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Racism is Dead, Long Live Racism! Part II

10 October 2007 at 10:46 | 1726 views

In the first installment of his five-part article, Dr. Charles Quist-Adade(photo) traced the origin of “race” and racism and argued that the twin notions are fabricated with no scientific basis. The superficial differences between the “races” are the result of geographic adaptations of the various human groups. It was pseudo-scientists, the so-called race scientists who created the concept of race at one point in time and produced ideas to justify it.
In this second installment, Dr. Quist-Adade explains that there is no pure “race,” that all the so-called races have been mixing, interbreeding and intermingling for centuries. In spite of all the efforts of the race “scientists” to divide the human groupings into different “races,” there are no genetic markers that set the so-called races apart.

By Charles Quist-Adade, PhD.

Please, read on:

Not surprisingly, all these European race categorizers placed the European (White) “race” on top of the human pile (Gould, 1994). The European “race” was not only assigned the best of human characteristics, it was also elevated to the apex of human civilization. For instance, Blumenbach allotted the first place on the human classificatory ladder to the Caucasian ‘race’ by contending that this stock displays the most handsome features. He wrote: ...[they] have the kind of appearance, which according to our opinion of symmetry, we consider most handsome and becoming.” (Quoted in Pieterse, 1995: 46) The other “races” are believed to have been degenerates of the Caucasian stock.
The Caucasian/White/European “race” then was made the yardstick with which other ‘races’ were measured. Several pseudo-scientific experiments were carried out aimed at proving the intellectual superiority of the European “race.”

In particular, these “scientific” racists, employing several techniques and theories, including Craniometry (the technique of measuring the bones of the skull) and Phrenology (a theory, which claimed to be able to determine character, personality traits, and criminality on the basis of the shape of the head [reading “bumps”]), tried desperately to prove the intellectual, moral and ethic superiority of Whites to Non-Whites.

For example, Samuel Morton (1839), the first famous American scientist who claimed to have measured brain capacity through skull size, made systematic errors and skewed his data in favor of his biases. Thus, he concluded: "Their larger skulls give Caucasians] decided and unquestioned superiority over all the nations of the earth." (Quoted in Race), Others measured brain sizes of the so-called races and not surprisingly, concluded that Europeans, particularly Nordic (northern and western European) men had the largest brain size and therefore superior intellect. However, brain size is proportional to body size; brain size has nothing to do with intellect. If you have a large body size, you naturally have a proportional head size. This reminds me of one of my elementary school classmates. He had an unusually large head, but he was the most empty-headed of all the pupils. If large head/brain equals higher intellect, then my classmate and all people with large heads should be geniuses, and what do we make of historical figures, such as Plato, Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, or Newton and people of lesser stature but yet of outstanding capabilities? (Bober, 1965: 90)

In The Eye of the Beholder: Your “Black” Person is My “White” Person.
The absurdity of it all is that the so-called race scientists did not provide one standard definition of “race.” Even now, there’s hardly a uniform definition of the concept. If the scientific community cannot agree on a standard definition of ‘race,’ wait until you hear the Tower of Babel confusion regarding racial identity in the global community. What constitutes a “White” person in Brazil or Haiti or Ghana is laughingly different from what constitutes a “White” person in the United States of America or England. In the United States, thanks to the one-drop laws any degree of African ancestry has historically made a person Black (Rockquemore and Brunsma, 2001). Such is not the case in Latin America or the Caribbean. In these societies, any degree of non-African ancestry means that a person is not Black (Winn, 1995). Thus, the same person defined as Black in the U.S. may be considered Coloured in Jamaica or Martinique and White in the Dominican Republic (Hoetink, 1967).

In Brazil, one survey of Blacks generated 40 different words to describe their race/color (Page, 1994). The possibilities between Black and White are legion: preto, cabra, escuro, mulato escuro, mulato claro, pardo, sarara, moreno, and branco de terra (Degler, 1971). Degler reports that some "Blacks" in Brazil change their designations as they move to different social classes.

Davis (1991) has observed that three fifths of Puerto Ricans who come to the US mainland and are identified as Black were defined differently in their homeland. Most were considered blanco (‘white’), mulato (‘mulatto’), trigueiio (‘wheat colored’, ‘olive skinned’), or any of a number of color designations other than Black. To a West Indian, ‘Black’ is a literal description: You are Black if your skin is black. If you are lighter-like the coloring of Colin Powell-you would describe yourself as "middle-class brown" or "a light chocolate." (Gladwell, 1996)
The same is true for Africa. For example, when my then fiancée was called obroni (“White”) in Ghana where we had come for our wedding in 1998, she was taken aback. “No one saw me as ‘White’ in North America; I am Black inside out, she mused. Her lighter complexion and presumed North American mannerisms were enough to qualify her for the tag of “White.” My wife has “a drop” of “white” blood in her; her paternal great, great grandfather was “White.” (See Quist-Adade, 2005)

Even more absurd is the fact that at one point in time, some Europeans were not considered White. The Irish, the Italians, and indeed Europeans from the Mediterranean, Alpine and eastern parts of Europe were not considered ‘White’ in the USA; they had to earn their ‘whiteness.’ “Race was never just a matter of how you looked, it’s about how people assign meaning to how you look,” (Race)

According to historian Robin D. G. Kelley, "Africans came to the New World not as Black people, not as Negroes. They didn’t see themselves that way. They saw themselves according to their own sort of ethnic identities. The same was true of Europeans who viewed themselves as Portuguese, or English, or Irish." (Race)

Adelman (2003) adds: "It may be hard for us to comprehend today that the American Indians didn’t see themselves as Indians. Nor did the English see themselves as White. Neither saw themselves as a race. The peoples of the Americas were divided into separate and distinct nations - hundreds of them. Amerindian nations such as the Algonquians differentiated themselves from the Iroquois or Cherokee by religion, language and customs just as Protestant, English-speaking Britain distinguished itself from Catholic, Spanish-speaking Spain."
What’s more, there is no agreed upon way to determine what constitutes ‘race.’ Some have used skin color to distinguish the ‘races’; others have used facial features, while others have used brain size or cranial capacity. Still others have used skull shape, etc. Yet some have used geography, delineating several ‘geographic races’, including the Amerindian ‘race’, the Polynesian ‘race’, the Micronesian ‘race’, the Melanesian ‘race’, the Australian ‘race’, the African ‘race’, the Indian ‘race’, the European ‘race’, and the Asiatic ‘race’. (Langone, 1993)
Even more absurd is the arbitrary numbers of races various race scientists have conjured up. Arthur Gobinneau, who is regarded as the founder of ideological racism, identified three-the European/Caucasian (‘white’) race, the Mongolian/Asiatic (yellow) race, and the Ethiopian/African race. Linnaeus (1758) identified four (+three imaginary) ‘races, Blumenbach (1781) delineated five, Hooton (1926) discovered three, and Garn (1965) found nine (+ two lower levels) ‘races’ (See Bernasconi, 2000; West, 1982; Orbe, 2001).

Hindsight and two hundred years of science tells us that the race scientists were badly mistaken. All the frenetic attempts to categorize the human groups into distinctive ‘racial’ groups were discredited with the passage of time. Despite all the efforts by the ideological and intellectual heirs of the race scientists today, it has been shown, thanks to the completion of the Human Genome Project (to determine all three billion base pairs in the human genome with a minimal error rate, but also to identify all the genes in this vast amount of data), that it is futile and indeed absurd to classify the human species into distinctive and separate ‘races’. It is equally laughable to isolate or find one pure, unadulterated ‘racial’ group.

We’re All Mongrels!
There is no pure ‘race’; most people are ‘racially’ mixed. Goodman (2003) rightly notes, “[W]e’re all mongrels, we’ve always been mixing, every single one of us is a mongrel.” In fact, Europeans and Americans are the most blended. Centuries ago, Moors from northern Africa overran Spain and moved to France. They were not just sleeping while there! The Greeks, the Romans, the Barbarians and the Normans, all occupied southern Italy at various times. Spanish and Native Americans have combined in Mexico and in southern and Central America. A Hawaiian may have a mixture of Caucasian, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Polynesian blood. Angolans may be black and Portuguese; Cubans and Puerto Ricans black and Spanish. Polynesians are a mixture of Negroid, Mongoloid and Caucasoid blood (Langone, 1993). One in four White-Americans have a Black ancestor; three in four blacks have a White ancestor; even higher for Native Americans. (Feagin, 2000; Jacobson, 1998).

There are no genetic markers that set the so-called races apart. And as Pilar Ossorio points out in Race, it is impossible to locate any genetic markers “that are in everybody of a particular race and in nobody of some other race.” In fact, 96.8% of the genetic code between Blacks and Whites is shared, with only a maximum of 0.032 of the genes varying between any White or Black person. The variation between Whites and Asians is 0.019 (98.1% similarity), and the difference between blacks and Asians is 0.047 (95.3% similarity). These differences are far too small to indicate subspeciation, as such phenomenon would typically be characterized by variation many times greater than the above numbers. There are no subspecies of a given phylum with this high a degree of genetic overlap, anywhere in nature. (Orbe, 2001) “You are smart if you know what race you are, writes Holmes (2003:5). You are even smarter if you do not know what race you are.”

My four-year old son pointed to the absurdity of racial taxonomy in more poignant terms in several “race-talks” with his mother and me. “This black-and-white thing, I don’t get it; our van is white, my pillow is black...,” he quibbled as we approached our next-door neighbor one afternoon. Our neighbor, a White student at Central Michigan University, shook his head in a mixture of what appeared to be astonishment and amusement: “Yeah, you’re right. It doesn’t to me either.” My son’s comment came to us as a surprise. In an earlier conversation, my son, pointing to the television set, to the VCR and to his favorite pillow, asked his mother, “the TV is black, the VCR is black, and my pillow is black, but I am not black, am I?” We were at pains to figure out the genesis of his impromptu comments, and we concluded that Christopher had eavesdropped on one of my discussions with his mother about race and racism. In my several discussions with his mother, I had made it a point to stress the silliness of people using superficial physical features such as skin colour to pigeonhole people into the so-called races.

There is no objective reason for splitting or lumping at any lower taxonomic level (i.e., subspecies, races, varieties) For instance, Europeans who reside near the Mediterranean have dark, curly hair. The Khoisan peoples of southern Africa have facial features that closely resemble the people in northern Europe (Diamond, 1994). The !Kung San have epicanthic eye folds, similar to Japanese and Chinese people (Begley, 1995).
To be continued.