Racial Perceptions and Genetic Admixtures

As to who is a Negro in the United States, I have come to the
conclusion after long and careful thought that to be an expert on
that subject the first qualification is to be crazy. Only those who
are able to throw all logic, all reasoning to the winds, can ever
hope to be authorities on that matter.
~ J. A. Rogers. The World’s Greatest Men of Color.

I came across further data on genetic admixtures in the American population. I’ve discussed some of this before, but a summary of the key data seemed in order.

First, there is more diversity among Africans than there are between all other geographic populations in the world. As stated by Rotimi (in Genetic ancestry tracing and the African identity: a double-edged sword?), “that African populations have more genetic variation between them (estimates are as high as 95%) than when Africans are compared to other peoples who migrated out of Africa thousands of years ago (estimates are as low as 3%)” It would make more sense to combine all non-Africans as a single race than to combine Africans as a single race.

Besides, all diversity in all populations exists in a continuum and phenotype features exist on a gradient (e.g., lighter to darker skin), the reason being that various genetic clusters exist across geographic populations. This is why Southern Europeans have more genetic diversity in a way that is more similar to Africans than to Northern Europeans. After all, Southern Europeans have shared more genetic history and proximity with Africans and other Mediterranean populations.

Which genetic cluster one focuses on will determine how one sees various populations as similar or dissimilar. The greatest diversity of such clusters, though, will be found among Africans rather than between Africans and non-Africans. Appearances such as skin color are genetically deceiving. Or to put it scientifically: There are many genotypes that can contribute to the same or similar phenotypes.

Second,  African-Americans have on average 20-25% European genetics (although some studies show it as low as 18% and some as high as 30%). This makes sense since, as Henry Louis Gates Jr explains, “As we have shown in the “African American Lives” series on PBS, […] between 30 and 35 percent of all African American males can trace their paternal lineage (their y-DNA) to a white man who impregnated a black female most probably during slavery.”

More interesting, at least 5% of African-Americans have more than 50% European genetics and a recent study (Shriver) puts that at about 10% of African-Americans. Some African-Americans are almost entirely European, except for a tiny percentage of African genetics. “People who identify as African-American may be as little as 1 percent West African or as much as 99 percent”, according to Genetic study clarifies African and African-American ancestry (Phys.org). Some studies have even found that 5.5% of so-called African-Americans had no detectable African genetics.

Taken together, this means that at least in some ways African-Americans are even more genetically diverse than the African populations that are part of their ancestry. African-Americans include the ancestors of the original slaves from West Africa and other slaves from the non-Anglo-American colonies with various other admixtures, Jamaicans in particular being highly diverse. Also included are the newer immigrants who have no enslaved ancestors and who come from every region of Africa, thus bringing with them that immense genetic diversity.

A not insignificant point is that a large number of African-Americans should be more accurately designated as European-Americans. Just think about this. Whenever you pass a group of ‘black’ people, the probability is that at least one of them is actually mostly European and may have very little or no African genetics. Indeed, if you suspend the typical American racial biases, you’ll notice most ‘black’ Americans do have lighter skin than the average African, often as light skinned as other non-African people including many Southern Europeans.

A person can have mostly European genetics and still have darker skin and wavy hair that they inherited from African ancestry even without any slave ancestors (after all, skin and hair genetics are only a small percentage of inherited genetics). Why aren’t dark-skinned, dark-wavy-haired Europeans  such as Italians more accurately called African-Europeans? Why aren’t dark-skinned, dark-wavy-haired Italian-Americans more accurately called African-European-Americans?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a person can have ‘white’ features while having a ‘black’ great grandparent or several ‘black’ great great grandparents. Even a single ‘black’ grandparent wouldn’t necessarily lead to a person being noticeably non-‘white’, depending on the genetics inherited. A genetic analysis of James D. Watson’s DNA, following some racist remarks he made about Africans, claimed to have shown he had 16% African genetics (and 9% Asian genetics for a total of 25% non-European genetics). Another self-identified white researcher, Mark D. Shriver, found he had 20% African genetics. Watson and Shriver look as white as can be and neither of their families have any stories about black ancestry. Around a third (30%) of white Americans has the equivalent of three African ancestors in recent centuries (2.3% African genetics).

Here is an interesting way to think about it (Stephan Palmié, Genomics, Divination, “Racecraft”):

“As Stuckert (1976) has pointed out in an ingenuous statistical extrapolation from historical records, by the time of the 1970 U.S. census, some 24% of all persons listed as “white” might reasonably have been presumed to have had African ancestors, while more than 80% of all “blacks” would have had non-African ancestors. Transformed into numerical values, this means nothing less than that the overwhelming majority of all Americans of African ancestry – i.e. about 42 millions at the time – had not been counted into the black population (which then stood at 22 millions), but classified as white. Put differently, there were (and surely still are) almost double the number of “white”Americans of African descent as “black” ones (cf. Palmié 2002).”

This is far from commonsense, according to our standard assumptions. ‘White’ Americans with African genetics are a smaller percentage of the total ‘white’ American population as compared to the percentage found in ‘black’ Americans. However, since the white population is larger, the raw number of ‘white’ Americans with African genetics is larger than the raw number of ‘black’ Americans with African genetics.

The US population is genetically mixed to a greater extent than most people would have predicted and more than the racial realists/purists would have preferred. Since the miscegenation laws ended, this mixing has been increasing generation after generation. All the above numbers would be even higher for the younger generations. As far as that goes, these kinds of admixtures are already higher in most countries around the world. To speak of ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ as general categories for all countries, the US is highly unusual in having relatively low rates of admixture. It isn’t just unusual, but maybe a bit unnatural.

In conclusion, ultimately race is an arbitrary social construct. Yes, it is real to the extent that, like any social construct, it can be enforced onto a population. But no, it isn’t inherent to genetics as an a priori reality. Plus, even with centuries of enforced genetic segregation, much of racial identity requires subjective perception and still perception often fails to tell us much about the actual genetics of individuals.

You have to be looking for the social construct of race in order to find it, both in appearances or in genetics. There are millions of distinctions between humans and hypothetically any or all of these could be called races. The point is that the folk taxonomy of races doesn’t fit the data, although one can cherrypick data to fit whatever theory one wishes to prove by way of circular reasoning. In the end, though, it just doesn’t add up to a plausible scientific theory. The relationship between genotype and phenotype is too complex and nuanced for centuries old non-scientific racist categories.

See below for more info:

Our Hidden African Ancestry
by ScottH

Researchers at 23andMe looked at the genetic ancestry of about 78,000 customers likely to consider themselves as entirely of European ancestry and found that somewhere between 3 percent and 4 percent of those people have “hidden” African ancestry.

The percent of African ancestry is relatively low with the majority of individuals having just 0.5 percent to 0.75 percent — which suggests that those people have an African ancestor who lived about six generations, or about 200 years, ago.

This is by no means meant to represent the percent of African ancestry among those who identify themselves as being of European descent across America. It is simply a snapshot of those in our database at this time. Our researchers have also excluded those with more than 5 percent African ancestry with the assumption that it’s more likely that their ancestry is known. That doesn’t mean it is known, just as it doesn’t mean that those of European descent with 5 percent or less African ancestry are unaware of it. In addition, our database includes customers who are actually European so the actual percentage of Americans of European descent in our database who have African ancestry may be higher.

But we believe this is the first detailed look of the African ancestry among those who consider themselves white. It begs many questions for possible future study. For instance, looking at the generational distribution implied by the percentages it appears most of the mixing occurred 200 years ago or more. Was intermixing between black and white more acceptable during that time in American history? Or was the relative isolation of people then such that the societal taboos against such mixing were more lax?

At the very least these findings suggest a more nuanced picture of race relations at that time.

Afro-European Genetic Admixture in the United States
Essays on the Color Line and the One-Drop Rule
by Frank W Sweet

With this added information, three aspects of the scatter diagram suddenly jump out at you. First, there is significant overlap between White and Black Americans regarding Afro-European genetic admixture. Some so-called “Black” Americans have less DNA admixture of African ancestral origin than do some so-called “White” Americans. Second, the admixture range of Black Americans spans the entire chart. While most of the subjects who self-identify as Black (marked as circles) have strong African admixture (are found towards the right), some have little or no African admixture (are found at the left edge). Finally, although the range of genetic admixture in those who self-identify as “White” is narrower than the admixture range of Blacks, it is still significant. Many so-called “White” Americans have as much as 20 percent or more of African genetic admixture.

[ . . . ] Three points of interest present themselves upon your examining this graph. First, as in the prior chart, there is genetic admixture overlap between Americans of the Black and White endogamous groups within the range of from zero to thirty percent African genetic admixture. As in the Shriver study of skin tone, some so-called “White” Americans have over twenty percent African genetic admixture and some so-called “Black” Americans have little or none. Indeed, other studies have found that approximately 5.5 percent of members of the U.S. Black community have no detectable African genetic admixture.15

Second, the Black and White groups are not symmetrical. The mean African admixture among White Americans is low—roughly 0.7 percent African and 99.3 percent European admixture.16 To put this in perspective, this would have been the result if every member of the U.S. White endogamous group alive today had a single ancestor of one hundred percent African genetic admixture seven generations ago (around the year 1850). Of course, African alleles are not distributed evenly. Seventy percent of White Americans (like 5.5 percent of Blacks) have no detectable African genetic admixture at all. Among the thirty percent of Whites with African genetic admixture, the admixture ratio averages to about 2.3 percent, the equivalent of having a single ancestor of one hundred percent African genetic admixture from around the year 1880.17 Black Americans, on the other hand, have significant European admixture (averaging about 75 percent African and 25 percent European).

Third, the wide admixture spread of the two groups of New-World inhabitants contrasts with the narrow range of admixtures among Old-World inhabitants. A wide spread of genetic admixtures is characteristic of the Western Hemisphere. As evident in the chart, on the one hand, the U.S. White population spans a range of 15-20 percent and the U.S. Black population covers a 30-40-percent range. On the other hand, the Nigerian population covers only a 10-precent spread and the Congolese population spans only a 5-percent range.

[ . . . ] About one-third of White Americans are of between two and twenty percent recent African genetic admixture, as measured by the ancestry-informative markers in their DNA.19 This comes to about 74 million Americans. And yet, day-to-day experience teaches that virtually all White Americans look, well, White. Some may look more Mediterranean and others may look more Nordic, but very few White Americans have a distinctively African appearance.

[ . . . ] And so, why do few if any White Americans display a strongly African appearance (have a high melanin index) despite having detectable African admixture? Because those Americans who “look Black” are assigned involuntarily to the Black endogamous group, whatever their genetic admixture. The scatter diagrams of the two endogamous U.S. groups are not symmetrical because the selection process acts only upon the White group. As revealed in court records, discussed elsewhere, a person of mixed ancestry who “looks European” (like Dr. Shriver or his maternal grandfather) in practice has the option of either adopting a White self-identity, thus joining the White endogamous group or a Black self-identity, thus joining the other group. But a person of mixed ancestry who “looks African” lacks such a choice. U.S. society assigns such a person to membership in the Black endogamous group, like it or not.25

In conclusion, U.S. society has unwittingly applied selection pressure to the color line. The only American families accepted into the White endogamous group have been those whose African admixture just happened not to include the half-dozen alleles for dark skin (or the other physical traits associated with “race”). Since those particular alleles were sifted out of the portion of the White population that originated in biracial families, the relative percentage of the remaining, invisible, African alleles in this population cannot affect skin color. That skin-color does not vary with African genetic admixture among American Whites, despite their measureably recent African admixture, demonstrates and confirms that physical appearance has been an important endogamous group membership criterion throughout U.S. history. It has resulted in genetic selection of the White U.S. population for a European “racial” appearance, regardless of their underlying continent-of-ancestry admixture ratio.

20 thoughts on “Racial Perceptions and Genetic Admixtures

  1. Good information, as usual, Benjamin- didn’t know the quantification behind the obvious mixture one can see in almost every African-American.face.

    Yes, “the US population is genetically mixed to a greater extent than…the racial realists/purists would have preferred.” From a populist perspective, that seems the most important point you make. And your conclusion seems true that “even with centuries of enforced genetic segregation, much of racial identity requires subjective perception”; one sees this all the time in social settings. I’m not an expert, but in the realm of statistics, African-Americans are actually quite a distinct population, though; it’s hard for me to see how the race you concentrate on here is a social construct, especially an arbitrary one ilke the Hutus and Tutsis, even if their is a strong social construct surrounding their race. Apparently, about 70% of African-Americans come from West Africa, and judging from one good study ( http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2010/08/genetic-variation-within-africa-and-the-world/#.Uol6tPlzGSo ), it looks like both West African and African-American diversity is relatively low, even if the intra-African diversity is high. Then, getting over here, to have an average Euro insertion of 20% or less makes for quite distinct genetics, from a statistical standpoint. Certainly enough to use race in evaluation of disease risk, and almost certainly to arrive at differentials that are more sociological and psychological. I’ve spent large portions of my life around groups of black people, and it’s difficult for me to not think in terms of them as a separate race from mine. The cultural implications of being black in America are at least as important as the genetic information components; the whole cornucopia is their race to me, and I’m comfortable using the term even with blatant minority innaccuracies. Do you view that as wrong or distorting or beside your point? Is the word race a problem itself, from your standpoint?

    • It is hard to figure all of this out and to determine what it actually means in terms of actual people. I’m trying to gather together the pieces of data in order to see what picture forms.

      I’m constantly revising my opinion, but I’ve been more strongly leaning toward the social construct view. Before I began my recent readings, I more or less accepted races as being real in some basic sense. I hadn’t thought to question it. I must admit that it is a challenge to step outside of my culture’s worldview and try to understand the data on its own terms without the biases and preconceptions.

      It is partly just the complexity alone that makes me favor the social construct interpretation. Depending on which data one looks at and how one looks at it seems to determine what one sees. There are a ton of genetic clusters in populations everywhere, but very few of them correspond even slightly to folk taxonomies of race. That said, there are those few genetic clusters that partly correspond. I guess it begins to feel like cherrypicking when certain data is focused upon because it fits a hypothesis and the majority of the data is ignored or dismissed because it doesn’t fit.

      As you point out, only 70% of African-Americans apparently have West African genetics. That leaves 30% (almost 1/3) with entirely different genetics and probably entirely separate geographic genetic clusters. Within that 30% would be included some that apparently have no detectable African genetics at all (from the last link in my post):

      “Indeed, other studies have found that approximately 5.5 percent of members of the U.S. Black community have no detectable African genetic admixture.”

      That is mind-blowing. Maybe more than 1 in 20 American blacks aren’t even slightly African. There black skin has origins from some non-African sources I assume (Indonesia? Australia? Where?).

      Even within that 70% of West-African-Americans, I would guess that the European admixture would be about the same as for African-Americans over all. So, that 70% would include the average 20-25% of European genetics along with 10-20% having a majority of European genetics.

      However, that could be an underestimate. West-African-Americans are probably those with ancestors in America the longest which would increase the probability of their European admixture being even higher than average. What if we found that almost all of the majority European genetic American blacks were found among this 70%?

      Also, there might be European genetic clusters with African-Americans from different states and regions. Different admixtures would lead to different health risks. We wouldn’t want to treat a West-African black American with 20% Scots-Irish genetics the same as a non-West-African black American with 40% German genetics. Most of this data is showing averages, but there could be some large genetic clustering within the black American population.

      The devil is in the details and unfortunately most of the details are still unknown. It is complex and my ignorance is immense. I feel wary as always in speculating too much or stating much of anything with clear certainty.

      Like you, I’ve been around blacks quite a bit in my life. In the Deep South, race seems so real largely because segregation continues in all aspects of social life, from lunch rooms to churches. In the Midwest, it feels different. I remember as a child not realizing dark-skinned kids were a different race because in the liberal town I lived in at the time no one overtly treated the dark-skinned kids differently nor did the dark-skinned kids act or speak differently. They were just kids. I never heard the word “nigger” until I moved to the South.

      Maybe that early experience shaped me. I can still remember what it felt like to look at a dark-skinned person without the cultural preconception of race. The non-existence of race is a visceral memory to me.

      Is it wrong to consider people a part of a race? I don’t know if wrong is the right way to think about it. I just consider it inaccurate or less-than-meaningful.

      Also, I’ve come to the conclusion that the folk taxonomy of race can’t be separated from the racist worldview it was built upon. A racist concept can’t be cleansed of its fundamentally racist core, no matter how much politically correct language we use. The problem with a racist worldview is simply that it is a false worldview. Any moral implications of wrongness aren’t dependent on intentions but rather the problems that follow any time ideology is conflated with reality. It is wrong because it isn’t fundamentally real.

      In this society, racism is the default position because we are nearly incapable of seeing outside of the racial reality tunnel. You have to actively and regularly choose to deny racism. It is a struggle and we will all fail. Reality tunnels are powerful. In this way, racism isn’t any more morally wrong than any other reality tunnel people get trapped in. A better way of thinking about is whether or not a reality tunnel is useful and beneficial to all involved. Obviously, the racial reality tunnel hasn’t been useful and beneficial to all involved.

      We must be careful about the stories we tell ourselves and the myths we choose to believe in. There is no clear absolute truth, but some perspectives approximate reality better than others. We should always strive to broaden our views as much as possible. This is why I see as severely problematic the cherrypicking of data to support the racial worldview.

      The point I would leave you is that, if you look at other data in other ways, you will see the world and the people in it far differently. Don’t stop with the worldview you were born into. Imagine entirely new ways of perceiving and experiencing your humanity and the humanity of others.

    • I’ve thought about it this way. Race is only meaningful in terms of genetic clusters. The problem is that there are no genetic clusters that correspond to folk taxonomy of races.

      So-called blacks include genetics from all over Africa and from many other non-African places such as Indonesia and Australia, Some dark-skinned people have Denisovans genetics which might be where they inherited the genetics for dark skin and a wider nose, entirely separate from the African populations. There are many ways separate genotypes lead to the same or similar phenotypes. So, how would these people be of the same biological race despite fitting into the same folk taxonomy of races?

      So-called blacks also include genetics from various populations they interbred with before and after slavery. Even within Africa, some of the populations there with dark skin have more genetically in common with Europeans than with other Africans. So, why not group them with same biological race as those Europeans?

      Also, are Sicilians ‘white’? They have admixtures of North African and Middle Eastern genetics. What about the Spanish and the Portuguese? Some populations in Iberia have more non-European genetics than genetics. And what about Jews? Some are entirely non-European and some are entirely European. However, according to folk taxonomy of races, we have come to think of all of these people as ‘white’. Why? Simply because they’ve live in Europe?

      Most of the genetic clusterings such as for disease risks don’t match up with the folk taxonomy of races. Take the sickle cell trait. It is found only in small areas of Africa, but is also found in Southern Europe and Southern India along with other areas in between. This sickle cell trait does correlate with darker skin, including in Southern Europe. Why not call this a race?

      Even going by phenotypes, why not consider all brown-eyed people a race instead of all brown-skinned people? Many Europeans have brown eyes like Africans which partly has to do with their sharing the same genetics.

      Why don’t we consider the Basque-related people like the Irish as a separate race as did the English in past centuries? They are a genetically distinct population. There genetics for light skin are different genetics than for Eastern Europeans. There is no genetic cluster shared by all so-called white people that aren’t also shared by non-European populations.

      We can imagine so many different ways to envision races. There are a large number of genetic clusters to choose from.

      We see black and white because that is what we were taught to see. Look at people with fresh eyes and notice all the features you tend to ignore that makes people in the same race appear very differently. Then consider how certain people from one race not unusually shares features more in common with other people from another race. Why has your brain been taught to ignore these features that everyday disprove racial categories? You don’t even normally see them. Believing literally is seeing.

      It’s just a thought experiment.

      What are we really seeing when we see black and white? What does someone see when they say that all people of a certain nationality look the same? Why was Eugene Robinson so shocked because the dark-skinned Brazilians he met couldn’t comprehend why he thought they were black? Why do so many non-hispanic white Americans perceive hispanic white Americans as non-white? Why do so many Basque Americans who are hispanics consider themselves non-hispanic?

      If folk taxonomy of race is biologically real, why has there been so little agreement about their definition over history and across cultures? Why has there been such a vast shift about who is included and excluded from various racial categories?

    • I was just now reading again your comment. I see one point of confusion. You wrote:

      “in the realm of statistics, African-Americans are actually quite a distinct population”

      Yes, they are distinct (or more correctly partly distinct) on average in that they represent particular clusters of genetics.

      However, not all African-Americans share all of these clusters. It appears that some may not be African at all and 5.5% is no small potatoes when one is talking about making vast generalizations. Also, not all non-black Americans lack these genetic clusters and so these genetic clusters don’t absolute distinguish between American whites and blacks. A significant number of whtie Americans also has West African genetics. In fact, more shite Americans had African genetics at least in the 1970s than black Americans.

      The problem isn’t that distinct populations don’t exist. Distinct populations exist within the black American population. And distinct populations exist across these racial categories.

      My point is twofold. First, the distinction you speak of is general and doesn’t apply to individuals. You can’t look at someone who appears black according to your American biases and assume they fit into a common cluster of black Americans. Second, the various clusters don’t fit into or are limited to the folk taxonomies of race.

      What many books I’ve read have shown is that genetic clusters exist. However, they just don’t offer evidence for what is believed by the racialists, race-realists, HBDers, etc. There are more clusters of genetics in geographic populations than we could even begin to try to discuss and categorize according to any racial ideology. Cherrypicking the genetic clusters that fit your preconceived pre-scientific beliefs hardly seems helpful, from my perspective. Do you disagree?

      “Certainly enough to use race in evaluation of disease risk, and almost certainly to arrive at differentials that are more sociological and psychological.”

      I understand the argument. However, I haven’t seen the evidence to support it. If there is more scientific research that proves this, then I’ll agree. But until then, I have to go by the evidence I have seen.

      I’ve been reading many books that utterly demolish these kinds of arguments. It is hard for me to summarize them right now for I’m still in the process of reading. I do plan on writing more about this eventually, but it will take me a long while to gather the evidence and write it all up.

      The failure is that there has been very little good research done in this area. Many of the conclusions made by medical researchers ignore much of the known data and ignore most of the confounding factors. I was talking to my cousin a while back who is a researcher and he was complaining about the problems of the low standards of most medical research because doctors aren’t professionally trained to do quality research.

      This is particularly dangerous for research on races. Most doctors also aren’t trained in the social sciences. They don’t understand the complexities. Instead, much of this research simply makes assumptions about race that fewer trained social scientists would likely ever make. They make assumptions and then do research that seeks to prove the assumptions without ever testing the assumptions themselves. It is a scientific form of circular reasoning.

      If you want, I could recommend a number of books that are part of my reading project.

    • “the whole cornucopia is their race to me, and I’m comfortable using the term even with blatant minority innaccuracies. Do you view that as wrong or distorting or beside your point? Is the word race a problem itself, from your standpoint?”

      I’ve just begun reading what so far seems like a very good book on the subject:

      Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life
      by Barbara J. Fields and Karen Fields

      I don’t think you could hold your present view after reading a book like that, along with some of the other books looking at the actual scientific details of genetic research on race.

      I would add it isn’t a matter of what I think. Your argument is common, but I think research over time is making it weaker and weaker. Read some books like this for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

      I always recommend challenging the status quo and do realize your present position is the status quo. Ask yourself why it is the status quo? Who benefits from it being the status quo? Who is harmed? That doesn’t disprove the status quo, but it offers some profound doubts.

      • Thanks for the thoughts, Benjamin- it’s nice to tease out these distinctions in my head, to try to focus better on what I like and what troubles me about this line of thought. There’s a huge ‘define your terms’ component to this- in fact, that’s the large part of your point, that there’s a definitional flaw in the common notion of race. Fair enough. We also have a different attitude about stereotypes, I think, which has come up before: I like stereotyping/generalizing, very much- pass through that door much more quickly than you. As often happens, in my opinion, I don’t really disagree with you so much as feel like we need better context, better definition.

        I’m listening to some podcasts of Karen Fields, the sociologist part of the sociologist/historian set of sisters who wrote that book (her sister pops in a little). What she’s trying to do is tease out causation for problems apart from the notion of race. She commonly uses “racecraft” as a replacement for the term race, to emphasize the empirical similarity to our old perceptions and uses of the notion of witchcraft, which was wholly synthesized, an imaginative act. She also struggles to think about how to avoid getting stuck in “demographic pockets that our politicians shove us into.”

        I celebrate their work with you. Her approach seems essentially a very good deconstruction of the concept of race- like your note, it’s useful to think about what race really means and what it doesn’t, and have good examples. Like a lot of semiotic deconstruction, it is a very useful way of trying to hold in our minds the imaginative element within the notion of race commonly held in society- the way we hold on to “biological racism”, and even are accelerating it in some ways.

        Like almost all deconstruction, it isn’t particularly prescriptive. More importantly, she makes a common mistake with deconstruction in that she doesn’t address well the feedback element of the imaginative recasting of racecraft as race in society; that the word will (and must) continue; that it may have some emergent uses that are positive, perhaps even key; that terms aligned with the notion of race, like white, black, African-American, Latino, etc. are extremely useful in a myriad of ways, even if they’re unfocused, or even wrong sometimes- otherwise, we have to assume that the daily use of these terms by everyone are all unacceptable, in the sense of inappropriate or impractical.

        In the context of “African-American” as a race: are you questioning or deconstructing such things as http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/features/why-7-deadly-diseases-strike-blacks-most ? There’s no question, as you mentioned, that sub-groups within African-Americans cause these statistical difference, but are you willing to thus step over the notion of African-American as a race, in the sense of advocating an improved practical approach to treatment strategies that is absent of the notion of race?

        Race consciousness can also be an empowering concept, once you get past the stuff that is the primary focus of Drs. Fields, the blatant, negative abuse of minorities due to imaginative processes. On the podcasts, there was a good-natured little spat between the Fields sisters and a Latino Studies academic who saw himself as being in the business of race consciousness. Relatedly, and as I started to mention, my personal (and yes, quite common) notion of race inextricably includes cultural aspects that have perhaps little, or even nothing to do with genetics. This aspect of race, which I view as by far a positive (though there are negatives), is I think very important, and it feels like it’s given no place in this genetic-centric discussion that is so focused on conscious and unconscious prejudice, injustice, and imaginative self-interest. I object, I think, but I wanted to talk about it. As a simple example, I believe that many of the health problems addressed in the webmd article are more cultural than genetic via lifestyle, stress and diet choices. Another is

        • Sorry, I signed off by mistake…another example is how the social construct (dominant) component of race has had a strong cohesive, positive cultural component for a very long time, readily evident in social settings within minority groups. This component is obviously not genetic whatsoever. It is caused directly by “racecraft”, and yet results in often beautiful cultural differentiation that acts in a feedback way to *create* practical, distinctive racial characteristics from within. That’s, again, a very commonly ignored feedback-type element to deconstruction efforts.

        • I don’t care if an individual wants to identify as a race. I understand some might find that empowering. I believe it is misguided for various reasons to embrace races for I don’t see how it can be separated from the racism it is connected to. But still I understand the desire for racial empowerment.

          The specific problem is that race is never simply about self-identification. It is deeply rooted in categorizing people according to stereotypes. Racial identities are foced onto others, typically starting at a young age with enculturation. Racial labels are rarely if ever freely and rationally chosen.

          I’ve known a number of ‘black’ people born and raised here in Iowa. They are typical Midwesterners that one finds in a farming state. One lady I worked with didn’t even identify as black even though that is how many others would peceive her. She isn’t extremely dark skinned and she might have a majority of European geenetics. I also work with a guy from Kenya who certainly shares no cultue with black Americans and probably doesn’t much genetics either. What is supposed to make these people all fit into the same racial category?

          When the Kenyan guy arrived in America, how was he to make sense of this new racial identity being forced on him? Similarly, a few years back, there was a Sudanese guy living in this town who was shot by a plain clothes police officer. What happened was this guy was attacked by a white guy coming out of a bar and defended himself. When the officer showed up, he told both to stop fighting but only shot the Sudanese guy. It seemed like one of those standard racial profiing cases. The officer saw a black and white guy fighting and so he assumed the black guy was the aggressor. This Sudanese guy came from a society that has known much violence, but what finally got him in the end was America’s racial order.

          When people see something positive in race, what I think they are actually seeing is ethnicity. When someone speaks of black Americans to some extent having a distinct culture and genetics, what they seem to be referring to is that of the Americanized hybrid ethnicity that has combined Western African ethnicities with European ethnicities, most specifically the culture and genetics of British of the Deep South (the Cavaliers and the Scots-Irish).

          That is the point of confusion are society wrestles with. The census has always acknowledged that Mexicans/Hispanics/Latinos don’t represent a separate race. However, in the folk taxonomy they are a separate race. This uncertain categorization comes from the British colonies have as their enemy the Spanish Empire and later from the US going to war against Mexico. We recognize they are of European descent like us white Americans, and yet they are somehow other. I think the census get this one right by making it an ethnic distinction.

          The problems with the science using races are many, in my opinion. First and foremost, the folk taxonomy of race isn’t a scientific system of categorization. As far as I can tell, very little if any of this research has taken into account the confounding factors which are multitudinous. Now, scientific research on very specific ethnic populatons is useful; but races are too broad and imprecise.

          My Kenyan coworker has children whose mother is a white American. Those children will grow up to look like black Americans without anyKenyan accent. If a doctor racially profiles them with the assumption they have West African genetics, he will be using faulty assumptions in medically treating them. The same goes for treating Southern Europeans in the same way as other Europeans when in many cases they have the genetic predisposition toward diseases many Africans have.

          The problem isn’t in categorizing peple. Rather, the problem is in either incorrectly or imprecisely categorizing people. The folk taxonomy of race simply isn’t a scientific theory and so isn’t an objectively useful way of categorizing people.

          • Thanks much for the stories; and you were also helpful in getting me to think about ethnicity vs race. Here’s a fun little video on that subject: http://www.diffen.com/difference/Ethnicity_vs_Race .

            The Fields podcasts are at: http://www.diffen.com/difference/Ethnicity_vs_Race . You have to click on the top left image, which brings up a window; then you can scroll down and find ten “Racecraft” podcasts, but only the last eight are online. I’m quite flummoxed as to why ethnicity vs race never came up in the podcasts, all of which are pretty long; seems like a fruitful way to contrast race from the more useful other term.

            Perhaps we’ll have to agree to disagree regarding psychological and medical application of race. I’ll just my thoughts on the subject with this. Threading through what you say is a implied horror at misdiagnosing individuals because race isn’t a scientific concept. That notion doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it does you. In the spirit of the article I referenced, doctors obviously don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to, say, black propensity for much more and much worse lung cancer. The issue isn’t misdiagnosis so much as missing precious opportunities to screen, test, and treat efficiently for deadly problems. Doctors certainly have not been able to isolate it further than ‘blacks have this problem’; they seem completely clueless what part of ‘blacks’ constitute a risk group. I think it ludicrous to posit that a scientific statement like ‘blacks are 3 times more likely to die of asthma than whites’ is dangerous, or useless, or cannot be said until more precise causation is available, simply because the discriminator in the statement is a folk taxonomy. Science has an obligation to use any useful stereotype, however ‘folk’ or seemingly inaccurate, as a perfectly rational starting point to evaluate significant difference. Misdiagnosis risk- the equivalent of protesting “but some blacks aren’t at higher risk of asthma death’- is beside the point very, very often, as it is here. And every scientist would agree that race is unlikely to be an ending source for causation. It’s not a legitimate attack on the concept of race to say there are much better ways of doing psychological or medical differentiations; that’s a given. Unfortunately, those ‘better ways’ aren’t at the ready upon demand. You can hear the wheels turning just this way in the head of the person who wrote that webmd article, especially on the final two pages: these are people that simply want to find and fix suffering, and they HAVE to use the concept of race in 2013 to do it best. If it’s useful, it’s useful, period- no matter how bad the use of the concept of race is in perpetuating prejudice.

          • I take your point.

            I don’t think races are real. They certainly aren’t part of the natural condition. But many peope have sought to make them real.

            No doubt, given enough time, popular support and political will, a society could through eugenics make race a reality. If Americans had continued for a few more centuries what was done in the centuries prior to the Civil Rights movement, the world might have seen created the first fully separate race of humans. Given the advance of science, this ancient eugenics dream of humanity is getting closer within reach of possibility.

            When I speak of race as a social construct, I speak of it as one of the most powerful social constructs that has ever infected the human mind. Only religious beliefs have proved more powerful. This is why the American racial order has often hijacked religious beliefs in order to shore up privilege as not merely natural but divinely commanded or even cosmically inevitable.

            As sad as it is to admit, the American racial eugenics program was partly successful, however minor in the scheme of things. The bimodal distribution of racial genetics attests to this fact, although generation by generation this is quickly returning to the norm of even distribution found in other societies. Opinions aside, we must not ignore the results of this euugenics program. It was by far more successful than anything the Nazis ever attempted. Even if races aren’t biologically real, the consequences of the social order behind the eugenics program is all too real.

            I think you are ultimately correct that doctors have to take this into account. There are many things that are morally wrong (incest, child abuse, torture, etc) and that is all the more reason a doctor should take these into account when applicable. So, when doctors or researchers racially profile, they should do so in the context of a specific demographic that has been victimized for centuries by the crimes against humanity of violent oppression and eugenics.

            The social problems and diseases all are related to this fundamental context. For example, blacks have been forcibly segregated into the most poverty-stricken and heavily polluted areas of the country which has led to high rates of asthma. What is a doctor to do when the cause of his patient’s disease is the same racial/class social order that the doctor is likely privileged by? Does he just treat the syptoms and call it a day? Or does he have a moral obligation to treat the cause itself?

            In less extreme form, that is what all white Americans (especially in the upper classes) face every day, whether or not it is acknowledged as such. The racial order continues and so do the consequences. It doesn’t just passively happen. It is actively re-created every day and with every new generation. When a doctor or researcher doesn’t make this explicit in their wordss and actions, they contribute to its continuation.

            It seems to me few Americans consider the moral magnitude of this. To consciously choose to oppose complicity is the greatest challenge we’ll ever confront.

            Anyway, I’m not sure we are disagreeing about much of anything. I just wanted to make sure the problem was being portrayed in its full horror and depravity. We have the tendency in this society, with political correctness, to not state truths bluntly or even clearly. What has irritated me more than anythng is how political correctness has become the best weapon for those seeking to defend the racial order.

            The word ‘race’ has become a proxy for two separate things ethnicity and crimes against humanity. When talking about ethnicity, let us simply call it that and not make it into mor than what it is. When talking about crimes against humanity, let us speak in terms of racial order, class war, violent oppression and eugenics. We need to speak clearly and directly. Tal of race too often just muddies the water. Conflating ethnicity with crimes against humanity isn’t helpful. Until we can speak openly and honestly, there can be no hope of undoing the real consequences.

            I’m sure you understand all of this. I just wanted to state my position in no uncertain terms, complexities aside for the moment.

  2. Let me clarify my summary.

    Black Americans have a broad range of European genetics. Very few have none at all. This genetic diversity includes origins from the British Isles and Mainland Europe which are areas with very distinct genetics themselves. Somewhere between one in ten to one in 20 Black Americans have more European genetics than African, some all the way up to the +90% range. Plus, throw in some Native American, Hispanic and Asian genetics as well.

    Almost one in three black Americans has no West African genetics. More than one in five has no African genetics at all. Even among the two in three with West African genetics, there is a broad range of percentage of European genetics and a broad range of ethnic sources of those genetics.

    Combine this together.

    70% of black Americans with West African genetics. But how much is there genetics actually of West Africa? It would seem that going by averages and by their slave history they might have lower West African genetics than is the average percentage of African genetics overall in the black American population. It is hard to tell from the data, but the total non-European genetics among black Americans that don’t come from the traditional West African populations (Pygmies, Khoisans, Southeast Africans, etc) is maybe around 10% or maybe more, although for 30% of black Americans 100% of their genetics comes from sources other than West Africa. The general range of West African genetics among black Americans is anywhere between 0% and 99%. Plus, bring in the +20-30% European genetics.

    What does that all add up to?

    It is hard to tell. Black Americans probably share fewer common genetics than white Americans. It seems they would share fewer even than native West Africans.

    What do Americans think or believe they see when they perceive a ‘black’?

    • I was thinking that I probably failed in clarifying my summary. I’m not even sure the data can be summarized.

      I’m really just throwing a bunch of disparate data at the wall to see what sticks and see what patterns might form. It is hardly a scientific analysis. I couldn’t even say to what degree this data is reliable or how well verified it all is.

      Are there really 30% of black Americans wihout West African genetics? Or is it just that around 30% of black American genetics is not West African? I’d have to do more searching for info to answer those questions and many other questions.

      Maybe the main point I’m forced to return to is that it is complex. The secondary point is that, if the data is so confusing, why do any of us think we know what we’re talking about or what we’re seeing in relation to race? I feel for all involved there is a lot more uncertainty than certainty, more ignorance than knowledge.

      I’m still reading books on the subject and still processing what I’ve already read. It will take a while before I can more fully try to bring it all together. Until then, you’ll have to tolerate my thinking out loud here in my blog, but I’ll do my best to refrain from completely talking out of my ass.

      • I think part of the problem with thinking of it as complex, as I commonly do because of my perspective, is that yes, there’s stuff flying all around to be considered, but from the perspective of Drs. Fields, my points muddy the waters. It was fascinating to me to hear her come back again and again to very basic, entrenched personal and institutional examples of racism, some subtle, some not. Her “deconstruction” is really just well-lit work fighting existing, very much alive racism. When taken as such, their work should be considered brilliant and urgent, and a bit of a closed case.

        The only problem I really have with that is, I think, again, a bit of a detail: Dr. Fields was quite chilling and broad-brush in her passion to shut down any science research that dealt with race, however defined. Would that we lived in a world where the overall influence of her ideas was great enough to affect such a thing; I’d trade a race science shutdown in a minute to fix the problem she’s trying to address.

        • I’d like to hear that discussion. Post a link to it, if you don’t mind.

          I don’t necessarily mind research being done on races. What I mind is how that research is done. If someone believes races are real, then I’m all for that hypothesis being scientifically tested. Prove that here is some genetics that nearly all blacks share that nearly all whites don’t share. I doubt they’ll ever find any such genetics, but I wouldn’t want to stop someone from testing a hypothesis.

          The problem I have is that the hypothesis of race itself is never tested. In the medical research, it is just taken as an unquestioned assumption. It is used to determine how data is gathered and then how that data is interpreted. It is the scientific process being filtered through multiple layers of racial bias.

    • I also wonder about that 5.5%.

      When it is found that more than 1 in 20 black Americans don’t have any detectable African genetics, what does that means? Do they really lack all African ancestry? Or is it just that they lack the markers for us to detect that ancestry?

      The data doesn’t speak for itself. We have to interpret it. I’m not sure what can be said with any clear certainty at this point.

  3. I was wondering about something.

    Race isn’t biologically real. Nonetheless, race is real in terms of the racial order and racial bias that exists in every aspect of American society. So, like others have argued, we can’t discard the term race as long as the racial order and racial bias continues.

    But when is it useful to speak of race? And when is it not useful or even harmful?

    I was specifically thinking in the context of healthcare. Do racial labels tell us much useful info? Do they tell us anything we couldn’t discover as easily or more easily by way of other means? I suspect the anwer is no.

    Race is just a shorthand for comple issues. I see why people prefer to keep it simple, especially doctors who have lots of patients and feel the need to spend as little time as possible with individual patients. Still, basic questionaires answered in the waiting room could give more accurate info than the doctor off-the-cuff racial profiling patients.

    What race is shorthand for is ethnicity/ancestry, socioeconomc status, social stress, lifestyle, diet/nutrition, pollution and environmental toxins, etc. All of these things can be quickly ascertained without any mention of race. All that race does is conflate many complex issues that may or may not apply to individual patients.

    Using racial steretypes/generalizations seems like an excuse for doctors to not offer optimally high quality healthcare tailored to individual patients. They certainly aren’t saving time by increasing their chance of misdiagnosing patients and improperly treating health conditions. Racial profiling is both lazy and unhelpful. Considering we know that race at best is a shorthand for ethicity/ancestry and class, race in itself serves no purpose other than to distract from the real issues and the fundamental causal factors.

    A doctor shouldn’t assume that every dark-skinned America has West African genetics. That is an nnecessary gamble with the lives of patients. A questions about family history would determine the probability or certainty of one’s ancestry. These days many people have done detailed genealogy research or even DNA testing and can ell a doctor in great detail their ancestry. Doctors don’t need to make uninformed gesses when they can simply ask for the necessary info.

    Oter than historical and sociological issues, I don’t see much merit in using the pre-scientific folk taxonomy of races, especially not in healthcare. Am I missing something? Is there another way that race could be useful that I haven’t considered?

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