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Understanding Race
February 3, 2008 9:05 AM   Subscribe

A new look at race through three lenses: History, human variation and lived experience. Be sure to check out some of the quizzes, notably White Men Can't Jump and other assumptions about sports and race. [via SpoFi] A product of the American Anthropological Association.
posted by psmealey (14 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great link, psmealey.
posted by grouse at 9:22 AM on February 3, 2008


Many of the explanations are still questionable. Kenyans are outstanding distance runners; blacks in America, coming as slaves from the West Coast of Africa are known for sprinting ability but not for distance running. Of course environment plays a role: hockey not very central to blacks living in Harlem or Mississippi. Basketball: yea, down the block, a net or two to use. We know that environment and heredity play roles in sports and in other aspects of life. Culture: blacks began to dominate baseball but today, little money to be made fast, so basketball, football etc--blacks go where they don't have to play in minor leagues and work their way up.Latinos now playing baseball in droves. So: culture, environment and genetics
posted by Postroad at 9:55 AM on February 3, 2008


Surprisingly, most judges in the US are black.
At least if you believe Hollywood movies.
posted by sour cream at 9:58 AM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Many tv shows and films have blacks (women or men) as judges. If they were lawyers they would represent one or the other side,winning or losing. As a judge, they can'b be butt of anti-black observations.
posted by Postroad at 11:33 AM on February 3, 2008


It is a well known fact that trans-racial genetic variation is a very small fraction of the total genetic variation in humans. We are a very genetically uniform species with huge variations in superficial features which lends itself to all kinds of segregation.

It is also true that these somewhat segregated groups genetically drift apart and evolve somewhat separately due to sexual selection, hence the (often totally bogus) "racial characteristics".
posted by dminor at 12:39 PM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


My peeps!! (AAA)
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:47 PM on February 3, 2008


My imagination or does that AAA site read more like a cult group than a scientific organization?
Race is a bad concept, race is not genetically significant indeed race isn't even real (if you define it this way rather than that way.). And we can prove it with music and photographs and overly-simplistic diagrams.
Race has been over-emphasized historically (and still is) with hideous consequences - but, unless I'm missing something, the arguments on this site are very poorly crafted.
posted by speug at 2:10 PM on February 3, 2008


Honestly, speug, I have absolutely no idea what you mean by that. Please explain how the site "reads like a cult group" or the deficiencies you see in their explanations.
posted by grouse at 2:22 PM on February 3, 2008


Race is a bad concept, race is not genetically significant indeed race isn't even real

I agree - race is a continuum, and we have more to learn (and celebrate) by focusing on culture rather than skin colour.

However, how do you account for diseases such as diabetes and sickle-cell anemia that are more common in specific racial groups?
posted by KokuRyu at 6:45 PM on February 3, 2008


Grouse:
The “reads like a cult group” comment is completely subjective. To me the site has the flavor of a creationist or crop circle site and I wondered if anybody else had the same impression. Apparently not – so my question is answered. Anthropology, as I understand it, falls under the aegis of Social Science and it may be that I’m just not familiar with that presentation style. No offense intended.

The “poorly crafted argument” comment?
The first section in “The Human Spectrum” article discusses height stating “height is a continuum, and dividing people into short, medium and tall groups is arbitrary”.
OK. But we don’t actually do that.
The diagram supporting this argument shows a group of people distributed in linear fashion from short to tall – with no scale (cm or feet) on the vertical axis.
We don’t judge people as tall or short that way nor is this a common height distribution. We generally estimate people’s height and compare this mentally with the (modal) average to which we are accustomed. Alternatively we simply compare it to our own height.
Is this important? Depends on where we’re going with it.
We go to a second section on grade point averages and a third on reflectance values (wavelength unspecified) for people’s skin in different locations. I could find no reference to the source of the values presented, methodology, number of subjects etc.
Thence we jump to the statement “When we assign people to groups based on skin color or other physical features, we lose information about who they are as individuals.”
I don’t understand the statement.
If all are given is the general characteristics (skin color etc.) then that’s all we have whether we assign them to a group or not. There is no information to lose.
If we then start assigning real or imaginary group characteristics to the individual we are, of course, up shit creek. I wonder if that’s what the author is trying to get at?

Finally we come to the question “Do you think race is good way to group people?”
If my race is based on my height, my grade point average and my reflectance then I guess I would be grouped with the Welsh coal miners. Now that’s a damn decent group – proud to be with them – so I guess it works for me.
Levity aside - the train of logic, the lack of scale, lack of support for the data and the lack of references to sources leaves a poor impression. Just my take – your mileage may vary.
posted by speug at 6:58 PM on February 3, 2008


That White Men Can't Jump site is also disappointing. The first "myth" they try to dispel is the idea that African Americans are stronger and hardier because they descend from parents strong enough to have survived slavery and the middle passage.

I wouldn't argue for that theory, but their attempt at debunking it fails so badly, I almost want to reconsider it. The arguments are:

1. Quoting an anthropologist who claims it's an unproven theory.
2. Pointing out that slave owners didn't intentionally try to "breed" slaves until the last 2 generations of slavery.
3. Saying it's too short a time period for "Darwinian evolutionary change."
4. Quoting a sociologist who says white people sell themselves short when they accept the idea that blacks are naturally better athletes.
5. Saying the idea that blacks are hardier has been used to justify various evils. (True, but doesn't help evaluate whether the idea is correct or not.)
6. A statement that Serena Williams and and Michael Jordan are examples of "superior black physiology" (WTF?)
posted by straight at 8:20 PM on February 3, 2008


I recommend the book Taboo, which is mentioned on the site, and which is an earnest attempt to address the question. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a long New Yorker piece about the issue years ago, in which he mentioned that the top 25 long jumpers in the world were black. They came from different countries and even continents, but all 25 had blackness in common. Surely this bears some examination.

And while race is a questionable designation, there are different populations that have different physical characteristics, e.g. the Native Americans' low tolerance for alcohol, etc. No one is claiming that other in sports success aren't important - let's not bring in straw men. But in the highest echelons of a sport, in which a .1% advantage could be crucial, perhaps a slightly elongated femur or more advantageous fat-muscle ratio could put someone over the top.
posted by QuietDesperation at 10:14 PM on February 3, 2008


Race ?
posted by nicolin at 2:08 AM on February 4, 2008


how do you account for diseases such as diabetes and sickle-cell anemia that are more common in specific racial groups?

They actually have a good page on sickle cell anemia, which makes clear that while it has genetic etiology, the association with skin color is indirect, and skin color is a bad mapping to sickle cell anemia. There are "black" populations that have little sickle cell anemia, and non-black populations that have lots of it.

Anthropology, as I understand it, falls under the aegis of Social Science and it may be that I’m just not familiar with that presentation style.

This was not a scholarly anthropological work. It is a web site to accompany a museum exhibit. If you want a scholarly work on the subject, it's not like you can't find hundreds of those, or even a handful produced by this very project. I agree that it is too bad they couldn't provide direct references to the original research when making claims—the bibliography is inadequate for finding them later.

"When we assign people to groups based on skin color or other physical features, we lose information about who they are as individuals."

I think they mean that if you have continuous data about the color of someone's skin and you crudely reduce it to the nominal categories of "black" or "white," you are throwing out a lot of information.

If my race is based on my height, my grade point average and my reflectance then I guess I would be grouped with the Welsh coal miners. Now that’s a damn decent group – proud to be with them – so I guess it works for me.

But surely you can see that this assignment is arbitrary? And that statements that might well be made about Welsh coal miners that were not directly related to these three descriptive traits would apply to you only by chance? Furthermore, what if your assignment wasn't to a group that you were proud to be with? Would it then no longer work for you? Would you be more inclined to challenge this assignment?

I think the "works for me" argument is instructive as for why associating race with biology is so predominant in western society.
posted by grouse at 2:11 AM on February 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


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