October 07, 2008

Whites' reluctance to talk about race

Race is just one of many variables about the world, but a wrong step in its use has potentially catastrophic consequences (vide the James Watson affair). It is, thus, not surprising that people adopt a race-agnostic stance to avoid such consequences, the most extreme expression of which is the "race doesn't exist" meme. 

In my opinion it is better to discuss race rationally and openly. Such a stance puts it in its proper place (a fact about human variation with some predictive potency), and is also the only way to avoid both irrational non-factual stereotyping about race on the one hand, and voluntary blindness to its reality on the other.

Seeing race and seeming racist? Whites go out of their way to avoid talking about race
In one study, 101 white undergraduate students were paired with either a white or black female partner who pretended to be another participant. The pairs were presented with 30 photographs of faces that varied in race, gender and background color. Each white participant's objective was to guess which of the photographs the partner was holding by asking as few yes-or-no questions as possible.

Even though asking about the race of the person in the photograph was a sound strategy for completing the task, white participants were far less likely to do so with a black versus a white partner. Moreover, when the black partner was the first one to have a turn asking questions, whether she mentioned race had a dramatic effect. White participants whose black partner asked about race mentioned race on their own turn 95 percent of the time. When the black partner never asked about race, white participants only did so 10 percent of the time.

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The researchers also wanted to see how outsiders interpreted such interactions. In another experiment, 74 black and white college students evaluated videos of whites engaging in the photo task. The results showed that whites' effort to appear colorblind backfired. Black observers rated whites' avoidance of asking about race as being evidence of prejudice. What's more, when the researchers showed silent video clips of whites from the study to another group of individuals, those whites who avoided asking about race were judged as less friendly, just on the basis of their nonverbal behavior.

"The findings suggest that when race is clearly relevant, whites who think that it is a wise social strategy to avoid talking about race should think again," said Apfelbaum.

15 comments:

just passing by said...

As time goes by and the country is incresingly multi-ethnic, etc., an increasing number of people, especially "Whites", want to know where they come from via traditional genealogy and genetic genealogy. The "melting pot" may well be slowing down.

Aff said...

Could it be that the '"race doesn't exist" meme' exists because race doesn't exist? :)

PMN said...

aff, you just gonna hold that joint or pass it around?

dienekesp said...

Could it be that the '"race doesn't exist" meme' exists because race doesn't exist? :)

Race exists, as a concept; that is the only way in which any concept can exist, if it has been formulated by a mind.

What the "race doesn't exist" crowd mean is that it this concept has no biological relevance, or that it is of limited relevance.

The second claim is true, but then again, no one claimed that race explains the totality of human biology.

The first claim -that it has no biological relevance- is patently false.

In short, the "race doesn't exist" phrase is a meaningless expression that persists as a marker of moral superiority in societies afraid to discuss human biology openly.

Aff said...

"The first claim -that it has no biological relevance- is patently false."

How about that "it's a flawed concept that doesn't accurately describe human variation" instead of "it has no biological relevance"

A lot of outdated models (like most racial ones) are flawed by not accurately representing it's subject, but still can be said to be partial relevant (due to it's partial refection). Today, we know a lot about human genetic variation and all evidence points to clinical variation through a series of bottle necks.

While being somewhat useful, racial models are out dated and don't reflect this new genetic knowledge.

"In short, the "race doesn't exist" phrase is a meaningless expression that persists as a marker of moral superiority in societies afraid to discuss human biology openly."

Or, in short, those who have looked and read the data pertaining to race and concluded that the word has no biological meaning should be outright dismissed as illogical.

Jeez, nice to know

Aff said...

BTW James Watson was a fool who spouted racist stuff about blacks. That is ultimately why no one he got reprimanded.

If you want to not get into trouble try to not make racially disparaging remarks about your employees.

Aff said...

Come to think about it. Why would we use old out-dated models? They will just become more inaccurate when more new data is collected?

Nothing from the past (even educational models) is so holy we can't discard in lieu of new data and even newer models reflect that data.

For instance, I'm sure the bible was cutting edge technology in 2000BC, but not today. It just gets more and more out-of-date.

dienekesp said...

How about that "it's a flawed concept that doesn't accurately describe human variation" instead of "it has no biological relevance"

The statement that it "doesn't accurately describe human variation" is flawed. The totality of human variation can't be described by race -- and no one has ever claimed it can be.

What race does describe is a part of human variation. Knowing a person's race tells you something about their genotype and phenotype: for a single trait and a single individual often not much; for the combination of many traits or many individuals a lot.

Today, we know a lot about human genetic variation and all evidence points to clinical [sic] variation through a series of bottle necks.

All the evidence points to mankind being distinguished to many genetically distinguishable races and subraces. "Bottlenecks" are a way in which existing human variation may have come about. Accepting that bottlenecks happened in human evolution is not in any way inconsistent with the idea that mankind is divided into races.

Nothing from the past (even educational models) is so holy we can't discard in lieu of new data and even newer models reflect that data.

The newer data is perfectly consistent with the five races of traditional physical anthropology, and is indeed beginning to reveal unsuspected depth of substructure within the major races.

Efrem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Crimson Guard said...

Simply talking about Race can land Whites in trouble with the law and special interest groups.

Aff said...

'The statement that it "doesn't accurately describe human variation" is flawed. The totality of human variation can't be described by race -- and no one has ever claimed it can be.'

Come now, I never ragged on it cause it didn't describe the 'totality of human variation' but that it doesn't accurately describe human variation.

It doesn't accurately describe human beings as clinical genetic variations through a series of bottle necks; does it?

It can't, because it was created at a time before we knew of such genetic information. It's just outclassed.

'What race does describe is a part of human variation.'

What part can it describe when it is acknowledged that human 'races' are neither homogeneous nor isolated nor geographically static nor historical static nor socially static nor objectively defined?

'Knowing a person's race tells you something about their genotype and phenotype: for a single trait and a single individual often not much; for the combination of many traits or many individuals a lot.'

Not if the 'race' in particular is neither genotypically nor phenotypically homogeneous; now what 'race' is?

'All the evidence points to mankind being distinguished to many genetically distinguishable races and subraces.'

If you can claim this, then you must realize that there are human genetic variation and that it occurs within what you call 'the races'.

As of today it doesn’t accurately describe human variation; but it does show an out dated image of what we DID know about human variation; for instance

1. All this notion of 'races and subraces' doesn’t take geography into account and even inaccurately represents humans as equally genetically variable geographically.

2. It doesn't show that those on the geographic racial line (wherever you happen to draw them) are closer to their geographic neighbours then those of their geographically distant 'racial' kin.

3. Nor does it show the degree of variation and non-variation that is intrinsically tied to the human species growing and colonizing new land. (bottle necks, African genetic differentiation, etc).

4. It implies some sort of multi-origin theory of humans.

5. It likens human genetic variation as something comparable to political identities, such as countries with borders on continents. Genetic variation is something more fluid, more diverse, more complex.

'Races' not only don't capture this it implies that humans are top-bottom homogeneous groups that can be broken into smaller groups, etc.

New data (like always in science) is giving us a paradigm shift, away from our old ideas and models.

'The newer data is perfectly consistent with the five races of traditional physical anthropology, and is indeed beginning to reveal unsuspected depth of substructure within the major races.'

You say that but with every new article that reveals the 'depth of substructure within the major races', and we begin to do more genetic testing outside out the common: “Nigerian, Chinese and Utah Mormon groups; people begin to realize just how preposterous our original concept of 'races' really was.

Bram said...

"5. It likens human genetic variation as something comparable to political identities, such as countries with borders on continents. Genetic variation is something more fluid, more diverse, more complex."

This is untrue. Human races are not comparable to political identities. No one that I know of, no reputable scientist or anthropologist who believes in the legitimacy of race believes races are anything like political entities with fixed or well-defined boundaries. Race has always been a fuzzy concept, the "boundaries" are inherently fuzzy and not fixed.

"Not if the 'race' in particular is neither genotypically nor phenotypically homogeneous; now what 'race' is?"

Races need not be "pure" for the race concept to be useful. No one suggests they have to be pure or that racial differences have to explain everything about humans.

"1. All this notion of 'races and subraces' doesn’t take geography into account and even inaccurately represents humans as equally genetically variable geographically."

I don't think believing race is meaningful implies this at all. However, believing "race does not exist" seems to imply that humans have been breeding more or less randomly with each other over the past tens of thousands of years, ignoring the obvious geographical barriers and distances say, separating Scandinavia from pre-Columbian South America or south-east Asia.

A good, useful definition of race, that takes into account even the latest genetic research is: Races are very large extended families that are inbred to a certain extent(thanks Steve Sailor).

This implies little more than group ancestry, and common lines of decent. Another definition: A race is a group within a species, characterized by a set of inheritable traits which other such groups do not possess, as a result of separate selection forces.

It seems there are people who overthink race and fall into the trap of the fallacy of the corrupt continuum: that the observation that the concept is fuzzy means it should be discarded entirely.

Race doesn't have to be rigidly definable in order to be scientifically valid.

Bram said...

"5. It likens human genetic variation as something comparable to political identities, such as countries with borders on continents. Genetic variation is something more fluid, more diverse, more complex."

Actually, the first part I believe is untrue, but the second part describes race quite well - fluid, diverse and complex. However, this does not render race meaningless, in my opinion.

terryt said...

Way back Aff wrote: "we know a lot about human genetic variation and all evidence points to clinical variation through a series of bottle necks".

I agree with the clinal variatiion bit but I suspect this type of variation is the result of hybrid populations forming as various groups have moved around, rather than through bottlenecks. For example although many regard Polynesians as one of four or five human 'races' they are almost certainly a hybrid between Papuan and East Asian phenotypes.

In all species and groups of species the populations most different to the 'average' are found at the geographic extremities of their distribution. Same with humans.

Can we call these variations 'races'? Because of the clines we definitely have difficulty defining any boundaries. The boundaries have been made even more "fluid, diverse and complex" because of various human migrations.

Andy said...

Ignoring race is like asking people to be deaf , dumb and blind.
Blacks die because society wants to make all equal and needs to ignore racial differences. But unfortunately medically speaking the races are quite distinct. Black are more prone to heart problems, obesity, diabetes; it is much superior for effective transplants to not cross racial boundaries. Even 'it's only skin deep' is such a lie.

Between sub-Saharan Africans and white Europeans there is an evolutionary period of at least 50000 years probably greater than 100000 years and you cannot avoid distinct differences.

I open my eyes and I see sub-Saharan Africans and their culture has led to quite a different place than Europeans and their culture have arrived at. And indeed, European culture had to lead sub-Saharan African into the modern world. A place they don't easily fit.

So 'meme and cline' blather on: if you see, touch and hear a Ferrari you're not going to call it a Mini.