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Race - Past, Present, and Future
Posted: 13 February 2008 07:24 PM   [ Ignore ]
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This thread is for discussion of your ideas on race.  It is NOT for discussion of immigration, legal or illegal.  If any post refers to that in THIS thread I’ll delete it.  Put your comments about immigration it the thread devoted to that.

What are your views about the concept of race, and how human societies have responded to variations in skin pigmentation?

Occam

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Posted: 13 February 2008 11:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s a little more than just the skin pigmentation, Occam. African-Americans suffer higher rates of death from every major form of cancer, their bones are more dense than those of any other race, and there are many other morphological differences between the races. Again, as I said elsewhere, pretending that these differences don’t exist can be more harmful than we might think. One of the major problems, for example, is the health care:

African Americans are more likely to suffer from a broad range of physical diseases than are white Americans. Rates of heart disease, diabetes, prostate and breast cancer, infant mortality, and HIV/AIDS are all substantially greater for this group than for white Americans.

According to the report, American Indians “are five times more likely to die of alcohol-related causes than whites, but they are less likely to die from cancer and heart disease.” The Pima tribe in Arizona, for example, has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world. The incidence of end-stage renal disease, a known complication of diabetes, is higher among American Indians than for both white Americans and African Americans.

You can read more about it here.

Let’s stop being naïve and let us treat this problem the best we can, according to our scientific knowledge and capability. Most people, or at least the ones who can make a difference, are not racist; those who still suffer from racism are probably so ashamed of themselves that I doubt will speak out.

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Posted: 13 February 2008 11:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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And I want to add that it’s about time we realized that we can no longer allow ourselves to follow in the footsteps of the naïve ones on the left and the cruel ones among the most conservatives. I agree with Singer that the “Darwinian left” is the only rational approach to solve any of these problems: let us wake up, see the world for what it is, and try to help the ones who are in such a need.

[ Edited: 13 February 2008 11:28 PM by George ]
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Posted: 14 February 2008 07:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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This is not a rethorical question: there is a good approach to race demarcation?.  Yes, I can tell that Carl Lewis looks pretty different from Boris Becker, but there is a continium of characteristics in the middle.

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Posted: 14 February 2008 07:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Well sure George.  There are physical differences between different individuals and can be meaningfully understood via the grouping of various genetic characteristics.  But race is generally not defined as such in the US.  It is described primarily on a sociological level.  The black-white distinction, in particular, is a clear example of this point.  In America a mulatto, or mixed black-white individual, is generally regarded simply as black.  If we were to be serious about categorizing gene types for medical purposes, then we would have to establish a system that was far more complex then that of black or white.  There would need to be several sub grouping of each, as well as sub-groupings involving those who are mixed.  Most “black” Americans would fit into some sort of mixed category.

Also, bone distinctions and other such pragmatic medical taxonomies have little to do with intellectual difference that is defined through thought patterns, opinions, beliefs, values, etc.

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Posted: 14 February 2008 07:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Barto - 14 February 2008 07:32 AM

This is not a rethorical question: there is a good approach to race demarcation?.

Probably not for a person from NYC. But the Kalahari Bushmen, for example, are genetically closer to our common ancestor than the rest of the peoples. It depends how isolated and for how long the group has been separated from everybody else.

[ Edited: 14 February 2008 08:04 AM by George ]
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Posted: 14 February 2008 07:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 14 February 2008 07:42 AM

Also, bone distinctions and other such pragmatic medical taxonomies have little to do with intellectual difference that is defined through thought patterns, opinions, beliefs, values, etc.

Well, yes. The brain is not made from a bone. But if evolution can affect the bone density, I see no reason why it couldn’t have a similar effect on the brain.

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Posted: 14 February 2008 08:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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No biological basis exists for separating of human beings into races; the idea of “race” is social and political construction of relatively recent origin.

The late Stephen J. Gould wrote the wonderful book “The Mismeasure of Man” in part to address the numerous (and perennial) efforts to erect ‘scientific’ rationales for racism.

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Posted: 14 February 2008 08:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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George - 14 February 2008 07:43 AM

Probably not for a person from NYC. But the Kalahari Bushmen, for example, are genetically closer to our common ancestor than the rest of the peoples. It depends how isolated and for how long the group has been separated from everybody else.

Well, it is what I suspected. I must admit that I don’t see how a clasification that is fuzzy for a high percentage of people could be useful.

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Posted: 14 February 2008 08:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Barto - 14 February 2008 08:12 AM

I don’t see how a clasification that is fuzzy for a high percentage of people could be useful.

We won’t know unless we look into it. What are we to think of the following study?

Black women are three times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy, and twice as many black babies as white babies die in infancy. Yet researchers know little about why pregnancy and infant health differ by race, despite massive efforts to address this persistent problem. [The rest of the story is here.]

We have a choice here. If we decide that “no biological basis exists for separating of human beings into races”, as Balak said in his post, than there is no problem as we simply forget about black babies and mothers vs white babies and mothers and the problem disappears. The moment we separate the groups, we see that the one group with the different “skin pigmentation” has evidently a problem that needs our attention.

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Posted: 14 February 2008 09:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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“Black women are three times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy, and twice as many black babies as white babies die in infancy. Yet researchers know little about why pregnancy and infant health differ by race”
... If we decide that “no biological basis exists for separating of human beings into races”, as Balak said in his post, than there is no problem as we simply forget about black babies and mothers vs white babies and mothers and the problem disappears. The moment we separate the groups, we see that the one group with the different “skin pigmentation” has evidently a problem that needs our attention.

Of course… how could I be so blind.  I mean, assuming that the black women are arriving at the hospital from the same leafy suburbs in the same brand of SUVs as the white women… what other explanation could there be than ‘genetic differences’?

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Posted: 14 February 2008 10:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I don’t claim that races don’t exist (among other few things, because of the burden of proof and the troubles with the proof of inexistance).

Regarding the story you mention, I have a couple of comments:

We must be careful with statistic, independt variables (sometimes not very independent) and correlation, because we may conclude that poverty causes TBC. Or, worst, we can conclude that the big ears are from rapist (or anything like that). Are we sure that it has a genetic cause? are we sure that this hypothetical genetic cause happens only on afroamericans or it is just a matter of probabilities?.

I know that there are a couple of drug that are specially designed to adress problems of certains groups, but we don’t have any reason to think that the correlation between the expression of certaing genes and the expression of others is something beyond coincidence.

Of course, races could exists even if we find the concept disgusting (I find the second law of thermodinamics very unfair and cruel, for instance ) . The disgust is not an argument against the concept, but the lack of any formal definition (and the the troubles that seems to arise in the process), yes. To be honest, every definition of race seems to me post facto, and based on extreme cases.

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Posted: 14 February 2008 10:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I don’t know, Barto. “Black women three times as likely as white women” doesn’t seem to me like extreme cases.

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Posted: 14 February 2008 10:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I was thinking in the real independence of variables in this case.

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Posted: 14 February 2008 10:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Barto - 14 February 2008 10:25 AM

I was thinking in the real independence of variables in this case.

Of course. Sorry.

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Posted: 14 February 2008 10:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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George, we’ve argued about this before, so I’m not sure I have much new to offer, but I believe Balak and erasmus are correct that race is much more of a cultural than a biological category. Sure, there are genetic differences between groups of people from geographically-separated ancestries, but if you look at those statistically, on average they are far fewer than the genetic differences between any two individuals within a supposed racial group. In other words, individual differences are far greater and of more importance medically than average group differences. Humans passed through a genetic bottleneck coming out of Africa, and our overall genetic diversity is far less than those of many other species, especially those domesticated and intensively bred (such as dogs, horses, etc) from which many of out notions of race are derived.

I could just as easily show statistically that diabetes is far more prevalent in my family than in yours even though we’re both superficially white. So does that mean we are really different races? Alcoholism is much more common among the Irish (my ancestors) than among the French, so are they different races? You can’t simply cite a few examples of predispositions to disease, particularly those that have complex lifestyle variables as well as physiological variables involved, and then propose that proves the significance of race categories based, let’s face it, largely on skin color. While the differences you cite may be real biological differences, there is the artefact of how you chose to group them to consider. If I chose to group Catholics together and Evangeleical Protastants together, I’m sure I could find some average differences between the groups in susceptibility to some diseases, but that doesn’t justify something as broad and sweeping, particuluarly with it’s social and historical baggage, as separate races.

I think it is much more useful to look at all the variables, genetic and sociological, when trying to study disease prevalence. And I think it is of very little use to try and find support for a concept that is outdated scientifically and fraught with a history of oppression. Even if we decided scientifically that there were small average differences in, say, intellect, between groups of people with different colored skin, would that really justify the likely discriminatory treatment of individuals based on such small group differences? I just don’t see what there is to gain. And what there is to lose is patently obvious.

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