Race: A-Scientific Myth

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains:
Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology / Reality /

This module, from 1995, was first mounted at K., was recreated at IonaArc after K. was censored. Now all such materials belong here for their resurrection.

Race:
Reason vs. Rationalization:
A-Scientific Myth

Not much more than one hundred years ago, the concept of human race may have been a legitimate scientific hypothesis. Once examined, however, the forms the concepts have taken turn out to be nothing but error. Or, if true, then there’s been only one pure race over the past 45,000 or so years: the Australian aborigines. All the rest of us are mutts mated with mutts.

Of course there’s not much reason to be upset at errors until mischief is done with them. I read in Peterson’s Guide that what I’m seeing in Highlands Country is the Florida “race” of the red-shouldered hawk. Their breasts are pinkish. It’s true. I see a reddish breasted hawk, it isn’t a red-tailed, I say, “Ah, red-shouldered hawk, Florida race.” (I don’t say it’s more or less of a hawk.)

But surely calling colors is all we’re doing with human races … No it isn’t. If I put a section of your skin in my scanner, PhotoShop will find color information there. Mine too. Anyone’s. No two will have the same amount of color information. None will be “white.” None will be “black.” OK, let’s just say that we mean skin color darker than some value. Fine: let’s start scanning people. All of a sudden, Romie Bearden isn’t black and your daughter, just coming off the beach, is.

Race is a fairy tale that the kingdom cannot function without.
Marsalis family

OK, what you really meant was African heritage. Then we’re all black: Africa is where the human species was born.

Oh, now I see: you meant “descended from slaves.” But there’s no telling who all that is. There have been so many slaves in the history of the world, and there’s no telling how many more in prehistory (let’s hope it was none)… it would be impossible to tell if anyone weren’t. Queen Elizabeth or other English royalty might be able to trace each one of their ancestors back many generations, some of them back to the Norman Conquest. Before that, they were Scandinavians who had raided what we now call western France. But a thousand or so years before that, who’s to say some weren’t slaves in Alexandria?

Let’s say that you’re Greek. Always have been. From way way back. Well, ancient Athens had two thousand male citizens. Everyone else was either female, underage, or slave (small difference among those categories).

We might as well just say that we are all descended from slaves. Certainly a vast number would be.

Now you mean “recent African, recent slave.” I’m sure that somewhere you’ll find an Irish girl born in Addis and sold to someone in Tehran. If you’ll grant that she’s black, I’ll grant you your “race.”


Racism, or as they say nowadays, tradition:
is passed down like recipes, and the trick is
you got to learn what to eat and
what to leave on your plate.
Mississippi Masala

1998 05 28

(How could I have left this out last time?)
Here’s what really kills me: it’s natural enough for people who don’t know what thinking means to think: Well, the government talks about race. They ask about “race” during the census. there must be something to it. How about this then? I’m an American with a genetic/cultural background which is three-quarters German and one quarter Scots-English. If I say I’m white, no one will contradict me. If I say I’m of Scots extraction, I’ll hear no nay-sayers.

What would Muhammad Ali hear if he started talking about his Irish heritage? He probably has more Irish in him than I have Scots in me. No: he’s “black.”

Michael Jordan is black. We say it. He says it. Look at him. He’s not from one continent, one tribe! I don’t know his heritage.

Let’s make one up. A guy’s mother’s ancestors combined Zulu, Masai, & Dutch; the guy’s father’s ancestors mixed French, Scandinavian, West African and Toltec. We say he’s black. He says he’s black. Does our meaning have any rational meaning? Isn’t he just as white as he is black?

No. Because what we mean by race is not rational. It’s not scientific. It’s social and economic. It means one thing across the board. It means: we don’t automatically accord you the respect we accord ourselves. If you want entry into our club, you’ll have to do something extraordinary (like Ali & Jordan). We don’t expect to have to do anything extraordinary ourselves. We think we already are extraordinary.

I brought myself to the brink of what I presume would have been real trouble while at Colby College. A group of individuals were introduced as “African.” Each wore different tribal garb. They talked about themselves as “Africans.” Aren’t they making this up, I thought to myself? Africa is a continent, not a culture. Not traditionally anyway. Egyptians aren’t African. A guy from Tangier will think of himself I presume as Moroccan. Is the diamond merchant from Johannesburg “African”? It’s a new adjective. They’re inventing a new tradition and acting as though it already exists. (How else would one invent a new tradition?) I had the feeling that they were creating a fiction into which to lump all the various other peoples of Africa, the ones Americans have seldom known or cared much about.

Zaree [was] there. She had once told me that her name
was from Africa and I asked her from what part of Africa.
She didn’t know and was angry at me for making her look foolish …

Walter Mosley

For once, I kept my mouth shut. We were supposed to be welcoming, reinforcing these people, not challenging them. (See my Tower of Babel.)

I also want to point out in my fictitious genealogy above, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Where any slaves ever taken from the Zulu? Not that I’ve heard. Those traders might have gotten their asses handed to them. How about the Masai? Still, enslaved or not, a Zulu could have intermarried with a Masai, the offspring intermarrying with the Dutch in Africa. Maybe not easily, but difficult things happen too. (There’s a novel, right there.)

I once saw a TV panel discuss race. Football great Jim Brown was a member. He got my applause early on when he pointed out that “black” wasn’t defined. None of the others responded, just went on talking. Don’t we care if our meaning means anything?

Does the world’s embrace of Tiger Woods signal a demographic change? ever more devious hypocrisy? or, finally, an end to our sorry folly?

When you get to the top don’t forget
to send the elevator back down.

Ramsey Lewis

2000 07 01

Last weekend we all watched Tiger streak away from the field at the US Open. That’s his third major in as many years, isn’t it? Has anyone ever played any sport with more self-assured, genuine self-command? There was a part of Ali that looked like he was trying to convince himself as well as psych his opponent or the media. Michael had to make sure Scotty showed up that day, that Kerr would hit the three; Tiger has only his own body, extended by his club, to be responsible for. Some days he’s slightly less than perfect, but not last weekend. Glory to God, finally: a guy that all four major “race” groups can claim. Except for “oh fay whitie m-f,” my son was quick to caution me: we rejected mixes; now we have no right to change our minds.


2001 07 21

Only today does it occur to me that I’ve left something very important out of the above commentary. Jared Diamond asks, “Are there any universal standards of human beauty and sex appeal accepted by peoples as different in appearance as Chinese, Swedes, and Fijians? If not, do we inherit our particular taste in marriage partner through our genes, or do we learn it by looking at other members of our society? How, really, do we pick our sex partners and spouses?” [The Third Chimpanzee, chap. 5, opening paragraph] Diamond goes on to discuss Darwin’s theory of sexual selection. Some of us have some acquaintance with Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Some of those acquaintances are unperverted by popular ire. But how many of us know the theory of sexual selection? I’m not going into it here though it’s utterly germane to any consideration of why skin colors vary, why certain bone structures vary within a species. If I do get around to going into it, it will be in a different module. But I’ll tell you here: the bulk of what I’d say would just repeat Diamond. Check out the original. Study the whole of that great book. I hope you’ll come back here as well.

I leave you with just a hint here: blue eyes see just as well as brown eyes. Whatever hair does for us, black hair does it just as well as blond or red. Some genetic variations confer no advantage within the environment, in the context of survival. As lips, thick works: so does thin. The advantages are more complex than Darwin covered in his more famous theory.

I’ll also add that nature seems to like variation for its own sake: god wants the bush bushy.

Policeman’s Wisdom [hardscrabble Arkansas, 1955]
Let the niggers go their own way,
as long as they don’t get in our way.

Stephen Hunter, Black Light


2003 07 08 I added a link to race traitor — journal of the new abolitionism, but I no longer find the particular exchange there. You might check out the site anyway.

…when I walk upon this land, this South Africa,
I have a gathering feeling of walking on black faces.

JM Coetzee

Basic Black by Cal Massey
Basic Black by Cal Massey

I saw this painting in a gallery in Philadelphia in the 1980s.
I sure wish I could have afforded to publish it as an edition of serigraphs.
This started as a note, got promoted to a module at Knatz.com, got knocked down in the domino effect of the fed censorship of pk. Now I rescue it at IonaArc (and then move it to pKnatz blog): all still without the piece ever having been edited into its proper mature form. Meantime, the points are valid regardless of style.

2011 12 03 Today’s Straight Dope newsletter reprints something cute on the subject:

Interesting Times
2015 06 23 Ha! The public is discussing this topic as never before, stimulated in particular by the uproar over the NAACP exec accused by her parents of being “white”.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachel_Dolezal
DNA is objective, ethnicity is at least partly objective; race in general is purey subjective.

Bless Tom Wolfe. In Hooking Up he traces the history of transistors, semiconductors, Silicon Valley, and deals in detail with the role of William Shockley. Shockley was a great engineer, but his hectoring about eugenics casts him as less than a great scientist. We encounter there the same problem as above: at first, it seems to make sense: race initially seems to explain some true things; but: human politics immediately poison the reason. Sure I’m for discouraging breeding by the stupid; I just don’t want the Nazis deciding who gets castrated, and I don’t want the Nazi thugs doing the castrating: with a rusty knife, no doubt. And, if we give the green light to the fascists, then I want the fascists to guarantee that they’ll take the consequences of their own actions: I want Hitler to say, Yes, the Allies may have dropped the bombs on Dresden, but we Nazis stimulated them to decided to do it!

Notes
Muhammad Ali’s “Irish” Heritage:
Irish heritage for Muhammad Ali is of course intended as ironic. The genes he may have; the heritage was denied him.

Marsalis Family:
bk gave me that quote as coming from Branford: our favorite Marsalis. But I just saw Ken Burns’ jazz documentary and would swear I heard Wynton saying it. So I fudge the attribution. Maybe they’ve both said it at one time or another. Maybe they got it from their father.

Mutts Mated with Mutts:
I wrote the above before encountering Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanze: or his Guns, Germs, & Steel. Both are excellent on these questions. If you want to see more than two legitimate condenders for distinct races, I recommend that you let Diamond make the presentation: with a gallery of illustrations.

Nothing But Error:
2006 03 10 James Burke’s Connections had been very good about a number of things. I’ve only just got around to watching his Connections2 on DVD. Episode 3, Whodunit?, nicely presents the historical context of Francis Galton and his theory of Eugenics.

2012 07 07 “Even if you white, you helping a n-, you ain’t white no more.” Quoting Robert B. Parker’s novel Small Vices. A couple of modules here repeat K.’s several declarations that I once thought to title my autobiography “The Voluntary N-“. Such declarations don’t get published unless you’re already tenured in the society: society can live in sin for another eon: though environmental degradation will claim all such markers long before the liars themselves see a due date.

2014 03 29 Boy, do I love to be wrong on issues like this. St Patty’s Day slide show features Ali with this text: “Muhammad Ali: Abe Grady, his maternal great-grandfather, emigrated from Ireland and settled in Kentucky in the 1860s, he went on to marry a former slave. One of their grandchildren, Odessa Lee Grady Clay, gave birth to Ali, then Cassius Clay, in 1942.”
Gee, could it be that someone somewhere read my sarcasms and did something about it? a little late? a little little? Still, better than nothing.

DNA Contamination
2016 07 05 We all make mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, and valuable, progress being largely accident: societies send patrols to prevent change, especially changes of basic perceptions: flat earth theories will always have the bigger budget. I love living in a time when idiocies I labored to resist now embarrass majorities. Who today gives a damn whether or not some prince is 100% pure Hapsburg? Being a Hapsburg is no longer a puissant faith. But being 100% “white” is! except among those blonds who go far afield to be soiled by a schwarzer.

I failed to explain to my mother once, an avid bridge player, that getting dealt thirteen cards of one single suit, say all thirteen spades, is extremely unlikely, the odds against getting any specific hand is like one in 70 trillion. “But the deuce of clubs is worthless”, she protested. Not if all thirteen clubs are what you’re aiming for: and are 12/13ths there! Once upon a time Cassius Clay’s mix of African and Irish etc would have distinguished him not at all, a mutt among mutts. Ah, but once he’s Ali, and dead, and honored world-wide, what ammo do the racists have? None! So now the race is to be the biggest hypocrite!

Race Race: A-Scientific Myth
Honeymoon Down South
Jackie
Racial Awareness
Racial Screwings
A Revenge on Racism
Race Scrapbook
Social Epistemology Reality
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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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