Race Is in the Eye of the Beholder

by May 15, 2014Culture

51Y7gthnDELA few quotes and notes from The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000 (Cambridge University Press, 2006):

“Race … is a construct, an interpretation of nature rather than an unambiguous marker of basic natural differences within humankind.” (3)

“Race is in the eye of the beholder; it does not enjoy a genuine claim to be regarded as a fact of nature.” (3)

“To divide humanity into clearly demarcated races upon that basis [visible physical differences] would be to build a system of classification on a biological mirage. This is because the biologist finds those observable racial differences which seem so obvious to the layperson to be superficial and misleading. A wide range of evidence drawn from the biological and medical sciences directly contradicts the layperson’s assumption that external indicators of race are biologically meaningful. Race is quite literally no more than skin deep, as well as scientifically incoherent.” (3)

“According to Martin Lewis and Karen Wigen, ‘The global map of skin color . . . bears little resemblance to the map of hair form or to the map of head shape. One can thus map races only if one selects one particular trait as more essential than others.’ The selection of any one particular trait as the test of racial difference is intrinsically subjective. From a biological perspective, the evidence is so cross-grained that arbitrariness is intrinsic to any system of racial classification. Race, so the consensus runs, belongs firmly in the realm of human culture.” (7)

“Although color differences are real, of course, these turn out to be trivial and to constitute something of a red herring in the investigation of human populations. As the geneticist Steve Jones notes, ‘colour says little about what lies under the skin.’ There are myriad sorts of human variation—of which visible racial differences amount to only a small proportion. Moreover, the different types of variation do not move in parallel; much less do they generate any consistent sort of racial patterning.” (Kindle loc. 119)

  • Fingerprints can be grouped according to general patterns: Europeans, black Africans and east Asians share loops; Mongolians, Australian Aborigines share whorls, Khoisans and central Europeans share arches. (3-4)
  • Asians have dry ear wax; Europeans and Africans wet, sticky ear wax. (4)
  • Europeans, Australian Aborigines, the Ainu of Northern Japan; are all hairy. (4)
  • Male baldness is common in Europe and Middle East; rare among Africans, Asians and Amerindians. (4)
  • Europeans, Inuit, and Ainu have loosely curled hair; Eastern Asians and native Americans have straight hair, sub-Saharan Africans, southern arabians, Papua New Guineans, have tightly curled hair. (4)
  • Divisions can be drawn according to tendencies in blood type. (5)
  • If genetic variation is the standard there would be several African races plus one to encompass the people of all other continents.
  • Epicanthic folds over the corners of the eyes are found in the far east as well as among the Khoisan in southern Africa. (6)
  • The shape of the incisors is common between Swedes and Asians.
  • DNA differences are not sufficient to determine races.

“The figment of race can be demonstrated by differences of classification that have developed in different times and different places.” (8)

There are different competing classifications among scientists. There have been eight changing categories within the US census. Indians and Mexicans have moved into different categories over time. (10-11)

In both South Africa and the United States, official bodies have had difficulty determining who is black/white and who is not. (11-13)

The Chinese divide people into 10 categories of color. (14)

American Indians were first considered white; only later considered red. (14)

Americans used to distinguish between Teutonic, Celtic, Iberic, and Mediterranean races. These were considered obvious distinctions then, but are not considered obvious today. (15)

There have even been attempts to define race by the length of the forearm. (17)

Interesting: you can have this book for a week on a trial basis via Amazon Kindle. I think that’s because it’s used as a college textbook.


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