Does It Matter If Genetic Tests Tell You That You're "Really" Black, Brown, or White?

|

The New York Times published a remarkably interesting article speculating about the role of genetic testing and racial discrimination this past Sunday. To wit:

…genetic information is slipping out of the laboratory and into everyday life, carrying with it the inescapable message that people of different races have different DNA. Ancestry tests tell customers what percentage of their genes are from Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. The heart-disease drug BiDil is marketed exclusively to African-Americans, who seem genetically predisposed to respond to it. Jews are offered prenatal tests for genetic disorders rarely found in other ethnic groups.

Such developments are providing some of the first tangible benefits of the genetic revolution. Yet some social critics fear they may also be giving long-discredited racial prejudices a new potency. The notion that race is more than skin deep, they fear, could undermine principles of equal treatment and opportunity that have relied on the presumption that we are all fundamentally equal…..

Though few of the bits of human genetic code that vary between individuals have yet to be tied to physical or behavioral traits, scientists have found that roughly 10 percent of them are more common in certain continental groups and can be used to distinguish people of different races. They say that studying the differences, which arose during the tens of thousands of years that human populations evolved on separate continents after their ancestors dispersed from humanity's birthplace in East Africa, is crucial to mapping the genetic basis for disease.

But many geneticists, wary of fueling discrimination and worried that speaking openly about race could endanger support for their research, are loath to discuss the social implications of their findings. Still, some acknowledge that as their data and methods are extended to nonmedical traits, the field is at what one leading researcher recently called "a very delicate time, and a dangerous time."

"There are clear differences between people of different continental ancestries," said Marcus W. Feldman, a professor of biological sciences at Stanford University. "It's not there yet for things like I.Q., but I can see it coming. And it has the potential to spark a new era of racism if we do not start explaining it better."

Unfortunately, given the exquisite ability of human beings to make invidious out-group and in-group distinctions (see soccer hooliganism, Serbs and Croats, and blue eyes versus brown eyes), I have no doubt that some people will try to use any findings of genetic science about racial differences between people to justify their prejudices.

The Times notes:

Race, many sociologists and anthropologists have argued for decades, is a social invention historically used to justify prejudice and persecution.

"Social invention" or not, notions of genetic essentialism seem to be widespread in our society. The Times cites a Pennsylvania State University professor's attempt to use genetic testing to undermine his students' thinking about racial categories. In some cases, at least, the opposite happened:

…when Samuel M. Richards gave his students at Pennsylvania State University genetic ancestry tests to establish the imprecision of socially constructed racial categories, he found the exercise reinforced them instead.

One white-skinned student, told she was 9 percent West African, went to a Kwanzaa celebration, for instance, but would not dream of going to an Asian cultural event because her DNA did not match, Dr. Richards said. Preconceived notions of race seemed all the more authentic when quantified by DNA.

"Before, it was, 'I'm white because I have white skin and grew up in white culture,' " Dr. Richards said. "Now it's, 'I really know I'm white, so white is this big neon sign hanging over my head.' It's like, oh, no, come on. That wasn't the point."

Whole Times article here.

NEXT: A Corrupt DC Tax Official's Plea for Help?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Paging “What A” Guy! Paging “What A” Guy. White courtesy phone. White courtesy phone.

    And soccer hooliganism – like the police shooting in Italy last week… hrumph.

  2. “The notion that race is more than skin deep, they fear, could undermine principles of equal treatment and opportunity that have relied on the presumption that we are all fundamentally equal…”

    Why is it so difficult for people understand the enormous difference between the following statements?

    1. All people are equal under the law, regardless of gender, race, or ability.
    2. All people are equally able, regardless of gender, race or ability.

  3. “The notion that race is more than skin deep, they fear, could undermine principles of equal treatment and opportunity that have relied on the presumption that we are all fundamentally equal…..”

    “undermine principles of equal treatment”

    Hell yeah! I am going for the DNA test as soon as I can, and if there is ANY “black” or “brown” blood in my past, I am gonna’ start lobbying for reparations! And demanding special considerations because of my race.

    CB
    (Did I say that out loud! Uh oh.)

  4. I’d like to hear what Dick Cheney and Barack Obama think about these genetic tests.

    🙂

  5. Russ R:

    You’re kidding, right? The reason these things are hard to separate is because one is very hard to justify without the other, intellectually. We languished under a system that predicated legal inequality on belief of de facto inequality. It is not at all a stretch to worry that eroding the belief in de facto equality would lead to backsliding de jure.

  6. I’m white. I don’t get to have an opinion. I guess a genetic test could prove me 5% non-white and I’d get to have 1/20th of an opinion. That would be better than nothing.

    Then how about taking this with 19/20th of a grain of salt: If race is a social construct then how can it be tested for genetically?

  7. “race” is partially socially constructed. some obvious examples include the “paper bag test” and the slow move in america of the irish from being irish – i.e. a separate class – to being white.

    the problem is when some numbnuts takes this to mean “obviously everything we think an experience about race comes from society” which is pretty dumb.

  8. As Joe Queenan said “I don’t care how far science goes. There will never be a genetic explantation for something like Mickey Rourke.”

  9. I hereby pre-emptively give Dan T. the slap test. Not to see if he’s Jewish. Just to, you know, slap him. For the fun of it.

  10. Well, a genetic difference between races is impossible. Neu Mejican and I have had long discussions about this on H&R and he has assured me that there are no genetic differences.

    SugarFree, your 5% opinion is noted.

  11. 2. All people are equally able, regardless of gender, race or ability.

    This makes no sense at all. Restated, “all people are equally able, regardless of ability”?

    Wait, are you a public school administrator?

  12. Dhex, you are confusing the notion of class and race. The Irish are mostly caucasion, hence they have always been “white”. They went from a “low class” to a “higher class”.

    Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, etc in America have made a similar journey between classes, but they have not become caucasions.

  13. “You’re kidding, right? The reason these things are hard to separate is because one is very hard to justify without the other, intellectually.”

    No, I’m not kidding. Why is it hard to justify that women and men should be treated equally under law, when their physiological inequalities are blatantly obvious?

    I don’t see any need for the convenient fiction that all individuals (and groups) are equally able, in order to believe that individuals (and groups) ought to be treated equally under the law.

  14. “This makes no sense at all. Restated, “all people are equally able, regardless of ability”?

    Thanks for noticing. I intentionally phrased it that way to demonstrate how riduculous a belief it is.

  15. Elemenope has a certain point, there’s the potential in our psychology to conflate Russ R’s two clearly distinct points. But I don’t think we need be slaves to that potential, and I think it’s to our advantage to learn and know the difference.

  16. Regarding “whites” and “caucasians”: When my Italian grandfather married my Anglo-Saxon grandmother, they said he was marrying a “white girl.” His complexion is pretty dark, so as a dark-skinned guy from a group still working its way up the ladder he wasn’t initially considered “white.”

    The Irish have a similar problem: With all those freckles it’s not really clear that we should consider them “white.” It changes the skin tone.

    🙂

  17. I see a new era of antidiscrimination slavery forthcoming.

  18. Thanks for slaying that straw man, Russ.

  19. Uh, Duh.
    People are genetically different. Not news.
    Geographical commonality of certain genes occurs. Not news.
    There “may” be measurable differences in intelligence base on said genetic differences between people whose ancestors hail from different regions. Not news.
    Dumb shits will use to to justify prejudice and discriminate against out groups. Not news.
    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Not news.

  20. Well, a genetic difference between races is impossible. Neu Mejican and I have had long discussions about this on H&R and he has assured me that there are no genetic differences.

    I find that difficult to believe.

    Linky link, please.

  21. The Irish are mostly caucasion, hence they have always been “white”.

    wayne, you have just inadvertently shown what people mean when they say race is a social construct. It may seem obvious to you that the Irish are “white,” but the American conception of “white” has not always included the Irish.

    Just google the “Irish race.” Or look here: http://ny.essortment.com/racialformation_rspk.htm

  22. Dhex, you are confusing the notion of class and race. The Irish are mostly caucasion, hence they have always been “white”. They went from a “low class” to a “higher class”.

    actually, you are dead wrong on this.

    did class play a part, to be sure. however, there was a very real sense that the irish, like the chinese and like black slaves, were less than human. hell, the parochial school system in the u.s. started in nyc because of both ethnic and religious persecution by the protestant majority.

    i recommend how the irish became white as a good broad overview of their social positioning and the racial politics of the day.

    no one walks up to you with a race-ometer and says “ok 98% white, 2% other…you’re in” and goes down the line measuring the actual genetic differences in people. what they do measure is social standing, and tie that to popular understandings of race. so yes, in part, what we know as “black” or “white” etc is socially constructed, that is made up of the collective opinions and actions of the social structure.

    (this isn’t even getting into the whole “black irish” thing)

  23. SugarFree,
    Excellent link! Reading many of the comments there just reaffirms my experience that hard-core feminists are just pissed off because they’re not getting their daily supply of man meat.

  24. Regarding the issue of the Irish race: Given how contentious this matter is becoming here, let me make a modest proposal….

    🙂

  25. Ugly, angry white women being outsourced by Asians. No wonder they don’t like globalization.

  26. What Brian24 said. The Irish were not considered white, but like Jewish people and “Mediterraneans,” a different race until the early 20th century.

    The current set-up of dividing the world into four races only goes back a few decades.

  27. The Irish were not seen as white until they had been here two generations or so. Hell, Benjamin Franklin didn’t even consider Germans white in the 1730s unless they were from Saxony.

  28. White is a synonym for caucasion. Black is a synonym for negro. Caucasions and negros are different races. Those differencs are a result of genetics, not environment.

    If some of you want to define white as privileged, and black as not privileged, then that is your own poor thinking that needs work.

    I heartily agree that all people should be treated equally under the laws of our country. I laugh at the notion that all people are created equal; it is an absurdity.

  29. Thanks for reminding me of how the Feministing crew and readers are nothing but a bunch of…

    well, probably a few are hot chicks. That’d be cool.

  30. Thoreau: 🙂

  31. Thoreau,

    Your proposal was modest indeed.

  32. Doktor T and danger:

    agreed! and Hr. Swift has been hired by the URKOBOLD

  33. White is a synonym for caucasion. Black is a synonym for negro. Caucasions and negros are different races. Those differencs are a result of genetics, not environment.

    ok then.

    why was someone who had mixed parentage – a white mother and a black father – alternately considered “black” or “white” – with resulting legal penalties/rewards – depending on the social situation they were in?

    better yet, if each word is a synonym, as you claim, who decides what makes someone white or black? is it appearance? is it genetics? if so, how much of one does one have before they can become the other? especially in the days long before genetic testing, when what we are talking about actually happened?

  34. I would be very interested to know my genetic history. I want to know whom I can blame for being a dipshit.

  35. “Linky link, please.”

    I have no idea how to find the thread where NM and I discussed this, but it was within the last couple of months.

  36. John-David,

    I’m addicted to the comments. It is like Carnival of the Souls for sloppy thinking. I only lurk though, it would be impolite for me to post in an on-line community that I disagree with so totally.

  37. Ah, feministing…the home for women whose motto is “you’d better treat me as an exact equal and if you don’t pay that dinner check you are cheap deadbeat scum”. Fun stuff.

    And when it comes to the Irish being treated as a different race, remember the phrase “beat him like a red-headed stepchild”.

  38. White is a synonym for caucasion. Black is a synonym for negro.

    They are now. They didn’t used to be. That’s the point, wayne – the definitions of race keep changing according to the social norms of the day. The Irish fit the 2007 definition of white, but they didn’t fit the 1807 definition of white.

  39. “why was someone who had mixed parentage – a white mother and a black father – alternately considered “black” or “white” – with resulting legal penalties/rewards – depending on the social situation they were in?”

    Because of bigoted, racist beliefs and policies. The existance of racism in no detracts from the genetic foundation of races.

    “better yet, if each word is a synonym, as you claim, who decides what makes someone white or black? is it appearance? is it genetics? if so, how much of one does one have before they can become the other? especially in the days long before genetic testing, when what we are talking about actually happened?”

    Appearance is certainly a pretty good guide, but appearance is simply the phenotype, hence the “cause” is genetics.

    What is it that “we are talking about”? Racism, or race?

  40. “They are now. They didn’t used to be. That’s the point, wayne – the definitions of race keep changing according to the social norms of the day. The Irish fit the 2007 definition of white, but they didn’t fit the 1807 definition of white.”

    Are we talking about race, or racism? This is 2007, and I am talking about 2007.

    Do you concede that there are genetic differences between distinct races?

  41. the status of irish as an “other” before they became part of “white.”

    i get the distinct feeling we are talking about different things here. or alternately, i know a lot more about the irish in america having grown up in one of those families where old men got toothless and drunk and cried about the children with green mouths.

  42. My German/English grandmater married a dark-skinned Eye-talian back in the 1930s. And converted. To Italian. You should have tried her sauce.

    Anyway, my mother went to visit her grandmother at the home, and was regaled with the following tale:

    “I said to your mother, you said you want to have blonde-haired blue-eyed babies! You ain’t gonna have not blond-haired blue-eyed babies if you marry that nigger.”

    “Grammie, that’s my father you’re talking about!”

    “Don’t worry, dearie, you don’t look a thing like him.”

    But remember, wayne’s conception of race is the right one, because it’s the one he’s always know.

  43. Wayne,

    That is an inaccurate summary of my position during our discussion.

    What I said was: race is a poor proxy for genetic difference that has little scientific utility.

    In other words, the mapping between race and genetic clusters is too sloppy to make race an appropriately precise grouping variable for studying the genetic causes of variation in phenotypes.

    An example from the literature

    The fact that, given enough genetic data, individuals can be correctly assigned to their populations of origin is compatible with the observation that most human genetic variation is found within populations, not between them. It is also compatible with our finding that, even when the most distinct populations are considered and hundreds of loci are used, individuals are frequently more similar to members of other populations than to members of their own population. Thus, caution should be used when using geographic or genetic ancestry to make inferences about individual phenotypes.

    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1893020

  44. All: On the class v. race issue, Washington Post commentator Juan Williams has an interesting column today about the results of recent poll among black Americans.

    Conventional wisdom about black America is being turned on its head. Nearly two out of five black people (37 percent) surveyed in a new Pew poll, done in association with NPR, said that blacks “can no longer be thought of as a single race.” Only half of all black people in the country (53 percent) say it is possible to think of blacks as one race. And young black Americans — ages 18 to 29 — are more likely than older blacks to say that blacks are no longer a single race.

    The growing perception of two races is really a divide over values.

    Over half of all Americans — people of all colors — believe that the values of poor and middle-class blacks are becoming more different. When the question is limited to black people, the answer is even more definitive: 61 percent say values are now more different between middle-class and poor blacks. The perception of a class divide in black America has increased nearly 20 points since a similar question was asked of black people in 1986.

    There is a clear break with the historic convention that black people are one race. Racism, stereotypes and segregation laws long enforced the idea of a single black race by keeping down black people no matter their education and class. But just over 50 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision set in motion the modern civil rights movement, with a unified black America pressing for political and social equality, there are significant numbers of people with dark skin, and racial discrimination battles, who say black people do not have enough common experiences and values to be thought of as one race.

    See whole column here.

  45. I think you guys need to chill out with regard to wayne. Recognizing genetic differences in no way endorses different treatment or racism. Maybe I’m not familiar with other things wayne has said in the past, but you seem to be having that (somewhat understandable) hysterical reaction to genetic racial differences which goes something like “NO NO NO that’s racism”.

  46. Ugly, angry white women being outsourced by Asians. No wonder they don’t like globalization.

    I’m convinced that explains a lot of immigration kooks generally. Forget the labour market–they’re afraid that given a choice between themselves and a foreigner, women will take the foreigner in a heartbeat.

    It never occurs to them that maybe they’re the ones with the problem (viz. they’re assholes), not the whole of womankind.

    BTW, is it just me, or do a disproportionate number of immigration kooks buy their own wives from Eastern Europe and Asia?

  47. We’re talking about race, wayne.

    In 180, the Irish were considered a distince race from white people, and in 2007 they weren’t.

    There are genetic differences between Swedes and Yemenis, too, wayne, and yet the current classificaiton system you put so much faith in considers them the same race.

    If I have 1000 coins from around the world, I can divide them up by nation, by denomination, by color, or by size, and proclaim that system to the the ONE TRUE system of classifiying coins. I can use a system that includes more or fewer classes. If I change from a system that had more classes to one with fewer, some coins that had formerly belonged to distinct groups would be put together in the same group. And every single one of those methods of classification has a relationship to the physical qualities of the coins – but nonetheless, deciding that this system or that system is to be used is an arbitrary choice.

    Autralian aboriginals have skin as dark as many sub-Saharan Africans. If we group by skin color, they are black. If we group by genetics, they are Mongoloid. Both of these attributes are objective, physical characteristics. It is a socially-constructed convention to declare that one or the other of these systems is the ONE TRUE definition of race.

  48. My father was half American Indian, which makes me a blend, mostly caucasion. That does not make me better or worse than the next guy.

    Interbreeding between races can obliterate any genetic differences. At that point, I will concede that “race” has disappeared. We have not yet reached that point, and probably never will.

    There are genetic, heritable differences between races. That is not racism, that is fact.

  49. Self-identified race does have utility in some types of studies however. Particularly, studies of social outcomes, class differences, etc…

    From Nature:
    In this review, we focus on the biogeographical distribution of genetic variation and address whether or not populations cluster according to the popular concept of ‘race’. We show that racial classifications are inadequate descriptors of the distribution of genetic variation in our species. Although populations do cluster by broad geographic regions, which generally correspond to socially recognized races, the distribution of genetic variation is quasicontinuous in clinal patterns related to geography. The broad global pattern reflects the accumulation of genetic drift associated with a recent African origin of modern humans, followed by expansion out of Africa and across the rest of the globe. Because disease genes may be geographically restricted due to mutation, genetic drift, migration and natural selection, knowledge of individual ancestry will be important for biomedical studies. Identifiers based on race will often be insufficient.

    http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v36/n11s/full/ng1438.html

  50. I don’t see colors.

  51. Of course the race discussion distracts from the real issue…differences in somatotype.

    Our essential nature is determined genetically.
    Genetics controls our somatotype (a more objective criteria than race, btw).
    Therefore, we should expect differences in other basic traits when we study people grouped by somatotype.

    http://wilderdom.com/personality/L6-1PersonalityTypes.html

    Endomorphs unite.

    Viva Las Gordas!

  52. ed, you’re deuteranomalously colorblind too?

    I was just castigating Weigel about that today. Go figure.

  53. Regarding the issue of the Irish race: Given how contentious this matter is becoming here, let me make a modest proposal….

    No, dammit! The Irish came here LEGALLY!!!!

    We need to boil the MEXICAN babies!!!! They’re great with guacamole!

  54. There are genetic, heritable differences between races.

    Yes, there are.

    There are genetic, heritable differences between ethnic groups in the same race – for example, Tay-Sachs Disease among Jews, who are considered “Caucasions” in our contemporary taxonomy,j but not among other white ethnicities.

    Or, blue eyes being common among Swedes but not among Spaniards. (Is Spaniard still a word?)

    If you think the precise degree to which genetic variation amounts to a racial difference is an objective, eternal fact, you’re wrong, wayne.

  55. Do you not get it, lads? The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.

  56. I am not stuck on a classification using only four racial types. I agree that races can be defined

    What some of you are arguing is that there are no races, I guess because you are afraid that the lynchings will start up again. If you just clamp your hands over your eyes and hum really loud, things will be all nicey-nice.

    How can we celebrate “diversity” (the PC definition of diversity) without allowing that there are different races?

  57. There are genetic, heritable differences between races. That is not racism, that is fact.

    that’s great! except no one has actually mentioned this, or disputed this!

    this is actually 0.0% related to the topic at hand (which is part of the funny ha ha funny oh god history is a nightmare from which we are trying to awaken part of america’s racial past).

    the deal is about the social construction of race. regardless of the genetic background of an irish man in 1840 in america, they were not “white” – they would not be referred to as such, but rather “irish,” which was a very distinct category. just as chinese immigrants and black slaves would not be “white” (no matter how much white blood a black person might have unless they could “pass” which is a whole ‘nother thing) regardless of their genetic makeup.

    just because something is arbitrary and socially constructed does not make it unreal (as many leftists misunderstand) but nor does it mean nothing exists whatsoever (as many rightists seem to think for some strange reason). i know a lot of this is brainfuck runoff from zee kultur wars and that’s unfortunate. there is no short amount of tardation running about because of that nonsense.

    i mean value is socially constructed and yet totally real in the sense that this piece of paper in my pocket can be exchanged for goods without much wonder on either end as to why it’s worth anything at all.

  58. I think it would be a good idea to have the government carry out massive genetic testing and require people to have a breakdown of their geographical origins tattoed on their foreheads. (Just kidding, I just think it would be an interesting experiment. I think any coercion would be a terrible idea.)

    Anyway, I recognize that it might lead to a reshuffling of self-identification like the “white” girl who went to the kwanzaa fest, but it would also be intriguing because my hypothesis is that if we had a good idea of the genetic breakdown of everyone we ever saw, it would shatter all our notions of race. Anecdote is not the singular of data, but what the hell.
    Take me, I’m a quarter black (not african-american, I’m from the caribbean, mon), my grandfather was as dark as eddie murphy. I have a relatively big nose and curly hair, but I have never been mistaken for “black.” Instead, people think I’m jewish, italian or arab. I have a brother and a sister (both full blood relatives). My brother has straight hair and blue eyes (ironically, he’s the one that joined a black frat in college). My sister has slightly darker skin and thicker hair.
    My girlfriend has red hair, green eyes, and freckles, but she’s cuban-puerto rican. And not from recent immigrant stock – Somehow the galician and asturian remnants of the celts met in the caribbean.
    My college roommate was irish-italian, but he was blond, blueeyed and looked like a swede.

  59. @joe – nice explanation (the one about the coins).

    I’m not sure why this thread has gotten 50+ deep. I thought it interesting that “modern science” is able to create drugs that target very specific DNA-based traits. That would seem to be goodness, and has nothing to do with racism, or even race. It’s all about geneticism.

    Maybe I’m just a geneticitist(?).

    MY GENES ARE BETTER THAN YOUR GENES!

    CB
    (Oh yeah… guys… it’s caucasian, not caucasion).

  60. I agree that races can be defined…
    further.

    I left that word out. I have noticed that I often omit words when I comment. Maybe that is my Indian blood.

  61. “this is actually 0.0% related to the topic at hand (which is part of the funny ha ha funny oh god history is a nightmare from which we are trying to awaken part of america’s racial past).”

    Dhex, I disagree. The article was about the objective genetic differences between races.

    I agree that you and some others here all wrapped up in the “racist history” deal. That is a different topic though.

  62. I think I can settle this.

    Chicks of mixed race tend to be hot. Therefore, racial mixing is good and we should have more of it.

    OK. Are we done?

  63. “My college roommate was irish-italian, but he was blond, blueeyed and looked like a swede.”

    A buddy of mine in Chicago is 100% Italian, and he is blond and blue eyed.

  64. BTW, is it just me, or do a disproportionate number of immigration kooks buy their own wives from Eastern Europe and Asia?

    Lou Dobbs has a Mexican wife. SO IT IS PROVEN.

  65. “Chicks of mixed race tend to be hot. Therefore, racial mixing is good and we should have more of it.”

    I agree, and there is a genetic explanation for this phenomenon, it is called hybrid vigor.

  66. “That would seem to be goodness, and has nothing to do with racism, or even race. It’s all about geneticism.”

    And yet the heart drug is only given to African-Americans… Could it be that doctors are using their eyes to judge people’s race and treating accordingly? It certainly seems to be “about race”.

  67. Wayne,

    Back to the topic at hand.

    What this is about, imho, is the disconnect between people’s perception of race and genetic diversity

    (I didn’t know I was really Asian.. I always thought I was white).

    PBS had a story about Thomas Jefferson’s family.

    My favorite quote.
    One woman, with skin several shades less dark than mine (mine is really more pink than white) said about her cousin…

    “I feel sorry for her. She doesn’t even realize she’s a black woman.”

    But how would this change in self-image by moving towards the essentialist position help her in any meaningful sense?

  68. But how would this change in self-image by moving towards the essentialist position help her in any meaningful sense?

    depends on the metric that everyone around her is using, really.

  69. The Urkoboldian race gets special posting privileges as a result of this new study. We need to do everything in our power to make sure this study is never released or it will be our downfall!

  70. It may seem obvious to you that the Irish are “white,” but the American conception of “white” has not always included the Irish.

    That’s why, in every U.S. census from 1790 until the late 19th century, Irishmen weren’t counted as “white,” but were placed in a special racial category called “Irish.”

    No, wait; that never happened. Strangely enough, they (including my Irish-born great-grandfather, listed in the 1870 census) were always counted as white.

  71. NM,
    “But how would this change in self-image by moving towards the essentialist position help her in any meaningful sense?”

    Like in the movie, “The Jerk” where Steve Martin doesn’t realize that he is black?

    I have no idea what that has to do with the article that spawned this thread.

  72. Wayne,

    And yet the heart drug is only given to African-Americans… Could it be that doctors are using their eyes to judge people’s race and treating accordingly? It certainly seems to be “about race”.

    Or is it about marketing.
    While targeting by genetic profile makes sense, a doctor that differentially treats based on his or his patient’s racial classification of that patient, will make a lot of incorrect assumptions about the underlying genetics. If you want to target based on genetic difference, measure genetic difference. Race, in this context, is a distraction.

  73. seamus: 1870 comes after what major turning point in the status of irish immigrants in the u.s.?

  74. Wayne,

    I have no idea what that has to do with the article that spawned this thread.

    From the post:

    One white-skinned student, told she was 9 percent West African, went to a Kwanzaa celebration, for instance, but would not dream of going to an Asian cultural event because her DNA did not match,…

  75. “seamus: 1870 comes after what major turning point in the status of irish immigrants in the u.s.?

    The emancipation proclamation?

  76. It’s the classification system which is a social construction…and a primitive one. Being 9% West African doesn’t make one 9% “black” but 9% West African. Humanity originated in Africa and the native population is the most genetically diverse of any continent. Add a couple millennium of Arab conquests and you understand why there’s no reason to speak of them all as a distinct biological group. I have yet to have someone satisfactorily tell me where, on the map, people stop being “white” and start being “Asian”..and why. These are, at best, very fuzzy sets.
    It makes sense to test members of a population group for a known specific gene. Notice I said test, not assume. And this is reasonable when testing genes for heart disease or other conditions where there is a clear cause/effect link between the gene and the condition.
    Where the danger lies is in testing for genes that are linked to criminal behavior or IQ. Such matters are infinitely more complex than spotting the gene for green eyes. Of course it is possible to learn the patterns that show propensities with time. Then we can fear the days when, to quote a line from Gattica, discrimination is down to a science.

  77. wayne, i’m beginning to think that conservatism = genetic damage here. c’mon! help me overcome ideological bigotry and try again!

    (better yet actually read “how the irish became white” as it is available in fine libraries and bookstores across this great nation of ours)

  78. wayne,

    I am not stuck on a classification using only four racial types. I agree that races can be defined Well, that’s progress. Before, you WERE stuck on a four-race classification, insisting that the system which called the Irish “white” was the correct one, and that people were wrong to claim that they had previously been of a different race.

    Nobody is making the arguments you’re attributing to us.

    Specifically, no one has argued that race does not exist. No has argued that there is no relationship at all between race and genetics.

    If people’s motives are skewing their ideas, as you keep accusing, then you should be able to find fault with their ideas.

  79. …actually read “how the irish became white” as it is available in fine libraries and bookstores across this great nation of ours”

    I will have to wait on that. It might be an interesting story, but I am not very interested in stewing over past wrongs, especially if they are used to perpetuate current wrongs.

    By the way, on my mother’s side I am English-Scottish, and I am sure a sneaky Irishman fenagled his way into the bedchambers some where along the way. I guess I am black.

  80. These are, at best, very fuzzy sets.

    That’s it, exactly. If you grouped people by their genes, there would indeed be four bell curve shapes – but the tails would overlap to a considerable degree.

  81. “Before, you WERE stuck on a four-race classification, insisting that the system which called the Irish “white” was the correct one, and that people were wrong to claim that they had previously been of a different race.”

    No, what I have been arguing is that race reflects genetics. I am not the one who is claiming that Irishmen are negros.

  82. wayne,

    FYI, your comment about not being interested in stewing over past wrongs was the seventeenths comment you posted on this thread.

  83. joe,

    but the tails would overlap to a considerable degree.

    It wouldn’t be the “tails” that overlapped…it would be the fat parts of the curves.

    You need very sophisticated statistics to even find reliable differences in the distributions.

  84. No one is claiming that Irishmen were negroes, wayne. The claim is that Irishmen were considered non-white.

    Are you doing this on purpose?

  85. “FYI, your comment about not being interested in stewing over past wrongs was the seventeenths comment you posted on this thread.”

    So what? I doubt I hold a candle to your commenting on H&R.

  86. NM,

    That’s true, if you look at the entirety of poeple’s genetic code.

    What I should have written is, if you divide people up based on their having the genotypes used to define race, there would be four bell curves with tails that overlap considerably.

    This subset of the human genetic code is, indeed, quite small.

  87. So what?

    So methinks you doth protest too much about how little you care.

  88. WHAT DO WE WANT?

    KULTUR WAR!

    WHEN DO WE WANT IT?

    FOREVER!


    I will have to wait on that. It might be an interesting story, but I am not very interested in stewing over past wrongs, especially if they are used to perpetuate current wrongs.

    what the living fuck are you talking about? seriously here dude, i am totally lost at this point. you are actually having an argument with someone who lives in your head. (notice the second paragraph of my first post in this thread) perhaps you have some kind of aversion to reading about the cruelties of the past, which is too bad, but understanding how people create arbitrary categories is a good way of understanding why people are the way they are, i think.

    ok, think of it this way, if this helps. imagine a giant circle with the label “white” – with quotes to help underscore the arbitrariness of categories, especially at a time when genetic testing was so far off in the future it could not be imagined. outside of this bubble are smaller bubbles, labed things like “black” and “chinese” and “irish” – i.e. all categories that were not “white.” these were fuzzily related to genetics, but largely socially constructed. i.e. if you looked “black” enough you were “black” regardless of how much african blood you actually had or if you had any caucasian ancestors.

  89. “If you want to target based on genetic difference, measure genetic difference. Race, in this context, is a distraction.”

    I agree it would be preferable to do a full DNA analysis for a heart patient, but that is not practical. In this context the doctor’s perception of genetics based on race is not all a distraction, it might be the difference between life and death.

  90. I once worked with an albino black guy once. It gave him a very distinct appearance.

  91. Wayne,

    No, what I have been arguing is that race reflects genetics.

    So let me see if I follow your main point:

    1) Genetics to a large degree control the outward phenotypes that people use to subjectively group people into racial categories.

    2) You also feel that there will be important correlations to other more latent traits such as IQ and personality associated with these outward phenotypes.

    No one, I think, disagrees with point one.
    I disagree with point two to the degree that you assign a likelihood of the differences in the latent variables being meaningful, valid and important differences with useful application for medicine, education, crime prevention, economic policy, etc…

  92. “So methinks you doth protest too much about how little you care.”

    Actually, genetics is something I studied in college so I find it quite interesting. You mistake my interest for something else, although I am not quite sure what.

  93. No one is claiming that Irishmen were negroes, wayne. The claim is that Irishmen were considered non-white.

    So why did the census consider them white?

  94. “No one, I think, disagrees with point one. ”

    “I disagree with point two to the degree that you assign a likelihood of the differences in the latent variables being meaningful, valid and important differences with useful application for medicine, education, crime prevention, economic policy, etc…”

    In this story, a heart drug that works on negros and not caucasians (thanks for the spelling tip…) is specifically mentioned. That seems to be a useful application for medicine to me.

  95. “Unfortunately, given the exquisite ability of human beings to make invidious out-group and in-group distinctions (see soccer hooliganism, Serbs and Croats, and blue eyes versus brown eyes), I have no doubt that some people will try to use any findings of genetic science about racial differences between people to justify their prejudices.”

    You sort of left out daywalkers, but I think we all know that they’re only a step above evil gingers. I’m just waiting for the science to come out on those little bastards.

  96. “…to other more latent traits such as IQ and personality associated with these outward phenotypes. ”

    Actually, I made no mention of IQ here, but there is that pesky measured difference.

  97. joe,

    What I should have written is, if you divide people up based on their having the genotypes used to define race, there would be four bell curves with tails that overlap considerably.

    You still need very sophisticated statistics to pull this off…those “bell curves” would be massively multidimensional vectors before you got any reasonable amount of separation between groups.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=PubMed&cmd=Retrieve&list_uids=12557124

  98. The scientific point isn’t genetic difference between “races,” which are entirely a social construct, but genetic difference between geographically distinct populations and their descendants. As someone said, a Swede and a Yemeni are considered the same “race,” but I imagine there is almost as much genetic distinction between them as between a Swede and a Sub-Saharan African.

    In any event, the retort to the “genetic racialists” has long been that the same studies that have shown genetic differences between “races” have also shown that the genetic variation between individual members of each “race” is far greater than the average variation between “races.” In other words, the distinction is statistically insigificant on an individual level.

  99. Wayne,

    In this story, a heart drug that works on negros and not caucasians

    For what percentage of each group is this a true statement? What would your true/false positive and true/false negative rates be if you used a subjective racial classification to study the drugs effectiveness?

    http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/abstract/hlthaff.w5.455v1
    http://annals.org/cgi/content/full/146/1/57

    At this point, I don’t think the studies exist to answer that question.

    As I understand it, the drug was more effective in a self-identified black population during initial trials than it was in a general population. As a result, they stopped studying it in the larger population and worked to demonstrate that it met safety and effectiveness criteria for that population. It is, of course, entirely possible that a specific subgroup of the self-identified black population drove the group average difference between blacks and whites. The degree to which this subgroup in the black population is genetically similar to those in the white population for which the drug also worked is unknown since the further studies only focused on the self-identified black population.

  100. Seamus,

    The government often uses categories that are distinct from the common cultural perception. For exampale, are Yemenis white?

    Some would characterize them as white/caucasion, others as Middle Eastern or Arab, still others as Asian.

  101. The government often uses categories that are distinct from the common cultural perception. For exampale, are Yemenis white?

    Yes, unless they have enough ancestry to cause them to be perceived as black or mulatto.

  102. Some of you seem so intent on stamping out the reality that differences exist between races because you believe (it seems) that if we recognize those differences it will inevitably lead to racism. I have no such fears.

  103. joe:

    The Supreme Court ruled in Ozawa v. United States (1922) that Japanese persons were not eligible for naturalization under laws applying to “free white persons” on the ground that the light skin color of Japanese was legally irrelevant and that “the words ‘white person’ where meant to indicate only a person of what is popularly known as the Caucasian race.” The next year, in United States v. Thind, the Supreme Court ruled that Asian Indians, although Caucasian from a scientific point of view, weren’t eligible for naturalization because “It is a matter of familiar observation and knowledge that the physical group characteristics of the Hindus renders them readily distinguishable from the various persons in this country commonly recognized as white.”

    So I’m sure you’ll have no trouble pointing to similar federal court decisions holding that the Irish were not generally perceived as “white” and to other evidence that Irish-born immigrants were ineligible for naturalization under the Naturalization Act of 1790.

  104. “Un blanco con una blanca es como leche y espuma”, meaning, of course, “Helicopter with white is like milk and foam”

  105. Seamus,

    Yes, unless they have enough ancestry to cause them to be perceived as black or mulatto.

    Says you. Others say differently. That’s the point – these definitions are all over the place. Even your own characterization – “enough ancestry to cause them to be perceived” – demonstrate the subjectivityin play here. “Enough?” “Perceived” by whom?

    As for your second comment, you vastly overestimate the access I have to legal documents, and my willingness to spend my time looking for them.

  106. Wayne,

    The tension, I think, is more between a view that traits are dimensional in opposition to a view that they are categorical.

    If you take a categorical view and do means testing to look at differences, you can demonstrate statistically significant differences on some latent traits between groups defined on almost any set of criteria. The overlap between those groups, however, is an important part of the discussion of any specific trait. Racially defined groups overlap more than they separate on most traits.

    If you take a dimensional view of the issue, you will emphasize that the choice of grouping variables is arbitrary and will focus on that overlap between the groups along the variable of interest. Individual differences along the trait of interest are seen as more important than the arbitrary category from which the individual comes.

    Both views are useful ways to look at the issue depending upon the question.

    Essentialist thinking often brings categorical distinctions to the foreground for questions for which a dimensional approach is more appropriate and slows down scientific inquiry. An overly essentialist/categorical viewpoint can also lead to problems in interpretation. Small effects in a latent trait are far too often used to validate the categorizing criteria. Validity of categorization requires much riskier testing than “statistical significance.”

    imho

  107. NM,

    Huh? My 25% Indian did not understand your forked caucasian tongue.

  108. Wayne,

    Last one.

    Some of you seem so intent on stamping out the reality that differences exist between races…

    Speaking for myself, I think the issue is more about correcting the impression that the existence of these differences is important. Racism seems to come directly from a misplaced valuation of unimportant differences and inappropriate inference from superficial traits to latent traits.

  109. Is it still accurate to say that there is genetically more difference among members of the same race than between each of the three races?

  110. As for your second comment, you vastly overestimate the access I have to legal documents, and my willingness to spend my time looking for them.

    It really doesn’t matter how much time you have, or how willing you are to search for the evidence that would establish your premise; you won’t find it.

    In fact, a few minutes of Googling turned up this article, which established pretty clearly that Irish immigrants were being naturalized in large numbers under the 1790 Act shortly after its passage:
    http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-049X(198906)133%3A2%3C175%3ANIP1A%22%3E2.0.CO%3B2-%23

    Funny, there doesn’t seem to have been any insistence that the Irish were ineligible because they weren’t white.

    I could point further to the opinion of the court in United States v. Thind, which indicates pretty clearly that the Irish were always considered “white” for purposes of the 1790 Act: “The words of familiar speech, which were used by the original framers of the law [i.e., the Naturalization Act of 1790], were intended to include only the type of man whom they knew as white. The immigration of that day was almost exclusively from the British Isles [i.e., both islands] and Northwestern Europe, whence they and their forebears had come. When they extended the privilege of American citizenship to ‘any alien being a free white person’ it was these immigrants-bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh-and their kind whom they must have had affirmatively in mind. The succeeding years brought immigrants from Eastern, Southern and Middle Europe, among them the Slavs and the dark-eyed, swarthy people of Alpine and Mediterranean stock, and these were received as unquestionably akin to those already here and readily amalgamated with them. It was the descendants of these, and other immigrants of like origin, who constituted the white population of the country when section 2169 [of the Revised Statutes], re-enacting the naturalization test of 1790, was adopted, and, there is no reason to doubt, with like intent and meaning.”

    Note too that the Court wasn’t relying on any legalistic definition of “white” that would differ from its common usage; the Court specifically claimed that the 1790 Act was using “the words of familiar speech.”

  111. “Is it still accurate to say that there is genetically more difference among members of the same race than between each of the three races?”

    Certainly not for the genes that determine gross racial characteristics.

  112. Wayne,

    Ok. This one is the last one… for clarity.

    Huh? My 25% Indian did not understand your forked caucasian tongue.

    Statistically significant differences between groups are not always important differences. You can’t simply point to statistically significant differences between groups to claim that you have “correctly” grouped individuals.

    The concept of “effect-size” is important.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effect_size

  113. “Speaking for myself, I think the issue is more about correcting the impression that the existence of these differences is important. ”

    Some of the differences are important.

    “Racism seems to come directly from a misplaced valuation of unimportant differences and inappropriate inference from superficial traits to latent traits.”

    Maybe so, although I think the roots of racism are really just an extension of tribalism. I grew up in Chicago, and I can attest to tribalism in action.

  114. TWC/Wayne,

    Certainly not for the genes that determine gross racial characteristics.

    The circularity of logic here is problematic for me and contradicted by the study I linked to in my first post.

  115. Meu Mejican, you large, greedy, gluttous consumer of limited resources.

    There are only two kinds of people in this world. Ectomorphs and those who wish they were ectomorphs. Thats why Twiggy was hot and Totie Fields was not.

    Ecto’s forever!!!

  116. Make that gluttonous. Ectomorphs are notoriously poor spellers.

  117. No, racism comes from the pursuit of power and status. The legitimacy of the categories are wholly unimportant.

    Seamus,

    And…? What, exactly, are you trying to demonstrate, by pointing to a single, questionable example of government action, in response to my point that the government and popular culture often used different standards of classifying people?

  118. “The circularity of logic here is problematic for me and contradicted by the study I linked to in my first post.”

    I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that you are unlikely to find many blond, blue eyed West Africans of West African origin. You probably won’t find many Swedes, of Swedish origing, with negro characteristics either

  119. What, exactly, are you trying to demonstrate, by pointing to a single, questionable example of government action, in response to my point that the government and popular culture often used different standards of classifying people?

    So I guess you missed the part where the Court said that the government was using “the words of familiar speech,” i.e., those of popular culture?

  120. “No, racism comes from the pursuit of power and status.”

    So, we are all racists?

    Well, except for Al Gore who has not, absolutely not, pursued power and status. And Bill Clinton who equally did not pursue power and status. And maybe John Edwards and John Kerry.

  121. And I didn’t point to just “a single, questionable example of government action.” If you had followed the link I provided, you’d have seen that in the years between 1789 and 1806, the Irish accounted for 56% of all aliens naturalized and that “after 1797 the total number of Irish naturalized exceeded all other nationalities combined.” That sounds to me like a lot more than a single example.

    (You’d think that, if the Federalists were so upset by Irishmen becoming citizens, it would have occurred to one or two of them to say, “Hey, these guys aren’t even white! They aren’t eligible for citizenship under the statute.” I wonder why that didn’t happen. You don’t suppose it was because everyone acknowledged Irishmen as white, and would have laughed at anyone who tried arguing from joe’s position to the contrary?)

  122. Seamus,

    Irishmen are black. Who are you gonna believe, me or your own lieing eyes?

  123. “And…? What, exactly, are you trying to demonstrate, by pointing to a single, questionable example of government action, in response to my point that the government and popular culture often used different standards of classifying people?”

    I think what Seamus demonstrated is that you were wrong about your understanding of Irishmen in the early days of the US.

  124. man, i give up.

    i’ll presume that nativism, the labor riots of the early 18th century and the whole irish need not apply thing were figments of the imagination of history. (which oddly enough they were in one sense, but imagination becomes reality if enough people treat it as such, sadly)

    so why does the idea that “whiteness” changes throughout history bother you guys so much? (what connection it has to modern politics i don’t actually see beyond “gee that guy looks xyz to me” is an often inaccurate social fact of “measuring” the “race” of our neighbors rather than some vile character flaw.)

  125. Dhex,

    “wayne, i’m beginning to think that conservatism = genetic damage here. c’mon! help me overcome ideological bigotry and try again!”

    I meant to respond to this earlier. I would not classify myself as “conservative”. I certainly agree with some Conservative views, but I also agree with some Liberal views, and with some Libertarian views.

    As far as helping you overcome your ideological bigotry, I am afraid I can’t help; it is a lonely road to redemption and can only be travelled alone.

  126. i’ll presume that nativism, the labor riots of the early 18th century and the whole irish need not apply thing were figments of the imagination of history.

    Actually, the “no Irish need apply” is largely a figment of the imagination of history:
    http://tigger.uic.edu/~rjensen/no-irish.htm

    so why does the idea that “whiteness” changes throughout history bother you guys so much?

    I can’t speak for the others of the “guys,” but what bothers me is foolish repetition of factoids that aren’t based on reality (like the myths that the expression “rule of thumb” has to do with a supposed legal rule that a husband could beat his wife as long as he used a stick no thicker than his thumb, or the the word “picnic” refers to lynching).

  127. “so why does the idea that “whiteness” changes throughout history bother you guys so much? ”

    It does not bother me at all. I did not bring it up. I simply made the point that race is genetically determined.

  128. Seamus,

    Before your posts I was feeling all sorry for myself because of my presumed Irish ancestry. Thanks for nothing! At least I still have my AmerInd ancestry to get me through the night.

  129. I simply made the point that race is genetically determined.

    except that it is not in most of the ways that have mattered throughout history and to this day, sadly.

    as a side note:

    http://www.victorianweb.org/history/race/Racism.html

    “I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw [in Ireland] . . . I don’t believe they are our fault. . . . But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much. . . .” (Charles Kingsley in a letter to his wife, quoted in L.P. Curtis, Anglo-Saxons and Celts, p.84).”

    while this attitude did indeed filter into americans – editorial cartoons are filled with it – particularly the upper families of what we might call wasps nowadays, anti-irish racism was indeed far worse in england.

  130. “I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that you are unlikely to find many blond, blue eyed West Africans of West African origin. You probably won’t find many Swedes, of Swedish origing, with negro characteristics either”

    This, of course, misses the circularity you were accused of…we can’t link the outward pattern of traits to the underlying genetic patterns yet. Studies which demonstrate the ability to make genetic clusters roughly equivalent to racial categories have not demonstrated that those genetic traits are responsible for the physical traits associated with the racial groups.

  131. Ron Bailey is just a shill for…um, well, I don’t know.

  132. Before your posts I was feeling all sorry for myself because of my presumed Irish ancestry. Thanks for nothing! At least I still have my AmerInd ancestry to get me through the night.

    Actually, I sent in a cheek swab to ancestrybydna.com, and found that I have 14% American Indian genes. Since I’m not registered with a tribe, it doesn’t win me any affirmative action bennies, but it means I can say “What do you mean *we*, white man?” with more authority.

  133. while this attitude did indeed filter into americans – editorial cartoons are filled with it – particularly the upper families of what we might call wasps nowadays, anti-irish racism was indeed far worse in england.

    And yet, the English didn’t try to argue that the Irish weren’t white.

  134. Axiom: genes determine race.

    Therefore, there will be more genetic difference between racial groups on the genetic factors that make them different than within those racial groups.

    Status: unproven.

  135. So I guess you missed the part where the Court said that the government was using “the words of familiar speech,” i.e., those of popular culture?

    I didn’t miss anything, Seamus. You found a case where ther government’s action pointed to the common language. So? Are you assuming that that means the Supreme Court always takes up cases or applies the samd standards?

    How’z about, instead of speculating about what I think, you try to make a point in a straightforward manner?

    Do you have a point?

  136. wayne | November 14, 2007, 1:53pm | #

    “No, racism comes from the pursuit of power and status.”

    So, we are all racists?

    I learned the difference between “John is a man” and “All men are John” in high school, wayne. It’s really not a hard fallacy to avoid.

  137. dhex,

    I join you in your giving up.

    You presented the evidence, didn’t have to jump through any hoops to do so, and it wasn’t good enough.

    You can’t reason someone out of a position he didn’t reason himself into. If Seamus was going to open his eyes, he would have done so by now.

  138. “we can’t link the outward pattern of traits to the underlying genetic patterns yet.”

    By “outward pattern of traits” I presume you mean phenotype, and by “underlying genetic patterns” I presume you mean genotype. If my presumptions are correct, then you are saying that caucasian, and negro characteristics are not heritable.

  139. Why is it so difficult for people understand the enormous difference between the following statements?

    1. All people are equal under the law, regardless of gender, race, or ability.
    2. All people are equally able, regardless of gender, race or ability.

    Because admitting the second means admitting that others were born better than you.

  140. “No, racism comes from the pursuit of power and status.”

    Joe, I learned to read in grammar school. Don’t we all pursue power and statud?

  141. TPG,

    2. All people are equally able, regardless of gender, race or ability.

    Admitting the second would make you wrong. People are not equally able.

  142. “People are not equally able.”

    Careful… stating the obvious might lead people to think you’re a racist.

  143. I join you in your giving up.

    You presented the evidence, didn’t have to jump through any hoops to do so, and it wasn’t good enough.

    What, so my citation of naturalization practices under the Naturalization Act of 1790 and of successive Supreme Court decision *isn’t* “evidence,” but dhex’s invocation of “nativism, the labor riots of the early 18th century and the whole irish need not apply thing” somehow *is* evidence that the Irish weren’t regarded as white? (As if one can’t participate in labor riots against white people.) I guess we have different concepts of “evidence” (to go along with our different concepts of “whiteness,” I guess.)

    Of course, you eschewed the effort even to bother to come up with evidence yourself, saying that I “vastly overestimate the access I have to legal documents, and my willingness to spend my time looking for them,” so I’m not sure you’re in a very good place to talk about people refusing to open their eyes.

    But if you’ve got good evidence that Irish were *not* regarded as white, as reliable as what I’ve cited, I’d be happy to look at it, but it needs to be something more than simply repeating assertions such as “the American conception of ‘white’ has not always included the Irish,” “The Irish were not seen as white until they had been here two generations or so,” and “outside of this bubble are smaller bubbles, labed things like ‘black’ and ‘chinese’ and ‘irish’ – i.e. all categories that were not ‘white.'” (Oh, yes, that article that dhex cited from essortment.com doesn’t cut it. If anything, it supports my argument, because it states that the Irish, in essence, argued that “at least we’re white” in hopes of avoiding the kind of treatment that was meted out to blacks.)

  144. Part of this disagreement seems to be about semantics. ie “Because the words were used differently in the past, it has no meaning because we don’t agree”. This seems more focused on discrimination than science. The argument, though, isn’t we know for certain our named groups are right, just that there is a genetic factor in some differences.

    I don’t think anyone was disagreeing with the fact that there are cultural factors to race, only that there are genetic factors.

    The fact that there can be more variation within groups vs between groups may or may not be important. As said previously, it could mean that the groups were poorly distinguished, like when Linnaeus suggested completely different plants were related based on phenotype. It may also matter only in small differences that may matter. For example, it may not matter that one group has a bajillion shades of brown hair, but are much more than other groups are susceptible to certain traits/diseases.

    I don’t think we know for certain how much difference there really is for things that matter.

  145. What I love about this whole thing is that people can so easily group all Sub-Saharan Africans together merely because they have dark skin. I’d venture to say there are more distinguishing physical characteristics between a Somali and a Nigerian than there are between a Swede and Yemeni.

    Scientifically, it’s all about the geography, not some arbitrary line of distinction that we make up. Culturally, well, that’s another matter. But hopefully we can get over that shit someday.

  146. There was a story in the NYT about a year ago (sorry, no link) about some type of DNA/genetic testing available for a few hundred dollars. What it didn’t touch on, but raised in my mind, was how that could affect college and grad school admissions. As far as I know, schools have no authority or mechanism to double-check everyone’s stated race (what’s stated in the application) against reality (whatever that is). Moreover, under the one-drop rule, we could possibly see a lot of non-preferred applicants claiming to have a racial background that’s plainly at odds with what we consider them to be today (in a non-scientific way).

  147. Wayne: “By “outward pattern of traits” I presume you mean phenotype, and by “underlying genetic patterns” I presume you mean genotype. If my presumptions are correct, then you are saying that caucasian, and negro characteristics are not heritable.”

    circularity: sure we can use phenotype and genotype, but I am not saying that the characteristics are not heritable. Rather, I am saying that there is no reason to assume that the genotypes that lead to one well defined group of phenotypes are more similar to each other than they are to the genotypes that lead to another well defined phenotype. Genotype-phenotype relationships are not linked so simply. One genotype can lead to many phenotypes and one phenotype can result from many genotypes.

  148. there was a very real sense that the irish, like the chinese and like black slaves, were less than human.

    May be true up in Yankee-Land but down South Scarlett O’Hara is pretty damn white.

  149. Speaking for myself, I think the issue is more about correcting the impression that the existence of these differences is important.

    Because the differences are important for a large number of reasons.


  150. Admitting the second would make you wrong. People are not equally able.

    I have no idea why you responded to me.

  151. Why is it so difficult for people understand the enormous difference between the following statements?

    1. All people are equal under the law, regardless of gender, race, or ability.
    2. All people are equally able, regardless of gender, race or ability.

    Because admitting the second means admitting that others were born better than you.

    TPG, I responded because your conclusion is wrong. Maybe you were shooting for some sort of irony, or comedy. If so, then I apologize because I did not (and still do not) get it. If you were serious, then I think you don’t understand the sentence you responded to.

  152. “…Moreover, under the one-drop rule, we could possibly see a lot of non-preferred applicants claiming to have a racial background that’s plainly at odds with what we consider them to be today (in a non-scientific way).”

    Non-preferred applicants. Who would those applicants be, I wonder?

  153. TPG,

    Because the differences are important for a large number of reasons.

    Please enlighten me.

    What is important about the differences that are used to categorize people into racial categories?

    Skin color is important because…
    Skull shape is important because…
    Lip thickness is important because…
    Facial gestalt is important because…

    Once you group people on those kinds of essential/immutable characteristics, and treat those characteristics as important for how the individual is treated by society, you will notice other malleable characteristics correlating with them, sure, but that doesn’t make those essential/immutable characteristics important.

    Example, hinted at by wayne, IQ differences between racial groups. Even if you buy into the highly dubious premise that the differences found once people are grouped by racial category are largely the result of essential/immutable differences, those differences are so small that they are unimportant. The differences are on the same order of magnitude as those found between siblings based on birth order.

    Conflating the existence of differences on essential/immutable characteristics with differences on malleable characteristics (shaped largely by experience and environment) is how one might rationalize racial prejudice.

  154. The group “criminals” has been shown to have a much higher percentage of mesomorphs than other groups.

    Therefore, criminal behavior is caused by mesomorphy?

  155. “Example, hinted at by wayne, IQ differences between racial groups. Even if you buy into the highly dubious premise that the differences found once people are grouped by racial category are largely the result of essential/immutable differences, those differences are so small that they are unimportant.”

    The differences are indeed trivial among average folks, where the respective bell curves have the greatest overlap. However, where the differences are significant is at the extremes.

    As an example, consider the following two equally sized populations. The first… call them Purples, have an IQ distribution with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. (FYI, this is, by definition, the “normal” IQ distribution).

    The second population… Greens, have a mean IQ of 98 and a standard deviation of 13. Trivial differences, right? 2 IQ points is less than the margin of error on any standard test.

    However, consider the extremes. Let’s assume an IQ of 130 is the minimum threshold for being likely to succeed in earning a PhD (in any reasonably intellectual academic discipline).

    Given the above population distributions, you would find that Purples are more than 3.3 times as likely to possess the necessary intelligence as Greens. The expected outcome? 3 out of 4 PhDs would awarded to Purples.

    For something something that required truly distinctive genius-level intelligence (like winning a Nobel Prize in Physics or a Fields Medal in Mathematics), Purples would be disproportionally overrepresented. For instance, above the 150 IQ level, you would find more than 13 Purples for every Green.

    That’s hardly a trivial difference.

    Now instead of Greens, let’s suppose you were to look at a hypothetical minority “Orange” population, who represented only 15% of the total population, and had a mean IQ of 84.0 with a standard deviation of 13.3.

    At the sames IQ thresholds of 130 and 150, where the Purple:Green ratios were 3:1 and 13:1, you would find the Purple:Orange ratios to be 475:1 and 6984:1.

    When you consider that the hypothetical Purple and Orange populations aren’t entirely hypothetical, the implications become pretty significant.

  156. Purple Green Orange,

    The assumption that the distribution of IQ is normal at the extreme tails of each groups distribution is not warranted.

    It is an elegant argument unless you know something about the subject.

  157. Out of curiosity, is there data about racial representation amongst Phd recipients? For example, amongst PhDs awarded for physics:
    total PhDs awarded:
    number to Caucasians:
    number to Asians
    etc…

    It would be interesting to see this data for various academic subjects.

  158. “The assumption that the distribution of IQ is normal at the extreme tails of each groups distribution is not warranted.”

    So, is the distribution of IQ at the tails “not normal”? Given PGO’s argument, are you asserting that his conclusions are wrong? SAT scores are a pretty good proxy for IQ tests. How are SAT scores distributed at the tails?

  159. Wayne,

    I don’t know the distribution on SAT scores, but SAT is an achievement test (very dependent upon education), not a test of IQ. IQ tests are normed on sample sizes that make estimating frequency of scores above about 95th%tile pretty unreliable. The bell curve is a model to aid approximation, nothing more.

  160. Neu Mejican,

    “The assumption that the distribution of IQ is normal at the extreme tails of each groups distribution is not warranted.”

    It’s not an “assumption”. The distribution of IQ is “defined” as normal.

    IQ isn’t directly measured, it is a derived value that relates one individual’s performance on some test of cognitive ability, to every other individual’s performance.

    Raw test scores may take any distribution, normal or not. However, the raw scores are subsequently “normed” to give an IQ which is normally distributed with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15.

    Someone at the 98th percentiles is 2 standard deviations from the mean, and will be assigned an IQ of 130. That score would be the same regardless of which test was used and what the raw score was, as long as the individual performed better than 98% of the population.

    A z-table can tell you the IQ distribution, whether moderate or extreme.

    You may have been making the point that a standard IQ test is not particularly well suited to ranking performance at the extremes. However, this problem is easily solved by including more difficult questions. Modern, computer adaptive tests will adjust the degree of difficulty of questions to provide the best evaluation of relative performance at any range across the spectrum.

  161. Purple Green Orange,

    We need to keep a clear distinction between measurement and capacity in this discussion.

    In addition, we need to keep a clear distinction between the theoretical distribution used to estimate the frequency at which a particular score will occur in the distribution of IQ scores (based on the rate in a norming sample), and the actual frequency for that score in the population. My point is that the estimation of that frequency becomes very unstable at the extremes. In a norming population of 100,000 this might not be (much of) a problem. But, for example, the WISC-IV was normed on 2,200 individuals across a wide range of ages (11 age groups). How many of those individuals scored in the 150 range for each age range? Given that estimates for each age group is based on the performance of around 200 individuals, it is unlikely that a 150 score showed up in each age range. Don’t confuse the model used to estimate the distribution of the scores (“defined as normal”) with the actual distribution of capacity in the population.

    Adaptive tests are helpful, but do not solve the estimation problem.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.