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Is race a social construct? [ANSWERED: YES!]

Is race a social construct?  

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  1. 1. Is race a social construct?



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The AAA state that race was developed by Europeans to justify slavery. They present some scientific arguments to argue that race is not a valid biological concept.
 

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In the United States both scholars and the general public have been conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions within the human species based on visible physical differences. With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic "racial" groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within "racial" groups than between them. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species.

Physical variations in any given trait tend to occur gradually rather than abruptly over geographic areas. And because physical traits are inherited independently of one another, knowing the range of one trait does not predict the presence of others. For example, skin color varies largely from light in the temperate areas in the north to dark in the tropical areas in the south; its intensity is not related to nose shape or hair texture. Dark skin may be associated with frizzy or kinky hair or curly or wavy or straight hair, all of which are found among different indigenous peoples in tropical regions. These facts render any attempt to establish lines of division among biological populations both arbitrary and subjective.

 

http://www.americananthro.org/ConnectWithAAA/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=2583

Is this valid reasoning?

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7 minutes ago, Stevie Wonder said:

The AAA state that race was developed by Europeans to justify slavery. They present some scientific arguments to argue that race is not a valid biological concept.
 

http://www.americananthro.org/ConnectWithAAA/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=2583

Is this valid reasoning?

Yes. That's the general thrust of arguments that the people with scientific knowledge of this subject, particularly genetics, put forward. The differences are too nuanced for the general layperson and need to be understood within particular conditions or contexts with the prerequisite expertise. For instance, certain groups are more vulnerable to certain diseases or conditions.

Edited by StringJunky

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20 minutes ago, StringJunky said:

Yes. That's the general thrust of arguments that the people with scientific knowledge of this subject, particularly genetics, put forward. The differences are too nuanced for the general layperson and need to be understood within particular conditions or contexts with the prerequisite expertise. For instance, certain groups are more vulnerable to certain diseases or conditions.

This seems to be a bit of an appeal to authority without much analysis of the arguments. For example this:

Quote

This means that there is greater variation within "racial" groups than between them. 

Is that unique to human races? I didn't see any contrast with divisions in other species.

Quote

In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. 

Again does that invalidate divisions in other species?

Also aren't you contradicting yourself by agreeing that race isn't a valid concept then using that concept to make statements about group differences in disease susceptibility?

Edited by Stevie Wonder

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That fact the many people view Latino and Hispanic as a race is an example of how it is a social construct. People living in Central and South America have European, Asian, and African DNA as Natives originally migrated from Asia, the Spanish then occupied territories, and slaves were brought over from Africa. The Americas are full of what would be biracial people if race were other than a social construct. Since it is a social construct people in Central and South Americans are labelled Latino rather than biracial. Likewise genetics of different modern humans has been mixed all across South Asia, Northern Africa, and Western Europe. 

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5 minutes ago, Ten oz said:

That fact the many people view Latino and Hispanic as a race is an example of how it is a social construct. People living in Central and South America have European, Asian, and African DNA as Natives originally migrated from Asia, the Spanish then occupied territories, and slaves were brought over from Africa. The Americas are full of what would be biracial people if race were other than a social construct. Since it is a social construct people in Central and South Americans are labelled Latino rather than biracial. Likewise genetics of different modern humans has been mixed all across South Asia, Northern Africa, and Western Europe. 

I'd say that means some conceptions of race can be social constructs. That doesn't mean no conceptions are biological constructs. How would you define a biologicial construct? Is species a biological construct? Is subspecies? Why? You seem to be contrasting a social construct of race (Latino) with a biological construct (mixed European, Asian and African) then claiming that because the social construct exists, the biological one doesn't, even though you just used the biological construct. Rather bizarre example of double think.

Edited by Stevie Wonder

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22 minutes ago, Stevie Wonder said:

Also aren't you contradicting yourself by agreeing that race isn't a valid concept then using that concept to make statements about group differences in disease susceptibility?

It’s not a contradiction, the susceptibility stringjunky is talking about is conditional on social factors and not biological ones.

Edited by koti

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1 minute ago, koti said:

It’s not a contradiction, the susceptibility stringjunky is talking about is conditional on social factors and not genetic ones.

I'm guessing this is pure speculation. Besides, whether or not this is true, don't you have to use a race concept to make the statement?

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5 minutes ago, Stevie Wonder said:

I'd say that means some conceptions of race can be social constructs. That doesn't mean no conceptions are biological constructs. How would you define a biologicial construct? Is species a biological construct? Is subspecies? Why? You seem to be contrasting a social construct of race (Latino) with a biological construct (mixed European, Asian and African) then claiming that because the social construct exists, the biological one doesn't, even though you just used the biological construct. Rather bizarre example of double think.

People today look remarkably diverse on the outside. But how much of this diversity is genetically encoded? How deep are these differences between human groups? First, compared with many other mammalian species, humans are genetically far less diverse – a counterintuitive finding, given our large population and worldwide distribution. For example, the subspecies of the chimpanzee that lives just in central Africa, Pan troglodytes troglodytes, has higher levels of diversity than do humans globally, and the genetic differentiation between the western (P. t. verus) and central (P. t. troglodytes) subspecies of chimpanzees is much greater than that between human populations.

Early studies of human diversity showed that most genetic diversity was found between individuals rather than between populations or continents and that variation in human diversity is best described by geographic gradients, or clines. A wide-ranging study published in 2004 found that 87.6% percent of the total modern human genetic diversity isaccounted for by the differences between individuals, and only 9.2% between continents. In general, 5%–15% of genetic variation occurs between large groups living on different continents, with the remaining majority of the variation occurring within such groups (Lewontin 1972; Jorde et al. 2000a; Hinds et al. 2005). These results show that when individuals are sampled from around the globe, the pattern seen is not a matter of discrete clusters – but rather gradients in genetic variation (gradual geographic variations in allele frequencies) that extend over the entire world. Therefore,there is no reason to assume that major genetic discontinuities exist between peoples on different continents or "races." The authors of the 2004 study say that they ‘see no reason to assume that "races" represent any units of relevance for understanding human genetic history. An exception may be genes where different selection regimes have acted in different geographical regions. However, even in those cases, the genetic discontinuities seen are generally not "racial" or continental in nature but depend on historical and cultural factors that are more local in nature’ (Serre and Pääbo 2004: 1683-1684).

http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics/human-skin-color-variation/modern-human-diversity-genetics

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1 minute ago, Stevie Wonder said:

Is species a biological construct?

No it is a human invention. There is no simple way of defining species that works in all cases.

Race is similar, but more so. Most people think of race in terms of skin colour (or culture, religion, language or any number of other markers). But there is no simple genetic definition of these "common sense' divisions. Most people have a mixed heritage. (For example, some genetic testing websites promise to tell you where your ancestors came from. But this is pretty meaningless for individuals. You will get very different answers from different companies depending what they look at and what they compare it with.)

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5 minutes ago, Ten oz said:

People today look remarkably diverse on the outside. But how much of this diversity is genetically encoded? How deep are these differences between human groups? First, compared with many other mammalian species, humans are genetically far less diverse – a counterintuitive finding, given our large population and worldwide distribution. For example, the subspecies of the chimpanzee that lives just in central Africa, Pan troglodytes troglodytes, has higher levels of diversity than do humans globally, and the genetic differentiation between the western (P. t. verus) and central (P. t. troglodytes) subspecies of chimpanzees is much greater than that between human populations.

Early studies of human diversity showed that most genetic diversity was found between individuals rather than between populations or continents and that variation in human diversity is best described by geographic gradients, or clines. A wide-ranging study published in 2004 found that 87.6% percent of the total modern human genetic diversity isaccounted for by the differences between individuals, and only 9.2% between continents. In general, 5%–15% of genetic variation occurs between large groups living on different continents, with the remaining majority of the variation occurring within such groups (Lewontin 1972; Jorde et al. 2000a; Hinds et al. 2005). These results show that when individuals are sampled from around the globe, the pattern seen is not a matter of discrete clusters – but rather gradients in genetic variation (gradual geographic variations in allele frequencies) that extend over the entire world. Therefore,there is no reason to assume that major genetic discontinuities exist between peoples on different continents or "races." The authors of the 2004 study say that they ‘see no reason to assume that "races" represent any units of relevance for understanding human genetic history. An exception may be genes where different selection regimes have acted in different geographical regions. However, even in those cases, the genetic discontinuities seen are generally not "racial" or continental in nature but depend on historical and cultural factors that are more local in nature’ (Serre and Pääbo 2004: 1683-1684).

http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics/human-skin-color-variation/modern-human-diversity-genetics

Didn't I already question this?

Quote

 

This seems to be a bit of an appeal to authority without much analysis of the arguments. For example this:

This means that there is greater variation within "racial" groups than between them. 

Is that unique to human races? I didn't see any contrast with divisions in other species.

In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. 

Again does that invalidate divisions in other species?

 

 

Edited by Stevie Wonder

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6 minutes ago, Strange said:

There is no simple way of defining species that works in all cases.

 

Really? Surely the ability to mate is a simple definition?

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2 minutes ago, Stevie Wonder said:

Didn't I already question this?

Not really. You questioned it. You asked it was unique to humans. The link I provided addressed that:

Quote

compared with many other mammalian species, humans are genetically far less diverse

Yes, it is fairly unique how genetically similar humans all are. The reason, as outlined in my initial post, is that nearly all human populations have mixed throughout history. Race simply isn't a real thing biologically. Genetics show it and the fossil records also so how human migrated across the planet. The idea of racial identity is rooted in sociology and not biology.

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15 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

Really? Surely the ability to mate is a simple definition?

It is one definition, but there are plenty of groups counted as separate species that are able to interbreed.

And some are unable to interbreed for biological reasons (the offspring are not viable or are sterile) or geographical reasons (they are on different continents) or other.

And then there are ring species where each can interbreed with other "nearby" species but those most distantly related can't - even though there is genetic mixing between them because of the intermediates.

(There is a good overview of the problems of species definition in the Talk Origins page on observed speciation: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html)

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There are certainly physiological differences between various groups of people.
One I am very familiar with is the incidence of Glaucoma among black people is 3 times higher than for other groups.
this is mainly due to Pigment Dispersion Syndrome where the excess pigment from a dark iris plugs up the drainage through the trabecular meshwork, and pressures in the frontal eye rise. This is also the problem I have.

Ignoring these differences does no-one any good. So maybe there are valid reasons for sub-classifications, to better understand the problems of certain groups. And the differences should certainly be open for discussion.
But the classifications were never the problem anyway. What certain unscrupulous people and ignorant people did or assumed about these classifications was/is the problem. They are in no way a justification for superiority or inferiority of any group.

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2 hours ago, MigL said:

Ignoring these differences does no-one any good. So maybe there are valid reasons for sub-classifications, to better understand the problems of certain groups. And the differences should certainly be open for discussion.

Older mothers have a higher risk of delivering a child with autism. That doesn't make older mothers there own race. Every little difference doesn't require subdivision. We can acknowledge that race is a social construct while still understand different people are more prone to various alignments based on sex, gender, height, weight, age, and etc. 

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And we do divide groups according to age.
And doctors don't recommend having kids after a certain age because of the risks you mention.
 Age is not a social construct.

Pigmentation is a difference of certain groups, at least in their eye color.
And the predominance of very dark irises, with excessive pigmentation, such as I have, makes my group more prone to PDS Glaucoma.
Notice I've always said groups, not races.

Refusing to discuss such differences because historically ( and presently ) some jackasses use these differences to justify racism  and atrocities  like genocides, or pretending these differences don't exist, is shortsighted and substitutes one problem for another.

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3 hours ago, MigL said:

Ignoring these differences does no-one any good. So maybe there are valid reasons for sub-classifications, to better understand the problems of certain groups. And the differences should certainly be open for discussion.
But the classifications were never the problem anyway. What certain unscrupulous people and ignorant people did or assumed about these classifications was/is the problem. They are in no way a justification for superiority or inferiority of any group.

I agree in principle, though it has to be clear that classifications have to be scrutinized and heavily contextualized. For example, most of the time it is meaningless to put all black folks into one category, as they are incredibly genetically diverse. Much of the health info regarding black individuals is derived from Afro-Americans, which are of of course not representative of the diversity in, say Africa, and have a higher proportion of mixing with e.g. Europeans. 

Due to the traditional misuse of the classification, plus how folks tend to mix up the race theory stemming from the enlightenment era with modern knowledge of genetic diversity it can be difficult to implement these classifications accurately. Ideally one would eventually go away from using, e.g.  skin colour as proxy for certain allele(s) that are associated with higher risk of certain diseases.

 

With regard to glaucoma, there is speculation that there may be additional genetic factors. But it is not clear whether it is something found in African American communities (which have a limited genetic diversity) or something common to all Africans. And that is an issue that also makes a simple coarse classification problematic.

Are health issues found in African American who are descendant of slaves also found in more recent immigrants from Africa who came from other regions? IOW are classifications like  e.g. Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, etc. actually useful? Or are there better alternatives for different purposes? As already mentioned, all these classifications are artificial, but which are useful and which are potentially harmful?

Edited by CharonY

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I agree CharonY, The classification is not as simple as skin coloring.

In the example I used, it is actually very dark irises, which I have, but I'm not dark skinned.
And while I don't doubt that there are blue eyed, black folks, most have very dark irises, and it would be detrimental not to inform them that they are at higher risk of Glaucoma, and should have their pressures checked because of the group they fall in.
Political correctness is no reason to lose your eyesight.

And it is refreshing to be able to have this type of conversation without the usual accusations of bigotry and intolerance.
( notice I did not say 'racism' ; if there is only one race, that term doesn't make sense )

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9 minutes ago, CharonY said:

Due to the traditional misuse of the classification, plus how folks tend to mix up the race theory stemming from the enlightenment era with modern knowledge of genetic diversity it can be difficult to implement these classifications accurately. Ideally one would eventually go away from using, e.g.  skin colour as proxy for certain allele(s) that are associated with higher risk of certain diseases.

Right, the best way to test for a condition is to test actually run tests (blood, urine, vision, hearing, etc). While MigL is right that different people are more prone to things it is also true that family history is a better gauge of that than pigmentation. Regardless of appearance a women with a family history of a particular thing should be tested for it. MigL's point is more or less true but overstated.  

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6 minutes ago, MigL said:


Political correctness is no reason to lose your eyesight.

And it is refreshing to be able to have this type of conversation without the usual accusations of bigotry and intolerance.
( notice I did not say 'racism' ; if there is only one race, that term doesn't make sense )

The problem is that most people that initiate this subject have an agenda.

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7 minutes ago, MigL said:

In the example I used, it is actually very dark irises, which I have, but I'm not dark skinned.
And while I don't doubt that there are blue eyed, black folks, most have very dark irises, and it would be detrimental not to inform them that they are at higher risk of Glaucoma, and should have their pressures checked because of the group they fall in.

Sure,. but in this case Asians and Africans would be in the same category and one could as well make recommendation on iris pigmentation. I.e. technically there is no advantage to use raced based categorization. Exceptions in my mind if there is something so uniquely associated with what we use as race nowadays that it would be indeed useful. I am not sure whether I can think of anything right now, though. Even skin pigmentation may not be that useful as among Africans there are quite a few degrees, too.

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9 minutes ago, MigL said:

I agree CharonY, The classification is not as simple as skin coloring.

In the example I used, it is actually very dark irises, which I have, but I'm not dark skinned.
And while I don't doubt that there are blue eyed, black folks, most have very dark irises, and it would be detrimental not to inform them that they are at higher risk of Glaucoma, and should have their pressures checked because of the group they fall in.
Political correctness is no reason to lose your eyesight.

And it is refreshing to be able to have this type of conversation without the usual accusations of bigotry and intolerance.
( notice I did not say 'racism' ; if there is only one race, that term doesn't make sense )

How does political correctness enter into this? 

Quote

 

Pigment-dispersion syndrome is an eye disorder that occurs when pigment granules that normally adhere to the back of the iris (the colored part of the eye) flake off into the clear fluid produced by the eye (aqueous humor). These pigment granules may flow towards the drainage canals of the eye, slowly clogging them and raising the pressure within the eye (intraocular pressure or IOP). This rise in eye pressure can cause damage to the optic nerve (the nerve in the back of the eye that carries visual images to the brain). If the optic nerve becomes damaged, pigment-dispersion syndrome becomes pigmentary glaucoma. This happens in about 30% of cases.[1] Pigment-dispersion syndrome commonly presents between the second and fourth decades, which is earlier than other types of glaucoma.[2][3] While men and women are affected in equal numbers, men develop pigmentary glaucoma up to 3 times more often than women.[1] Myopia (nearsightedness) appears to be an important risk factor in the development of pigment-dispersion syndrome and is present in up to 80% of affected individuals.[2] The condition may be sporadic or follow an autosomal dominant pattern of inheritance with reduced penetrance . At least one gene locus on chromosome 7 has been identified.[2][3] Pigment-dispersion syndrome can be treated with eye drops or other medications.[1][3] In some cases, laser surgery may be performed

https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/4356/pigment-dispersion-syndrome

 

 

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I'm just suggesting that we shouldn't be afraid to discuss our physiological differences as well as our similarities.
And if I'm identified as part of a group that is prone to certain conditions, I would want to be informed, and certainly wouldn't be offended.

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21 minutes ago, MigL said:

I'm just suggesting that we shouldn't be afraid to discuss our physiological differences as well as our similarities.
And if I'm identified as part of a group that is prone to certain conditions, I would want to be informed, and certainly wouldn't be offended.

But what does that have to do with the OP? Race isn't the reason your more prone. The OP is asking about race out right.

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AAA statement on race, used as in OP, is sometimes interpreted as an act of political correctness rather than scientific consensus. 

OP starts with: 

Quote

The AAA state that race was developed by Europeans to justify slavery. They present some scientific arguments to argue that race is not a valid biological concept.

 

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