Blog Three: What is Race/Population Biology

Any survey individuals take that is asking about oneself has some standard questions, Gender, Age, and Race. Interestingly the three questions people typically ask about people, today really one of them can be definitive. Here I refer to age, as gender, like race, is becoming more complicated as we start to understand it more- but I digress.  Race is used as an indicator of a person, we grew up marking the boxes that we think pertain to us and move on to the next question. But as we are learning in this course- should the box even be there to be checked? OR rather what is the person reading the answer using the box to actually ask?

What I liked about the statement from AAA on race was how the first gave a background on how “we” use race- as a way to create a distinction between groups and thus allowing us to make pre-judgements about people. Similar to the notion we learned in lecture about biological determinism, that someones physical traits dictates their behavior. Anyone with a slight background in genetics or science, can tell you culture is learned. You do not have a single gene that codes for friendliness, or homicidal tendencies. Sure some could argue that you body codes for hormones and chemicals, like dopamine and serotonin and mutations that alter concentration and release can effect mood(again I digress) and for the most part we know culture and behavior is learned. And at the very least we can not say if you have a head size shaped like a square your mental facility is different than someone with a round head (that whole concept of phrenology is just interesting). Or more commonly that someones skin color(what most correlate with race) means anything other than ancestry.  But again the whole statement by AAA was geared towards educating people how the way “we” use race to distinguish individual into certain behavioral and cultural groups is to put it bluntly racist.

To switch gears towards the AAPA’s statement; Similar to the AAA they discussed that popular conceptions regarding a physical trait indicating a behavioral trait is a huge misconception. They were a little more blunt about saying that this notion is what gives rise to “racist doctrines” – cue term ethnocentrism and Hitler. To me what was interesting is that their statement read more of an educated argument against the current discourse of race. First saying the current way is wrong and then providing scientific proof on why it is wrong- explain how genetics actually works. Which in my opinion is exactly how someone should be educated on non-relationship between race and biology.

Like the AAPA I would begin with discussing the current discourse associated with race. How race is used to segregate and divide groups of people typically by skin color. How many believe biology and race are somehow interchangeable, because you have these traits I can assume certain things about your biology. Then I would discuss genes, explain things they DO code for, and the relationship evolution has played, like what we discussed in class about UV/skin color.  And then I would bluntly say what there is not is a biological gene that can mark a person by their race. And in such race is not biology, and can not be used that way.

However, I really liked the paper by Norman Sauer, and I thought he made an interesting point. Biological race does not exist- but forensic anthropologist can correctly deduce what “race” the humans remains belong. He begged the question does this feed in to the use of “race” as a biologic. He concluded in the end that when race is used in this way it is NOT being used the way modern citizens hear it.(Basically by using it in this way people think they can correctly use race as a biologic). However,  what is being implied by the anthropologist is more ancestry and in such a different term should be used by anthropologist when describing remains as to not feed the current racial discourse.

So in my opinion the survey question for race should also be changed away from “race” which has so many negative connotations.

 Norman J Sauer, “Forensic Anthropology and the concept of race” Social Science Medicine 34( 1992): 107-111 
 “AAA Statement on Race”
“AAPA Statement on Biological Aspects of Race”

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