Race is a state of mind

7 Mar

I’m serious.  I’m not just referencing old slogans for the fun of it, it’s too early in the day for that.  For a long time I’ve wanted to write a post fundamentally stating, without the merest hint of doubt, that race is a social construct with no basis in science.

Turns out Adam Rutherford has already written it!  In this post he straight up states that race, scientifically, does not exist.

Rutherford, who describes himself as “partly of Indian descent”, leaving the reader to assume that his ethnic heritage is otherwise white European, is a science writer and editor.  If I were to be flippant I would point out that he’s also rather handsome, ’cause, ya know, I’m also partly of Indian descent, and I’m damn cute.  Maybe it’s a thing?

HA NO!  It isn’t!  Just because Adam Rutherford and I are excellent eye candy* doesn’t mean that all European/Asian heritage people are because, get this, as Rutherford says in his post “There is no genetic basis that corresponds with any particular group of people”.  Yes, you can predict some things about a person’s genome from their phenotype (outward appearance) but you can’t predict someone’s race from their genome with any confidence.  You can make reasonable assessments of their ancestry, and some of their probable appearance, but the divisions of what makes someone one race or another, according to the phenotypic and cultural criteria most of us use, are not seen in the genes.  Within any single “race” is such variance as to render the racial categorisation unusable in science.

Rutherford gives some great examples of conditions and genetic factors, long thought to be consequences of racial heritage, which are more scientifically explained by geographic area and the populations that live there.  Ah, you might think, Ms Mongrel, surely those geographically defined populations can be called races?  Well sure, socially you can go with that, but there is no scientific definition to back you up.  As Rutherford rather bluntly and brilliantly points out, humans are “too horny and mobile to have stuck to our own kind for very long” meaning that virtually every population has “DNA mixed and remixed through endless sex and continuous migration”.

I think that this message about the arbitrary nature of racial ‘definition’ is really important.  Rutherford also points out the way that the early science of inheritance and then genetics attempted to find a scientific rationalisation for racism (including the genocide of native peoples by European empires, the subjugation of others, the transatlantic slave trade, and various 20th century eugenics schemes).  Somehow the educated, European elite felt that by scientifically showing that the other races were “lesser”, they could justify their murderous expansion and the imposition of their values on alien cultures – all driven by profit except perhaps for a minority of genuine adventurers or earnest missionaries.

If someone can show me that the human race can be scientifically subgrouped into subspecies or races, with a consistent definition that can be shown in the lab to be “nature” rather than based on the environment and cultures in which we are raised, I’ll change my mind, don’t you worry.  I’m all about evidence.  But, as someone whose existence already disproves a number of stereotypes pertaining to my racial heritage, I’ll continue to challenge any racial definitions based loosely on appearance, geography, religion, and old prejudices.

There’s no such thing as race people, unless you choose to believe in it.  If that’s your choice, fine.  Just don’t expect the rest of us to live by your definitions.

*okay well maybe Rutherford more than me.  It’s a matter of perspective!

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