and discrimination produce health disparities between groups," Yudell said. Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company.. This paper was selected for publication in the AAA’s Anthropology News as part of the "Rethinking Race and Human Variation" special editions of February and March 2006. The special editions were sponsored by the Understanding Race and Human Variation project and funded by the Ford Foundation. The Understanding Race and Human Variation project is a multi-year public education effort funded by the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation. This paper represents the views of the author and not that of the AAA or the Understanding Race and Human Variation project. THE PROBLEM OF “RACE AS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT” Eric C Thompson, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Department of Sociology National University of Singapore Singapore Introduction We often fall short in teaching about “race as a social construct.” We use this phrase to teach that race is a set of ideas about human difference rather than an irrevocable fact of human biology. Because race is taken to be a kind of biological fact by our students, teaching that race is “a social construct” works as a discursive strategy to shake their thinking. But we seem to forget our own, most basic anthropological knowledge—that all ideas beyond the idiosyncratic are “social constructs” insofar as they are shared cultural knowledge. Unless we are prepared to explain how human beings are to abandon the most basic cultural instinct—creating categories to explain the world—then we need to say something more about “race” if we are going to argue against its applicability in explaining human diversity. A more complete argument is needed, such as: race is 1) a social construct that is 2) poorly descriptive of the phenomenon it seeks to describe and 3) has a long history of devastating consequences for individuals. The first part of this argument dislodges race from the realm of irrevocable biological fact. But it is the second and third parts of the argument that give us reason to seek alternative ways of understanding and describing humanity. If we only teach that “race is a social construct,” we also run the danger of reinforcing the false dichotomy that social and cultural phenomena are somehow fictional, flexible, made-up and unreal, whereas biological phenomena are presumed to be factual, irrevocable and real. Race is a very real social construct with very real consequences, not to be dismissed lightly. Race Redux The idea of race continues to reassert itself in popular and academic discourse. A widely circulated op-ed piece, “A Family Tree in Every Gene” by © 2006 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. 1 Armand Marie Leroi, provides a recent and disturbing example. Originally from the New York Times, it was republished in Singapore’s Straits Times on March 17, 2005. Since first reading the article in Singapore, I have also heard a Dutch academic cite Leroi’s argument for the “reality” of races at an academic conference in Shanghai. In the NYT article, Leroi, an evolutionary developmental biologist and author of Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body (2004), argues that the “consensus” about race being a social construct is unraveling. Race, he writes, is not a worthless idea, but rather “merely a shorthand that allows us to speak sensibly … about genetic rather than cultural or political differences.” If experts such as Leroi fail to grasp the implications a nd inadequacies of applying racial categorization, then surely we need to clarify the argument. Leroi’s article implies that there is a difference between ideas that are “social constructs” and ideas that reflect “reality.” His primary evidence that race is the latter sort of idea is a study published in Science in 2002 by Rosenberg and colleagues. In that study, the researchers applied a mathematical clustering procedure to a worldwide sample of genotypes from nearly 2,000 individuals. The results show that the procedure can produce clusters that correspond to major continental groups. But they also show significant clines between groups. Moreover, there is no “purity” of any population in the entire sample. In other words, some “European” individuals are sometimes classified as “Africans,” some “East Asians” as “Middle Eastern,” some (native) “Americans” as “East Asians” and so on. The results do not transparently reflect reality, nor do they prove that “races” exist. Scientific Social Construction Leroi’s own writing concedes this fact repeatedly. For example, “looked at the right way, genetic data show that races do exist” (italics added). In other words, it is a matter of perception, and I would add, agreement on how to look at the data. “There is nothing very fundamental about the concept of major continental races; they are just the easiest way to divide things up. Study enough genes in enough people and one could sort the world’s population into 10, 100, perhaps 1,000 groups.” Again, it is arbitrary, and specifically a matter of scale. The authors of the Science article in fact do just this, using their clustering algorithm—in which the number of clusters is determined by the researchers a priori—to divide the sample into two, three, four, five and six groups. At two, they get a nice cline anchored by the “African” and “American” populations. At six, one of the “races” is a small population in Pakistan (Kalash), while another is all Africans. Conceptually, race is about division and difference. The motivating logic of racial classification is to place individual bodies into differentiated groups. While some of Leroi’s argument follows this logic (for example, sorting people into five continental races), he devotes a lot of space to apologizing for this logic © 2006 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. 2 (“identification of racial origins is not a search for purity”) and undermining the logic (“what fraction of your genes are African, European or East Asian”). The question is—why use a concept which has an underlying logic at odds with genetic evidence? Why insist on a concept that must be grossly distorted in order to fit the facts (as in this case—racial categorization has to be undermined in order to fit the facts of “multiracial” people)? Leroi’s defense is that race is “a shorthand that seems to be needed.” But in fact, there are better, more useful, more accurate ways to talk about our genetic inheritance than race; and ones that do not necessarily have “the problematic, even vicious, history of the word ‘race.’” An Alternative Line of Thinking Where needed, a term and concept such as “lineage” would be preferable to “race.” I am not so naïve to believe that lineage could not be put to many of the same socially divisive and inhumane purposes that have haunted the history of the concept of race. A change in terminology is not going to fundamentally change all the conditions and impulses that accompany the horrors of race, ethnicity, nationalism and similar ideological schemes. But to me, lineage offers to be more useful than race for all of the reasons that Leroi outlines—descriptive, utilitarian and aesthetic. First and foremost, lineage is descriptively better than race. Race implies that everyone belongs to one and only one group. Everyone has two immediate lineages—from one’s mother and from one’s father. And one’s lineage multiplies with each receding generation. Considered in this way, one’s lineages emphasize the plural inheritances that make up each of us as an individual. Fractions (or rather, multiples) make sense in terms of lineage in a way that they do not in terms of race. Knowing one’s lineages would also be far better than being classified as belonging to a race on the utilitarian (medical) grounds that Leroi discusses— which is indeed an important reason to have some way, like race, to trace or identify genetic inheritances that may have real consequences for medical treatment. The best way to proceed would be to identify the specific genetic traits in individuals that have consequences for a particular procedure or drug and forget about race or lineage altogether. Finally, on the aesthetic grounds that Leroi discusses (and which I think are the very least of reasons to maintain race, lineage or any other concept), whereas race implies dividing people into groups, lineage implies connecting people through lines (of descent). An Aesthetics of Isolation? Race, as Leroi and others use the term, is a function of genetic isolation. The last bastion of Leroi’s defense is that groups of human beings have undergone enough genetic isolation that it is legitimate to use the term race to © 2006 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. 3 characterize that isolation. Once again, we are back to social construction—it is a case of whether or not this is to be the socially agreed upon way, specifically within the academic community, to describe the diversity that does arise in every lineage. The extent of isolation has in fact been relatively limited and not enough among contemporary homo sapiens that anything akin to speciation has occurred. Speciation has a functional definition within biology. Different species cannot mate and have viable offspring. But race (or sometimes, “subspecies”) has no such functional definition from a biological perspective. It is an epiphenomenal description of genetic diversity. The most disconcerting aspect of Leroi’s “aesthetics” is that it celebrates this isolation and implicitly characterizes interaction among human beings as a destructive force. Leroi contextualizes his arguments in the possible “loss” of “racial stock” due to the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004. The social, cultural and political struggles of people such as those living in the Andamans and elsewhere who may wish to preserve a certain way of life deserve our respect. But Leroi’s suggestion is a defense or perpetuation of isolation for its own sake and for the sake of “preserving racial stocks.” In this the echoes of the 19th century, when “Negritos” and others were “collected” and put on display in world exhibitions, are far too disturbing to ignore. Eric C Thompson is an assistant professor and teaches anthropology in the department of sociology, National University of Singapore. He has a PhD in anthropology from the University of Washington. © 2006 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. 4
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Race, Ethnicity, and Humanity

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Race: A Social Construct

Ever since the dawn of humanity, people have casually promoted the ideology that race is
a biological reality. However, contrary to popular beliefs, race is a social construct that has
historically been developed to promote the class structure in society. This is evident from the fact
that over the centuries, the ones in power have relied upon the grouping of similar ethnicities to
keep the minorities under control and to differentiate them from the common folk (Goodman,
2020). "Race divided indentured Irish and other Europeans from enslaved Africans, and reduced
opposition by those of European descent to the intolerable conditions of enslavement"
(Goodman, 2020). Therefore, by segregating people based on their ethnicities, dominant nations
have always enslaved minorities and have exploited their diversity.
Due to the vast difference that the color of the skin made in the social life during the past
centuries, a large number of people have always promoted the notion that black people are an
entirely different species. People of Europe effectively believed as a fact that Africans weren't
human beings like them. Hence, it was actively believed throughout the known world that black
people were spawns of the devil. Due to this reasoning, the social ideology of 'race' was born. As
a result, over the following centuries, the white-skinned human beings enforced their supremacy
over the inferior black-skinned slaves through the active exploitation of the socially constructed
notion of 'race.'
Proclaimed and famous European intellectuals, like the Swedish Taxonomist Carl
Linnaeus, actively worked towards the division of humanity by terming it as the separation that
God had already created through His divine powers (Goodman, 2020). "Race is about division;
The motivating logic of racial classification is to place individual bodies into differentiated



groups" (Thompson, 2006). Linnaeus devised race categorization as he separated the whiteskinned Europeans as Europeaus, the dark-skinned Africans as Africanus, the yellow-skinned
Asians as Asiaticus, and also proposed the term Monstrosus in a bid to separate out wildlings and
disabled individuals (Goodman, 2020). This sheds light on how radical the Europeans were
about their supremacy.
White supremacists also exploited the colored nations by using religion as a means of
highlighting their dominance. When Christianity started from within Europe, the Europeans
arranged a hierarchy through the use of racial stereotypes. Through this hierarchy, ethnicities
were projected from top to bottom in the context of closeness to God. Of course, as a rule of
thumb, Europeans held the highest ranks in closeness to God while the other races were
considered wild animals and apes who lacked culture and ethics (Goodman, 2020).
In anti-religion ideologies, proclaimed atheists that believed in Charles Darwin’s theory
of evolution implemented a similar approach by arguing that different races evolved from apes at
different times of history (Goodman, 2020). The main pr...

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