You can’t figure out the bag I’m in

21 05 2014

[Updated below]

Race is a social construct.

1. This does not mean race is not real. This is always the problem with any mention of social construction—you’re saying it’s not real!—but there is no reason to conclude that that which is constructed is not real.

The United States is a social construction, and it is real. Language is a social construction, and it is real. Political parties, political movements, constitutions: all socially constructed, all real.

(Are all social constructions fictions? And what is the relationship of fiction to reality? More complicated question, more complicated answer, but the short version to both is: Depends on how you define fiction. But that’s another post.)

2. This does mean it has a history, one which varies across time and space. In 19th century Europe one could speak of German and Slavic and English (etc.) races, and further distinguish Jews as a race.

That broadly ethnic version of race was transported across the Atlantic, but was overcome—due in no small part to the necessities of settlement and slave society—by an understanding of white, black, and ‘the savage’ races.

Black was always clear: those of African origin; savage would be understood as Indian; and white was reserved for northern and western European Christians. These lines could be blurred and stretched—whites would eventually include southern Europeans, the Irish, and Jews, and today some Hispanics are crossing into white—as well as added to, as with ‘asiatic’, ‘oriental’, or Asian peoples, as well as the aforementioned Hispanic.

Current US census categories include “White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander”. The Census sites notes “The racial categories included in the census questionnaire generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country and not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically, or genetically.”

Further, and in late recognition of interracial reproduction, “[p]eople may choose to report more than one race to indicate their racial mixture,” . . .

The Census is hardly the last word on the issue, but that categories have changed and, with the allowance of multi-racial reporting, become more fluid indicates that race is largely what we say it is.

3. To state that something is a social construct is not to deny any material contribution to that construct.

Are differences in skin color influenced by genetics? Yes. Hair color and texture? Yes. Bone structures? Yes.

4. Does this mean race is biological?

Long breath in and out.

Both the long and short answers are “yes and no”. Phenotypic differences are influenced by biology and in some cases determined by genetics, but the sorting of these biologically- and genetically-influenced/determined phenotypic differences into races tends to elide the complexity of the mechanisms involved in those influences/determinations.

Thus, if one wants to speak of genetic differences among humans, one is much better off referring to “populations” (or, perhaps, “ethnicities”): the term is anchored in geography, and allows for understanding of such terms as gene  or allele frequencies and genetic drift. Some genes are more likely to appear in some populations and not others (for both evolutionary and non-evolutionary, i.e., “drift” reasons); in some cases those variations will be visible in appearance.

In other words, there are many genetic populations and there are differences between those populations; in some cases those differences which are visible are assigned a racial character.

As Agustin Fuentes has pointed out, the assignment of certain characteristics, and those with x number of those characteristics to a race, ignores the fact that “race” encompasses many genetic populations. To state that “there are racial differences between Africans and Asians” is false not because there are no genetic differences between Africans and Asians but because the use of the term “race” erases the genetic differences among Africans and Asians: again, there are many genetic populations within each “race”.

So, again, the determination of race is at least as much about what we say it is than with genetics.

4 5. This is not even to get into breeding across populations, and the determination of the race of cross-population offspring.

5 6. This is also not even to get into complex (multiple genetic and other contributions) traits such as personality, intelligence, temperament, and behavior.

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that there are variations in the allele frequencies contributing to these complex traits across populations. The identification and characterization of these alleles (and their possible interactions among the alleles and with other factors) is only beginning, however, which means any conclusions about these variations are grossly premature.

6 7. I will not be reading Nicholas Wade’s book.

Perhaps a nice book on population genetics, instead.

~~~

*Update: Criminy, can I not even count? Should I blame my Irish or my German genes for the lack? Or maybe it was a stray Danish or French allele.

Anyway, the real reason for the update: Anne Fausto-Sterling reviewed a number of books on race, genetics, and epigenetics which both overlaps with and extends my argument—and with fewer typos!





Brothers in arms

21 05 2014

Given recent news, how about a rerun?

Originally posted March 1

Let us compare two votes, shall we?

One authorizes war; another authorizes benefits* for veterans of war. How well do these votes match up?

Senator Jeff Sessions, R-AL, voted in favor of the Iraq War; Senator Jeff Sessions voted against benefits for veterans of war.

Senator Richard Shelby, R-Al, voted in favor of war; Senator Shelby voted against benefits

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, voted in favor of war; Senator Murkowski did not vote on benefits.

Representative Jeff Flake, R-AZ, voted in favor of war; Senator Flake voted against benefits.

Senator John McCain, R-AZ, voted in favor of war; Senator McCain voted against benefits.

Representative John Boozman, R-AR voted in favor of war; Senator Boozman voted against benefits.

Senator Bill Nelson, D-FL, voted in favor of war; Senator Nelson did not vote on benefits.

Representative Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, voted in favor of war; Senator Chambliss voted against benefits.

Representative John Isakson, R-GA, voted in favor of war; Senator Isakson voted against benefits.

Senator Michael Crapo, R-ID, voted in favor of war; Senator Crapo voted against benefits.

Representative Mark Kirk, R-IL, voted in favor of war; Senator Kirk voted against benefits.

Senator Charles Grassley, R-IA, voted in favor of war; Senator Grassley voted against benefits.

Senator Pat Roberts, R-KS, voted in favor of war; Senator Roberts voted against benefits.

Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY, voted in favor of war; Senator McConnell voted against benefits.

Representative David Vitter, R-LA, voted in favor of war; Senator Vitter voted against benefits.

Senator Susan Collins, R-ME, voted in favor of war; Senator Collins voted against benefits.

Senator Thad Cochran, R-MS, voted in favor of war; Senator Cochran voted against benefits.

Representative Roger Wicker, R-MS, voted in favor of war; Senator Wicker did not vote on benefits.

Representative Roy Blunt, R-MO, voted in favor of war; Senator Blunt voted against benefits.

Representative Richard Burr, R-NC, voted in favor of war; Senator Burr voted against benefits.

Representative Rob Portman, R-OH, voted in favor of war; Senator Portman voted against benefits.

Senator Jim Inhofe, R-OK, voted in favor of war; Senator Inhofe voted against benefits.

Representative Pat Toomey, R-PA, voted in favor of war; Senator Toomey voted against benefits.

Representative Lindsay Graham, R-SC, voted in favor of war; Senator Graham voted against benefits.

Representative John Thune, R-SD, voted in favor of war; Senator Thune voted against benefits.

Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT, voted in favor of war; Senator Hatch voted against benefits.

Senator Michael Enzi, R-WY, voted in favor of war; Senator Enzi voted against benefits.

Those who voted for the war and for benefits:

  • Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-CA
  • Senator Thomas Carper, D-DE
  • Representative/Senator Jerry Moran, R-KS
  • Senator Mary Landrieu, D-LA
  • Representative/Senator Ed Markey, D-MA
  • Senator Harry Reid, D-NV
  • Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY
  • Senator Tim Johnson, D-SD
  • Senator Maria Cantwell, D-WA
  • Senator Jay Rockefeller, D-WV

Those who voted against the war and for benefits:

  • Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA
  • Representative/Senator Mark Udall, D-CO
  • Senator Benjamin Cardin, D-MD
  • Senator Barbara Mikulski, D-MD
  • Senator Carl Levin, D-MI
  • Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-MI
  • Representative/Senator Bob Menéndez, D-NJ
  • Representative/Senator Tom Udall, D-NM
  • Representative/Senator Sherrod Brown, D-OH
  • Senator Ron Wyden, D-OR
  • Senator John Reed, D-RI
  • Senator Patrick Leahy, D-VT
  • Representative/Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT (sponsor of benefits bill S.1982)
  • Senator Patty Murray, D-WA
  • Representative/Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-WI

If you don’t want to pay for the consequences of war, then DON’T VOTE FOR WAR.

And, goddammit, if we do go to war, then you pay to take care of those who fought the war.

Even soldiers in a stupid, shitty, pointless war deserve care.

*Technically, this was a cloture vote (requiring 60 votes to succeed), which is to say, a vote to stop a filibuster; voting yes on cloture would end debate and allow a majority vote on the legislation to proceed. The vote failed, 56-41.

~~~

According to Alan Fram of the Associated Press,

Republicans criticized how most of Sanders’ bill was paid for — with unspent money from the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and the winding down of American military involvement in Afghanistan. The GOP says those are not real savings because no one expected those dollars to be spent as those wars ended.

I’d go back and see how many of these. . . statesmen voted in favor of war-time tax cuts, but I really don’t have the heart.