Earlier this morning I finally grabbed a copy of Ashley Montagu's Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, Kindle Edition, for under $8.

I cite this book often in my copious writings on racism, but will now confess to not having accessed it directly (to the best of my recollection), only come across juicey quotes from it, in books by others.   I'd cut and paste such an example quote right now, but Kindle software hinders cutting and pasting so never mind. Amazon would prefer we all spend the $8 for a "personal" digital copy.  Well worth owning, I would add.

As an anthropologist himself, Ashley is quite aware of the "in group" versus "out group" phenomenon. A city state or "polis" (a "body politic") will draw a mental circle, perhaps build a physical wall, around some interior, and classify humans as to whether they're members of this privileged set or not.  The thousands of peoples inhabiting the North and South American continents prior to the arrival of Anglo-Euros, had all the usual problems of needing to get along, to engage in trade, and to distinguish lineages.

However, a full-blown racial theory, in which all members of humankind could be classified as a mix of "primary colors" (like red, green and blue in computer graphics), came late in the game, towards the end of the 1800s when the international slave trade had come under scrutiny and needed to justify its own existence.  The dogma of "races" and indeed the word "race" really jumped into the foreground only then.

If we go back to Leibniz say, the great in-German-thinking mathematician, we'll find him expressing skepticism about this "race" idea, which is just starting to crop up in various writings as people travel further afield.  He's not buying, which is not to say he's unaware of what today we attribute to a differently expressing human genome.  

Yes, physical differences among humans are obvious:  we have dwarves and giants, some with longer necks, different eye shapes, nose shapes and so on, but "races"? He wasn't into it.  Such skepticism has been echoed ever since.  My own writings are in that lineage.

When I was growing up in the 1960s and first learning about all these fires I didn't start, I'd hear my maternal grandmother refer to "colored people", which I think to her ears sounded more progressive than "Negroes" which other people still said.  

Today "people of color" is the accepted, politically correct terminology, and also means Asians and really anyone "not white".  That "colored people" sounds bad, "people of color" OK, is a lesson in the musical qualities of language.  "Whites" are not "pale colored" or "people without color".  A society is sometimes pretty strict, as in punishing, about conforming to its social norms.

Most of the world's peoples are "of color" as pale skin is a sign of the genome adapting to lower sunlight conditions, harsher climes.  The genome has mostly had to work with the opposite problem:  shielding from UV.  Tree barks manifest similar traits, with the darkest woods closer to the equator.

Hispanics were surprised to find, on the most recent US Census, that "Hispanic" was not a race, nor "Latino".  Many Latinos found this disconcerting.  Skin color still makes a big social difference in places like Brazil, which likewise suffered the invasion of colonizing European powers, armed with their Doctrine of Discovery.  How many "races" of human do we find in Brazil and how should we order them on the color spectrum?  Do we care?  Some do probably.

The Census Bureau's polling check boxes form an interesting study in themselves.  They've changed a lot over the years, and the Bureau will be the first to admit it's not going to by any genetic science.  Having a special group for Pacific Islanders, for example, probably has more to do with their being nuked, and therefore possibly entitled to Federal benefits if coming from one of the four islands deemed "most affected" by the bureaucracy.

As Ashley points out, even though we have broad divisions in genomic expression based on the exigencies of time and geography, the notion that some humans are "mixed" and others "pure" specimens of a few static (immutable) archetypal categories is just hooey.  Science goes on vacation when our beliefs move in that direction.

Forcing people to see themselves as "pure" versus "mongrel" based on some arbitrary categorization is cruel and unusual, so long as either "pure" or "hybrid" is presumed to have social significance.  There's no genetic science behind the idea of immutable archetypes.  We have no scientific idea what the DNA of a "pure white" would be like, versus a "pure black".  Such ideas occur only in pulp fiction and tacky Social Darwinist fantasies.

My own mantra on the matter is pretty simple:  "a racist is anyone who believes in races."  There's a parallel mantra:  "a nationalist is anyone who believes in nations."  And of course my own thinking, which is in English (a buggy language to be sure) is inevitably redolent with both racism and nationalism.  

I have a passport.  I check the box saying "white" on government forms (in some countries such checkboxes are still illegal -- bad memories of how the Nazis liked to keep tabs the same way, with a little help from IBM and its Hollerith tabulators).  "When in Rome..." is my attitude.

However, inwardly I mock and scoff at humans and their silly programming, their awful thinking.  It's self evident to me that racial theories are bunk, and nations are the best we've been able to think up, in terms of self organization, along with corporations and religions, but like "race", these are arbitrary human constructs, creatures of habit, ways of establishing conformity and automaticity in thought.  

I hope we don't have nations, let alone "superpowers" (gag) even centuries hence.  That'd represent a failure of the imagination I'm sure.

Having lived much of my life outside the US, in Rome, in Greater Manila, I'm used to seeing the US "from outside" and still consider it as much a foreign country as any (they all seem pretty alien to me, but that's OK, as I enjoy touring).  I'm used to being "a minority" in terms of having pale skin.  

Given various formative experiences, I sometimes say "I'm an Asian in a gringo suit" which sounds comical ("gringo suit" rhymes with "gorilla suit" in neuro-linguistic programming).  I'm rarely happy using the "we" word to identify "we whites" (whatever that could possibly mean).  When a US-bred person says "we need to give up our nuclear weapons", I'm likely to say "yes, you should" as my preferred "we" group doesn't have any, never has (nor weaponized drones either).  We didn't start the fire.

How in-English thinkers use pronouns, especially their "we" is fascinating to me.  I'm highly suspicious of English, but it's the only language I think in, so best to debug from within.  Focusing on pronoun usage has been productive.  Ya'll might wanna try it.  Put on that anthropologist hat and study the many subcultures (ethnicities) including those making up and/or influencing our Religious Society.

Views: 198

Comment by William F Rushby on 7th mo. 13, 2016 at 4:46pm

Kirby Urner wrote: " Put on that anthropologist hat and study the many subcultures (ethnicities) including those making up and/or influencing our Religious Society."

Talk about Friends and ehtnicities (specifically racial minorities) makes me think immediately of the East African Friends, who are about twice as numerous as Friends in the US and Canada.  And that statistic doesn't include the Quaker-derived independent Holy Spirit churches on East Africa, of whom we hear very little.  I didn't even know that these independent churches grew out of the Society of Friends until a Mennonite missionary-anthropologist presented a slide show on them in a Cultural Anthropology course at Eastern Mennonite College.

Comment by William F Rushby on 7th mo. 13, 2016 at 5:52pm

When pastoral Quakerism indigenizes in East Africa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYdWFajZwWI

Comment by Kirby Urner on 7th mo. 13, 2016 at 9:21pm

On the other hand, talk about anthropology gets me thinking back to IBM again, and the corporate subcultures that encircle the globe.  The spouse of my English teacher in the Philippines said he was more a citizen of Nestle than of this former US territory, won from Spain, then from Japan, and always considered a million nations by its own inhabitants (roughly speaking).  On TV, the corporations fielded the basketball teams.  We'd watched Sony versus Coca-Cola and such, I kid you not (talking about my tour in Greater Manila).

My own ethnicity is a lot informed by Chief Stallman's, meaning Richard, and his GNU tribe (GNU is not Unix).  Talk about Right Sharing (a Quaker term):  the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been as close to my heart as Pendle Hill, in terms of seeking a way forward worthy of a higher being.

Comment by Chaplain Stogumber on 7th mo. 16, 2016 at 6:16am

The concept of race is quite reasonable in order to get a systematic overview on human bio-diversity (which comprehends not only physical, but also psycho-physical and perhaps even psychological traits).

Races tend to inbreed, which makes them more different. But even if they mix, they don't dissolve in a short time.  Which means that over a long period it's quite reasonable to distinguish between typical white and typical black traits or to distinguish between between pure and mongrel race representants.

For those interested in those matters I recommend:



Comment by Kirby Urner on 7th mo. 16, 2016 at 9:16am

I agree there's a lot to study regarding the genome.  Have you heard of the "Seven Eves"?


One may study "genetic distance" between population groups and trace genetic traits over time.  Family resemblance is a reality.  I don't deny genetic science.

The JayMan FAQ comparing racial theory to the Periodic Table and suggesting genetic science is that simple seems awfully misleading though, and I became suspicious of it based on that.

Two white-skinned or black-skinned people may be more genetically distant than two of same skin color.  How many races are there, does anyone want to nail it down?  I'd say any useful genetic science would likely not settle for less than 100s, maybe 1000s.  The idea of just five or six seems comic book silly to me -- if we're going to keep using the word "race" to agree on stuff, that is.

Most racial theory was developed before we had knowledge of DNA.  The idea of five or seven "pure races" that have gradually mixed over time is not based in science, but in science fiction (mostly fiction).  And no, not only people of African heritage are subject to sickle cell anemia -- lots of white folks in the Greek islands have that health issue.  So many myths and stereotypes take advantage of racial theories and piggy-back thereon.  So much cruft.  I always look to see what an author will do to dispel the cruft, before I accept said "thought leader" as a teacher. 

What's the hidden agenda here?  Are we headed into another dismal discussion of which race is "superior"?  I'd like to know ahead of time if that's where the bus is going, so I can opt to get off.

Montagu starts in chapter one agreeing we can broadly divide humans into groups, but the devil is in the details, when it comes to what significance we attach to those groups.

Who gets to say what the races are?  Are dwarves a race?  In Dungeons and Dragons they are.  Lots of ways to draw Venn Diagrams.  Men and women have the most genetic distance from one another, so there's our two races right there -- except we have other words besides "race" for the various sexes (only two?  nah).

Also, you say "perhaps" psychological traits.  A propensity to fly off the handle might be genetic in some cases, relating to hair-trigger adrenaline release or something, similar to a weakness for alcohol, but lets give memes and ethnicity their due.  The genome provides the hardware.  Memes provide the software.  One can teach just about anyone to grow up racist.  Racial theories are not themselves genetically encoded.  They come from agreements in how we talk.  The thesis that racism in its modern form grew up around the time the slave trade was coming under attack is pretty interesting.  Authors that ignore the history of the concept of "race" are ignoring a huge part of the story.  The concept itself is not immutable, not static.

Certainly we have breeds of dogs and people invested in managing lineages, pedigrees, same with horses.  Animal husbandry is a real deal. Likewise we get control freaky people who wish we could manage people more like these other animals, insistent on maintaining various "breeds" and avoiding "race mixing".  I consider that more a meme thing, than a gene thing.  Ideas go viral, much more quickly than real viruses do.


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