What is a “Race”?

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This comes as a response to a statement by norumaru regarding human races. I think his post sums up a number of common arguments so let us take a look:

Originally posted by norumaru:

There’s only one Genetic Race on this planet. Homo Sapiens.

Actually, nothing in this sentence is true. Re-check your definitions. There are millions of Genetic species, and one of them is Homo sapiens. A species is defined as a group consisting of all individuals that can theoretically mate with each other and produce fertile offspring. Notice the word theoretically; some breeds of Canis lupus familiaris are so different in phenotype that the cannot mate, yet they still belong to the same species.

Homo sapiens is indeed divided into several races, as you will find that a race is described as a group inside a species that shows considerable differences in both anatomical and behavioral phenotype to other groups inside of the species; black people do look different than white people, indian people look different than englishmen etc. “There are no races” is non-scientific, dishonest new-age hogwash. I hate this, you can’t even mention to some people if somebody is black. But he is black!

It is the conclusion that some of the races are somehow “inferior” that is invalid.

The reason I had to say this here is that this kind of thought set back anthropology and evo-devo for a good 70 years, and the effects still haven’t worn off. “Asian people have a higher chance of being lactose intolerant” is not racist, it’s true. “They are therefor inferior”, on the other hand, is a totally invalid conclusion, but has been the reason that such comparative research, that could teach us lots about our evolutionary history, is still almost nonexistent. “I want to compare the asian genome with the european one” is stigmatized by past racial superiority idiocy, and that’s stupid. There are differences, and not being allowed to say it out loud is not going to better any resentments one side might bear.

The question now revolves around classification and it’s applicability to the concept of “human races”.

First off, let us look a bit at the current debates regarding classification in biology. First off, the concept of species is not a static and unchanging one as some might imagine; the fact is a number of definitions and variations float around the current literature. An excellent study on the matter can be found here in which the author tackles 26 species concepts. In short, the assumption that species are a set concept is quite subjective.

Now where does that leave us? The case for genetic variation is still a strong one, and is a common theme in literature regarding the concept of human race. The question here, then, is if genetic variation suffices to explain human races. However before I do that let us segway briefly into an understanding of just what the common concept of human race is. To put the matter succinctly, race is defined as “These old racial categories were based on externally visible traits, primarily skin color, features of the face, and the shape and size of the head and body, and the underlying skeleton.” (AAPA Statement on Biological Aspects of Race)

So then, do the genetics match up with the phenotypical traits? The answer is no, and here are a few key reasons why:

“The problem is hard in part because the implicit definition of what makes a person a member of a particular race differs from region to region across the globe. Someone classified as “black” in the U.S., for instance, might be considered “white” in Brazil and “colored” (a category distinguished from both “black” and “white”) in South Africa."

“Many studies have demonstrated that roughly 90 percent of human genetic variation occurs within a population living on a given continent, whereas about 10 percent of the variation distinguishes continental populations. In other words, individuals from different populations are, on average, just slightly more different from one another than are individuals from the same population. Human populations are very similar, but they often can be distinguished.”

[regarding a research project using pure genetic markers and no knowledge of location] “Our analysis yielded four different groups. When we added the labels back to see whether each individual’s group assignment correlated to common, predefined labels for race or ethnicity, we saw that two of the groups consisted only of individuals from sub-Saharan Africa, with one of those two made up almost entirely of Mbuti Pygmies. The other two groups consisted only of individuals from Europe and East Asia, respectively. We found that we needed 60 Alu polymorphisms to assign individuals to their continent of origin with 90 percent accuracy. To achieve nearly 100 percent accuracy, however, we needed to use about 100 Alus.”

Conclusion?

“Given that people can be sorted broadly into groups using genetic data, do common notions of race correspond to underlying genetic differences among populations? In some cases they do, but often they do not. For instance, skin color or facial features—traits influenced by natural selection—are routinely used to divide people into races. But groups with similar physical characteristics as a result of selection can be quite different genetically. Individuals from sub-Saharan Africa and Australian Aborigines might have similar skin pigmentation (because of adapting to strong sun), but genetically they are quite dissimilar.”

Does Race Exist? [PDF]

To summarize the above, genetic makeup and physical characteristics do not generally overlap. Interestingly enough this does not preclude the concept of race; however one must choose to classify people based on phenotypical traits (as in by skin color alone) or genetic makeup. You can’t have it both ways.

Now that being said, is there any merit in classifying people by phenotypical traits? The genetic side can be argued on a medical basis, yet even then this is a clearly limited endeavor only necessary for professionals in the field.

 
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I don’t think it exists. Race is really just a result of people having preconceptions about people being ‘different’ because of their appearance. Early explorers and such probably thought that these people were a different species or something, and so the idea stuck. It’s meaningless in the modern world though, and does nothing but cause trouble. Anyone who even acknowledges it is part of the problem.

 
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Race is a concept created by humans, and, frankly, humans can go on without anything they’ve created (I’m excluding specifics, I mean general concepts… race, country, government). I think that race and physical similarities are caused by evolution, just like why people who’s ancestors lived near the equator have dark skin. Evolution.

 
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Originally posted by Marh:

I think that race and physical similarities are caused by evolution, just like why people who’s ancestors lived near the equator have dark skin. Evolution.

To be specific, physical characteristics (i.e. skin tone) are not necessarily and in fact rarely correspond with sizable genetic variation. Black people are no more likely to be genetically related to each other than the random white person; in fact the opposite is often the case. I apologize if the OP was a bit unclear on this point.

 
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A race is when you compete with someone else, sometimes a group of people to see who can do something the quickest. Like running!

 
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To truly define “race”, you will need a group of varied scientists first objectively defining the many “characteristics” of human beings and see if there are any substantial differences between those living on the North Pole and those living in a tropical forest (to name an example). To clarify, they will have to see if human beings in a specific area have some common characteristics that human beings in an entirely different area do not have.

The range of these characteristics should be practically about everything. It is already established that we are the same species. If we can further classify the Homo Sapiens into groups that are substantially different from each other, I believe this is what you can call “races”.

Perhaps this has nothing to do with biology if these differences are simply acceptable variances between bodies, but I do think you can call a group a different race if it has developed a certain distinction from another group due to the environment it lives in.

I could actually claim skin tone is something that should be included. Living in a desert area would make your skin dark, while living far up north would make your skin white. These changes are all due to environmental factors. In fact, you may have to call this evolution in the end.

 
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For what reason would you need to use skin tone as a basis for differentiation. Yes it is there, but how does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? It does not coincide with marked genetic variation (it is only a difference in melanin activity after all) so there is no biological or medical basis for making the distinction. As mentioned in the OP there are really only four genetic sub-groups of humanity, two of which are ‘black’.

 
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Race is a social construct made to classify people of various ethnicities into a single group. For example, I’d say that my ethnicity is Filipino, but racially I’d be classified as Asian or Pacific Islander. Racially, I would fall into this huge group of people who may not share the same culture, that is, language, holidays, religion, etc. as I do.

I have a book regarding this issue but right now it’s at home and I’m at school. I’ll come back to this thread and quote what the author Angelo Ancheta says about it.

 
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Saint, do you agree to a certain extent (I’m not a biologist, so I may be phrasing it wrongly) that the environment had a large influence on evolution? If so, isn’t the difference in skin tone simply explained by another effect due to environmental factors? Can’t this subtly be called “evolution” as well? If evolution is the basis for classification of life, then why can’t it include differentiation amongst humans on grounds of skin tone, along with many other variable characteristics?

EDIT: If what you say about classification merely used for medical ends is true, I would agree that it is not necessary, though.

 
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Originally posted by Darkruler2005:

Saint, do you agree to a certain extent (I’m not a biologist, so I may be phrasing it wrongly) that the environment had a large influence on evolution? If so, isn’t the difference in skin tone simply explained by another effect due to environmental factors? Can’t this subtly be called “evolution” as well? If evolution is the basis for classification of life, then why can’t it include differentiation amongst humans on grounds of skin tone, along with many other variable characteristics?

Environmental factors do play a role in evolution. However it is not as obvious as some may assume. A change in skin tone is not indicative of the level of genetic change as there are a multitude of other factors to consider. As stated above, you are more likely to find variation within “skin tone” groups than between them.

 
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I remember hearing that there are 3 main races, caucasian, asian and negro. It may be wrong, Im not certain of the source. I do believe that there are differences. Black people tend to have less alcohol resistance to European hops based drinks apparently. As for skin colour if a white family moved to a very hot climate, it takes about 10 generations for that white family to have a slighly darker skin tone. Humans from different environments are different, in the same way that animals are. There are plenty of examples of animals that are the same species but live in different environments and have different physical characteristics. Why shouldn’t humans be different?

 
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Why shouldn’t humans be different?

Try reading the lengthy, well informed opening post where I explained why?

 
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I remember hearing that there are 3 main races, caucasian, asian and negro.

I thought that negro was a racist term for Black people?

 
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The very fact that you can identify someone’s race by looking at them or watching their behaviors shows that race exists as more than a social construct. They very fact that they are different makes them possibly inferior or superior in some way.

 
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Negro is racist… SHAME ON YOU!

300 post =-)

 
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Negro is the technical term, n****r is racist.

The races are not mutually exclusive physically or genetically, as scientific distinctions they are useless. There is no agreed upon objective method of assigning individuals to racial categories. It is entirely based on opinion.

 
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RaistFES – Nonsense. Try reading next time before you post.

philnotfil – they are mutually exclusive in that one does not imply the other. They can overlap, but rarely do. That was the main problem I mentioned with the common assumptions. Otherwise you are right, the categorical structures as they exist are opinion (i.e. social constructs).

 
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The very fact that you can identify someone’s race by looking at them or watching their behaviors shows that race exists as more than a social construct.

Nobody knew I was part Irish. I look like a generic Filipino, only cuter.

They very fact that they are different makes them possibly inferior or superior in some way.

I’m not sure what you’re implying here. Are you saying that by looking at a person’s race you can tell who’s superior or not? I don’t think the racial hierarchy works too well in today’s society.

 
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they are mutually exclusive in that one does not imply the other. They can overlap, but rarely do.

Mutually exclusive means that they don’t overlap. The whole purpose of mutually exclusive categories is that you can identify what category something falls into. If the categories are not mutually exclusive they are useless for any meaningful categorization.

 
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Saint Ajora

Care to counter any of my points?

If races are a social construct, how is it someone’s race can be identified by their DNA? Or their bone structure? There are very real differences between people of different races, and there are definitely ways to define each race that are more than opinion. Thanks to the political correctness of our era, no one is willing to admit there are differences between each race.

When in fact race is just a simple way to classify people into certain groups more likely to have specific genetic mutations that could lead to behavioral or physical traits.

 
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If races are a social construct, how is it someone’s race can be identified by their DNA?

Read the damn OP. This is one of the main points addressed. ‘Race’ as a social concept (i.e. black, white, whatever) rarely matches up genetically, making attempts at drawing a correlation worthless.

Thanks to the political correctness of our era, no one is willing to admit there are differences between each race.

Or, gasp, there are no such differences as racists try to expound. I am aware of phenotypical variations, but this has no absolute correlation with genetics.

Now if you would, read the OP before asking questions or making false statements already addressed.

 
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Negro is racist… SHAME ON YOU!

Negro is the term used to describe someone of black ancestry. It only became racist because of its usage.

 
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Negro is the term used to describe someone of black ancestry. It only became racist because of its usage.

Agreed.

I don’t speak about biology and genetics much, my strong points are politics and philosophy, but I’ll give it a shot.

Very interesting material in the OP. I had always assumed there were more genetic variations among the different… for lack of a better term, I shall continue to refer to them as ‘races’. It makes sense if you think about it though. Common stereotypes aside, any person can be just as intelligent, just as fast, strong, wise, just as anything as anybody else. While it is true that this is ignoring individual abilities amongst all people, there is no common correlation between races in this regard. Thus, we can assume, that the only difference between the individual races is skin color and minor physical attributes. This can be seen as well in animals as well. Take for example the dog. Is there really a difference between lets say a ‘Black Lab’ and a ‘Chocolate Lab’? Is there any significant difference between them besides minor phenotypical variations?

Anyway, that’s just my 2 cents, not my strongest subject, but I tried.

 
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[racist remarks deleted]

 
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Now friends, THIS cole321 fool is a true troll.

I am a good forum poster.

cole321 is…. not.