Wednesday, July 2, 2014

More Social Construction of Race

This July 2, 2014 BBC report discusses some recently published work that shows that Tibetan adaptation to high altitude is not just exposure, but genetic, and something that came from the Denovisians, not the Neanderthals or our African ancestors:
Now, researchers have linked an unusual variant of the EPAS1 gene, which is involved in regulating the body's production of haemoglobin - the molecule that carries oxygen in the blood - to the Denisovans. When the body is exposed to the low oxygen levels encountered at high elevations, EPAS1 tells other genes in the body to become active, stimulating a response that includes the production of extra red blood cells.
The unusual variant in question is common among Tibetans and probably spread under natural selection after they moved onto the high-altitude plateau in Asia several thousand years ago.
"We have very clear evidence that this version of the gene came from Denisovans," said principal author co-author Rasmus Nielsen, from the University of California, Berkeley.
If the headline puzzles you, let me explain: it became an article of faith on the left that racial differences, such as tolerance of sunlight, altitude adaptations like this, sickle-cell anemia (a mutation that provides significant advantages in malarial areas), are social constructs: that there are no real differences between races except the ones that our cultures create.  Here's a recent example of this claim:
Our notion of what constitutes "white" and what constitutes "black" is a product of social context. It is utterly impossible to look at the delineation of a "Southern race" and not see the Civil War, the creation of an "Irish race" and not think of Cromwell's ethnic cleansing, the creation of a "Jewish race" and not see anti-Semitism. There is no fixed sense of "whiteness" or "blackness," not even today. It is quite common for whites to point out that Barack Obama isn't really "black" but "half-white." One wonders if they would say this if Barack Obama were a notorious drug-lord. 


Rich Rostrom said...

There is a great deal of cultural construction in any specific definitions of "race". Alan Paton, author of Cry the Beloved Country, once wrote of South Africa's great "racial divide" - meaning Anglos and Afrikaners.

But nearly all such definitions grow out of, and reflect to some degree, physical realities. Have you read The Blank Slate by Stephen Pinker?

It is a critique of the "blank slate" dogma established by social scientists and biologists: that the mind and brain are a "blank slate" at birth, and all behavioral patterns and neural organization are created by environmental factors (i.e, culture and society).

This dogma is held fanatically by leftists. When a scientist showed that the visual cortex of cats is formed before birth, he was denounced as a fascist.

The dogma arose in reaction to the vulgar Darwinism and stereotyping that was endemic in 1880-1950 (culminating in Nazi race crimes).

What the dogma denies is that the brain is both plastic and shaped by genes; that human populations blur together, but groups with real differences can be distinguished; and that the "myths" of the past arose from real conditions.

Clayton Cramer said...

I have not read it, but it conforms to what I have learned over the years: leftist dogma on this is completely divorced from reality. There are clearly racial differences; where the racists went completely off the deep end was failing to recognize that these differences are differences in averages, and tell us nothing about any individual from any of these groups.

JohnG said...

"One wonders if they would say this if Barack Obama were a notorious drug-lord.

In that case I'd finally be able to say that Obama was successful at something!

Jim said...

"It is quite common for whites to point out that Barack Obama isn't really "black" but "half-white." One wonders if they would say this if Barack Obama were a notorious drug-lord."

This is an interesting thing that Coates asks because first, it invalidates the charge that whites are opposed to Obama because of racism since according to him, whites don't think he is really black (a claim that was made by some on the left when he started running for the presidency). Coates seems to think that whites would call him black if he were a drug-lord. I don't know about that but I do know that Obama considers himself to be black and I don't think he would call himself "white" if he were a drug-lord.

It is not a stretch to believe that Obama would never have been elected president if he were white. It seems that in so many cases, race isn't a genetic or social construct but rather an construct.

Christopher B said...

I'm not surprised that a leftie is upset about genetic accuracy. Pointing out that Obama's racial background is actually half white, and Tiger Wood's ancestors are a racial cocktail, is usually done to highlight that today's liberals are far from color-blind. They have adopted the old racist 'one-drop' rule.

Roger said...

The argument that Obama is not "really black" is not just based on his white mom. It is also based on him not being a descendant of W. African slaves, and not growing up with other American blacks. He has very little in common with the American black community.