Race

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Race is a concept used to divide people into groups by skin color (as black and white), culture (as Hispanic), geography (as the Sub-Saharan race), and sometimes religion (as Jews). Heredity is especially emphasized, as those who developed the concept in the 18th and 19th centuries appealed to and were inspired by the evolutionary biological concepts being developed at the time.

History of the term

The historical definition of race, before the development of evolutionary biology, was that of common lineage, a vague concept interchangeable with species, breed, cultural origin, or characteristic quality. ("The whole race of mankind." --Shakespeare; "Whence the long race of Alban fathers come" --Dryden

The 19th-century concept of race was based on morphological characteristics such as skin color, facial characteristics and amount and type of hair. Though such characteristics have since been shown to have a minimal relationship with any other heritable characteristics, it retains popularity because it is easy to immediately distinguish people based on physical appearance.

Because people of different races can interbreed, this method of classification is weak. (Compare with species.) In other words, racial purity does not have a clear biological meaning.

Some of the 19th-century naturalists who defined the field were Georges Cuvier, Pritchard, Louis Agassiz, Charles Pickering (Races of Man and Their Geographical Distribution, 1848), and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. Cuvier enumerated three races, Pritchard seven, Agassiz eight, and Pickering eleven. Blumenbach's classification was widely adopted:

  1. the Caucasian, or white race, to which belong the greater part of the European nations and those of Western Asia
  2. the Mongolian, or yellow race, occupying Tartary, China, Japan, etc.
  3. the Ethiopian, or negro race, occupying most of Africa (except the north), Australia, Papua, and other Pacific Islands
  4. the American, or red race, comprising the Indians of North and South America
  5. the Malayan, or brown race, which occupies the islands of the Indian Archipelago

Writers in the decades following Blumenbach classified the Malay and American races as branches of the Mongolian, leaving only the Caucasian, Mongolian, and Ethiopian races.


Politics of race

The concept of race was applied at the same time by such political theorists such as Johann Gottfried von Herder to nationalist theory to develop ethnic nationalism. They posited the historical existence of races such as the German and French race connected to races which have existed for millenia (such as the Aryan race), which should determine political institutions.


Race and intelligence =

There is some evidence to support claim that people who identify themselves as "white" are more intelligent than those who identify themselves as "black" and "Hispanic" in the United States, and this fits a general pattern in which socially dominant groups tend to score higher in IQ tests than socially marginalized groups.

In U.S. in IQ tests, "black" people got significantly worse results (average 85) than "white" people (average 100), with "Hispanics" somewhere in between. Early studies were (properly) flat-out rejected, as they did not control for the relationship between IQ and one's education level and income. Since higher intelligence certainly is a product of better education and higher income, the lack of a correction for these factors limited the use of earlier studies. However, some later studies have attempted to make corrections for this; these make the measured IQ gap only slightly smaller; a significant gap does seem to exist. No significant IQ gap was found between "white", "Jewish" and "Asian" people.

These studies have received an extremely skeptical reception in the scientific community, partly because of methodological problems in studies in the early 20th century which purported to show large IQ deficits in Irish and southern European immigrants to the United States.

Much of the controversial research has been summarized, in great detail, in The Bell Curve, published in 1994 by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray. It immediately attracted much media attention, and was denounced by some as thinly veiled racism. The authors were once publicly denounced as Nazis. http://www.lrainc.com/swtaboo/taboos/hum_diff.html In response to the debate, a public statement was circulated by 52 internationally known scholars was published in The Wall Street Journal, 12/3/94. http://www.lrainc.com/swtaboo/taboos/wsj_main.html which summarized the mainstream views on race and IQ.

Since then, many scientists have disputed the evidence presented in The Bell Curve, and have found what they see as serious methodological flaws. A critique the book can be found in the revised and expanded edition of The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould (1996, W. W. Norton and Co.) (what are those flaws ?) In the first edition of that book, published in 1981, Gould made a number of critical points concerning many of the studies Herrnstein and Murray were to draw on. Gould's larger point is that most scientific studies of the relationship btween race and human behavior have been heavily biased by the assumption that human behavior is best explained by heredity. He criticizes studies of the relationship between race and intelligence on several grounds. One thing he points out is that much of the data used by scientists was falsified (for example, in the case of a famous study of the IQs of twins separated at birth). But most of his criticisms pertain to cases where the data seems to be legitimate. Most of his arguments have to do with the value of statistical correlations (the measure of the co-ocurrence of two different things). Most arguments around IQ center on the issue of correlation -- the very claim that the test measures an actual thing requires that the kinds of answers to various questions will correlate highly; the claim that this thing is inherited requires that the scores of respondents who are closely related will correlate significantly higher than results of those distnatly related.

First, he points out that correlation is not the same as cause. As he puts it, measures of the changes, over time, in "my age, the population of Mexico, the price of swiss cheese, my pet turtle's weight, and the average distance between galaxies" will have a high positive correlation -- but that does not mean that Steven Jay Gould's age goes up "because" the population of Mexico goes up. Second, and more specifically, a high positive correlation between parents' IQ and children's IQ can be taken as evidence that IQ is inherited -- OR that IQ is determined by social and environmental factors. Since the same data can be used to argue either side of the case, the data in and of itself is not useful.

Furthermore, Gould makes the subtle and often ignored point that even if it were demonstrated that the correlations in IQ within a group were completely determined by heredity, this tells you nothing about the causes in differences in IQ between unrelated groups or whether those differences can be changed by environment. One example that Gould brings up is height which is known to be highly inherited. Knowing that differences in height within a single group are due to heredity tells you nothing at all about why there are height differences between different groups.

A good example of the confusion of heritability is found in the statement of international scholars published in the Wall Street Journal (see web-link above): "If all environments were to become equal for everyone, heritability would rise to 100% because all remaining differences in IQ would necessarily be genetic in origin." This claim is at best misleading and at worst, false. First, it is very hard to conceive of a world in which everyone grows up on the exact same environment; the very fact that people are spatially and temporally dispersed means that no one can be in exactly the same environment (a simple example will illustrate how complex social environments are: a husband and wife may share a house, but they do not live in identical environments because each is married to a different person). Second, even if people grew up in exactly the same environment, not all differences would be genetic in origin. This is because embryonic development involves chance molecular events and random cellular movements that alter the effects of genes. Third, even as far as genetics is involved, heritability is not a measure of phenotypic differences between groups, but rather differnces between genotype and phenotype within a population. Even within a group, if all members of the group grow up in exactly the same environment, it does not mean that heritability is 100%. All Americans (or New Yorkers, or upper-class New Yorkers -- one may define the population in question as narrowly as one likes) may eat exactly the same food, but their adult height will still be a result of both genetics and nutrition. In short, heritability is almost never 100%, and heritability tells us nothing about genetic differences between groups. This is true for height, which has a high degree of heritability; it is all the more true for intelligence. This is true for other reasons besides ones involving "heritability," as Gould goes on to discuss.

His most profound criticism is his rejection of the very thing that IQ is meant to measure, "general inteleligence" (or "g"). IQ tests, he points out, ask many different kinds of questions. Responses to different kinds of questions tend to form clusters. In other words, different kinds of questions can be given different scores -- which suggests that an IQ test is really a combination of a number of different tests that test a number of different things. Proponents of IQ tests assume that there is such a thing as general intelligence, and analyze the data so as to produce one number, which they then claim is a measure of general intelligence. Gould argues that this one number (and therefore, the implication that there is a real thing called "general intelligence" that this number measures) is in fact an artifact of the statistical operations psychologists apply to the raw data. He argues that one can analyze the same data more effectively and end up with a number of different scores (but valid, meaning they measure something) rather than one score.

Finally, Gould points out that he is not opposed to the notion of "biological variability" which is the premise that heredity influences intelligence. He does criticize the notion of "biological determinism" which is the idea that genes determine destiny and there is nothing we can or should do about this.

Assuming that this gap in IQ (and SAT scores) is real, even when corrected for social and financial differences, it is not clear what the origins of this gap are. Part of this gap may well be genetic; there is no a priori reason to believe that every ethnic group or race as precisely the same genes in all areas of neural development; a small amount of random variation early on may have later crystallized into such differences at later times. Also there might have been smaller evolutionary presure towards greater intelligence in some environments. However, the possibility that any differences are genetic do not explain why minorities in some societies show similar deficits in IQ even where the they are genetically identical to the majority population (such as Catholics in Northern Ireland, or Burakumin in Japan).

The reader should therefore be cautioned not to assume that all difference are genetic in origin. Scientists have firmly established that most genetic variations in individuals are only a part of the picture of how an individual develops. The environment that a person is brought up in is equally imporant. Further, there are painful social factors involved, such as the high rate of drinking, smoking, and illicit drug use during pregnancy of inner-city teenagers. These activities are known to cause measurable mental damage to children born to parents engaging in such activities. Thus, as cities and states work to reduce the amount of smoking, alcoholism and illicit drug use, this may significantly reduce much or all of the IQ and SAT score gaps that are currently being measured. In this case, the gap would be a symptom of a wider social problem, and not a statement about race at all.

Anthropological Studies of Race

In the 19th Century many natural scientists made three claims about race: first, that races are objective, naturally occurring things; second, that there is a strong relationship between biological races and other human phenomena (such as social behavior and culture); third, that race is therefore a valid scientific category that can be used to explain individual and group behavior. In the 20th century anthropologists have rejected each of these claims.

This project was initiated by Franz Boas, the founder of American academic anthropology. In the first decades of the 20th century he studied the relationship between race and height in New York City. He discovered that the children of immigrants were taller than their parents. Although height is clearly a biological phenomena, he concluded that an individual's height was determined not only by inheritance but by environment as well (in this case, better pre- and neo-natal care, especially nutrition). Of course, height is still in some way determined by genetics, and many of Boas's students accepted the existence of race as a biological fact. But they concluded that there was no relationship between biological race and other human phenomena (such as social behavior and culture).

By the 1950s anthropologists had come to question the very existence of race as a biological phenomena. This rejection was based on three facts. First, they pointed out that the preponderance of evidence suggests that all human beings are descended from a common ancestor. Second, they observed that there are many biological differences between people that are not taken into account by race (for example, blood type). Finally, they pointed out that often times the genetic differences between members of the same race are greater than the average genetic difference between races. For example, the variation in blood types within specific groups is 85%, but the total variation between groups is only 15%. (see the American Anthropological Association's Statement on Race [[1]]

This rejection of race as a biological phenomena had two important consequences. First, anthropologists (and other biological scientists) developed the notion of "population" to take the place of race. This substitution is not a matter of semantics. In the western tradition race referred to a group of people with similar physical features. "Population" refers to a group of creatures (for one may speak of populations of birds or bees as well) marked by a particular frequency of a particular gene. It is a statistical phenomena; as such it does not necessarily (and if fact often does not) have clear boundaries, and it changes over time.

The "populationist" view does not deny that there are physical differences among people; it simply insists that "race" is not useful in analyze these differences scientifically. Take one of the most obvious physical markers of race, for example – skin color. It is true that the color of people's skin varies. It does not vary according to culture. All people who live in the tropics -- whether in South America, Africa, or Asia, have dark skin. This is because the tropics receive a lot of sunlight, and people with light skin would suffer from hypervitaminosis; they can sunburn too easily, are more susceptible to disease, and less efficient at sweating. Dark skin is more advantageous. Light skin is found in temparate ones, where it prevented rickets. But skin is only one phenotypic trait. Many things play a role in skin color -- exposure to sunlight, ultraviolet radiation, suntanning lotions, and the amount of clothing. Many traits are determined by non-genetic factors (as Boas' study of height showed). Moreover, specific traits are not necessarily connected to one another – biological traits such as skin color, hair type, and facial features do not vary together. Finally, the natural distribution of human phenotypes exhibits gradual trends of difference across geographic zones, not the categorical differences of race. Consequently, there are many peoples (like the San of S. W. Africa, or the people of northern India) who have phenotypes that do not neatly fit into the standard race categories. In short, attempts to construct biological racial classifications have been unsuccessful because genetic and phenotypic traits do not vary together over time. Races were often based on a limited number of arbitrarily selected phenotypic traits. Thus, races have not explained phenotypic variation between populations. Rather than attempt to classify humans into racial categories, anthropologists and biologists instead use the notion of population to try to understand why and how biological variation occurs.

Second, anthropologists reconceived "race" as a cultural category, in other words, as a particular way some people have of talking about themselves and others. As such it cannot be a useful analytical concept; rather, "race" itself must be analyzed. Moreover, biology will not explain why or how people use the idea of race; history and social relationships will.

Two examples, one from the United States and one from Brazil, will illustrate this. In the United States in the 19th century, African-Americans, Native Americans, and European-Americans were each classified as different races. But the criteria for membership in these races were radically different. The government considered anyone with "one drop" of Black blood to be Black. In contrast, Indians were defined by a certain percentage of "Indian blood." And to be White one had to have "pure" White ancestry. These differing criteria for membership in particular races has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with political relations between Blacks and Indians on the one hand, and Whites on the other. By these criteria, it was very easy for a child to be categorized as Black. This likely reflects the requirements of the slave-economy of the U.S. South, for the vast majority of slaves were classified as Black. Even the child of an enslaved African woman and a White master was considered Black, or "of African descent." More importantly, such a child would be a slave. In comparison, it was harder for a child to be classified as Indian. After a few generations of inter-racial marriages, a child might not be considered Indian at all. This likely reflects the requirements of the U.S. economy during the period of westward expansion. Indians had treaty rights to land, but if an individual with one Indian great-grandparent were no longer classified as Indian, they would lose special rights to land. At a time when Whites ruled both Blacks and Indians, it is no coincidence that the hardest race to prove membership in was White.

Compared to 19th century United States, 20th century Brazil was characterized by a relative absence of sharply defined racial groups. This pattern reflects a different history and different social relations. Basically, race in Brazil was biologized, but in a way that recognized the difference between ancestry (which determines genotype) and phenotypic differences. There, racial identity was not governed by a rigid descent rule. A Brazilian child was never automatically identified with the racial type of one or both parents, nor were there only two categories to chose from. Over a dozen racial categories would be recognized in conformity with the combinations of hair color, hair texture, eye color, and skin color. These types grade into each other like the colors of the spectrum and no one category stands significantly isolated from the rest. That is, race referred to appearance, not heredity.

One of the most striking consequences of the Brazilian system of racial identification was that parents and children and even brothers and sisters were frequently accepted as representatives of opposite racial types. In a fishing village in the state of Bahia an investigator showed 100 people pictures of three sisters and were asked to identify the races of each. In only six responses were the sisters identified by the same racial term. Fourteen responses used a different term for each sister. In another experiment nine portraits were shown to a hundred people. Forty different racial types were elicited. It was found, in addition, that a given Brazilian might be called by as many as thirteen different terms by other members of the community. These terms are spread out across practically the entire spectrum of theoretical racial types. A further consequence of the absence of a descent rule was that Brazilians apparently not only disagreed about the racial identity of specific individuals, but they also seemed to be in disagreement about the abstract meaning of the racial terms as defined by words and phrases. For example, 40% of a sample ranked moreno claro as a lighter type than mulato claro, while 60% reversed this order. A further note of confusion is that one person might employ different racial terms for another person over a short time. The use of term varies with the personal relationship and mood. Consequently, people change their racial identity over their lifetimes. This is not the same as passing in the USA. It does not require secrecy and the agonizing withdrawal from friends and family that are necessary in this country and among Indians of highland Latin America. In Brazil passing from one race to another occurs with changes in education and economic status. A light skinned person of low status is considered darker than a dark skinned person of high status.

So although the identification of a person by race is far more fluid and flexible in Brazil than in the USA, there are racial stereotypes and prejudices. African features were considered less desirable; Blacks were considered inferior, and Whites are considered superior. These stereotypes are obvious relics of the slave-based plantation system, and say more about history than actual behavior. But the complexity of racial classification in Brazil bears testimony not only to the amount of intermarriage in the post-slavery period, but also to the possibilities of upward mobility. A Brazilian is never merely black or white or some other race; he is rich, well-educated, or poor and uneducated. It makes more sense to say that it is one's class and not one's appearance that determines who will be admitted to hotels, restaurants, and social clubs; who will get preferential treatment in stores, churches, and hotels; and who will have the best chance among a group of marriage suitors – and color is one of the criteria of class identity, but it is not the only one. (This case is taken from Marvin Harris' excellent short study, Pattens of Race in the Americas)

Lately people have tried to associate race and intelligence. This is not new. But, virtually all contemporary anthropologists argue, it has always been wrong. It is wrong not because all people are created equal – perhaps we should all have equal rights, but all people are created different, with different abilities and talents. It is wrong because these differences have nothing to do with race (they probably do have something to do with genetics, but the relationship between genotype, phenotype, and environment is too complex to be reduced to the notion of race; see Biology as Ideology by R.C. Lewontin). This is so not only because race is a cultural and not biological category. It is so because intelligence is also a cultural category – some cultures emphasize speed and competition more than others, for example. Tests based on word skills cannot accurately measure learning ability. And most IQ tests ask people to solve problems most often encountered in middle class settings. Low IQ scores are often the result of the subject speaking a different language or dialect than the test questions, or being given the test by someone from another ethnic group, or simply being tired, malnourished, or ill. IQ tests do not measure mental ability, they do measure enculturation. During WWI African-Americans from the north tested higher than those from the south. This is simply because African-Americans in the north had received more formal education (see Race: Science and Politics, written by Ruth Benedict in 1940). Thousands of ethnographic studies indicate that innate capacities for cultural evolution are equal among all human populations. See the American Anthropological Association's Statement on Race and Intelligence [[2]]

Related concepts

"racism", "race relations", "racial equality", "racial purity", "racial characteristics", "racial discrimination", "racial superiority".

Because individual geography, culture, religion, political association and, above all, heredity can change, racial purity, the concept that wholly distinct racial groupings exist, has little meaning from the perspective of evolutionary biology.

Ethnicity is the concept of race decoupled from national affiliation. For example, ethnic Germans are people who are not citizens of the nation of Germany but who may be considered racially German.

See also:


The following is the old version of this article, which was replaced with the above. This needs to be more carefully included in the above.

A race, in biology, ... biologically accurate definition needed

Because members of different races, by definition, can interbreed, there very often exist individuals that don't clearly belong to any one race. This in no way means that, as some anti-racists claim, races don't exist. On the other hand, term 'racially pure' is difficult to assign a clear biological meaning.

Usually morphological characteristics (like skin colour, facial characteristics and amount and type of hair) is used to divide populations into races, but that's mostly because they're very easy to apply, not because morphology is more important than other characteristics.


One person hopes that the experts on human races--anthropologists, cultural historians--will weigh in on the subject, trying to maintain a neutral point of view, of course.


A race is a competition of speed over distance. A race may be over any distance, and using any means stipulated by the rules of the race. Running a certain distance is the template of racing, but races are often conducted in vehicles, such as boats and cars.

Early records of races are evidient on ancient greek pottery, where running men are depicted vying for first place. There is a chariot race in the Iliad.

A race and its name are often associated with the place of origin, the means of transport and the distance of the race. As a couple of examples, see the Paris-Dakar rally or the Athens marathon.

/Talk


External Links and References

1913 dictionary entry