Race and Ethnicity in Identity Politics

Happy Monday FRians!  As always, Monday’s post is brought to us be Stephen Hall.  Thank you, Stephen, as always!  Have a great day everyone!

There has been a little bit of buzz recently, mostly overshadowed or rightfully ignored, concerning Prince Harry’s recent engagement to Meghan Markle, an American of mixed ancestry and previously divorced.  To most reasoning minds, the latter, being a divorce, being more troubling in terms of the dignity of the monarchy than the former.

She appears an attractive and vibrant lady, and Harry is lucky to have found someone such as her, so by no means is this discussion any disparagement upon her or their relationship.

It is the tendency of some to call Ms. Markle by the term bi-racial while she calls herself of mixed ancestry which is more than a little problematic, in large part because of how such terms have been politically and culturally misused and misunderstood in the past.

There has been used in American political history an assertion that “If a man has but a single drop of black blood in him, then he is black.”

I have heard black and liberal leaders attribute this to white, southern, ante-bellum politicians since I was young, but I have never actually seen or heard of any such person ever using this phrase.  As near as I can tell, though I may be wrong, it was used to slander long dead white southern politicians en masse as a way of vicariously slandering all white southerners as racist.

This is why it is such a troubling issue.

The assertion actually derives from an old Roman legal maxim.  In its original form, it asserts that “If a man has but a single drop of Roman blood in him, then he is a Roman.”

Quite the contrast in meaning as the Romans were in charge whereas the southern black people were not.

The phrase was designed to be expansive and inclusive, not exclusive.  It was designed so that as many people as possible would consider themselves as Roman citizens, have loyalty to Rome, to bring the empire together as one people.  After all, Romans accounted for only about ten percent (10%) of the population of their own empire.

This was in contrast to the Athenian democracy which was designed to be exclusive allowing one to be a citizen only if both parents of the child were Citizens of Athens, although citizenship could be granted for exemplary service to the state.

The purpose of the “drop of blood” assertion was the same in both cases, it is designed to grow the number of people who identify with a particular minority, to grow the numerical power of that group, much the way some religions consider or require children of a mixed religious marriage to be brought up in that religion, in contrast to the Athenian way of insisting that both parents must be of the religion in order to marry.

But taking the politics out of the equation, what is the science and mathematics behind race and ethnicity?  If one is to discuss such an issue, it can only be done void of emotional and political dogma; where political correctness has been declared a capitol offense.

Let me start by defining the concepts of race and ethnicity, because those phrases are so often misused and abused in our culture for political purposes to advance causes such as I have just explained.

Contrary to the constant drumbeat of media assertions, race is far more than merely skin color, though we lamely refer to people as black or white, or even brown or “persons of color”, that is all complete non-sense.

First, the color of the melanin in the skin is the same regardless of race, it is a chemical, it does not change.  What we really talk about is not the difference in the color of the skin, but the difference in the tone or intensity, the concentration of melanin.

However, race is typically defined by a number of genetically determined characteristics held in common by large swaths of people, including bone and tissue structures and features, body proportions and alignments, in addition to hair, skin, and eye color, texture, and dimensions.

Generally speaking, I am in agreement with that line of thought which divides humanity into basically five different races: Caucasian, Negroid, Mongoloid, Polynesian, & Aboriginal.  You can dispute the origins of the names and their political implications, but the categories remain essentially the same.

This in contrasted with the term “ethnicity”, which people ignorantly want to use interchangeably, which denotes an identifiable subgroup of a race.  Such ethnicities are denoted by more subtle and variations within the broader racial group.

Within the Negroid race there are distinct difference between an Ethiopian, a Congolese, an Ashanti, a Ghanan, or a Zulu.  While politically correct people want to say they are all the same, anyone can look at pictures of people from those regions and learn to tell the differences just from appearances.

We often mistakenly call them African, which as a racial group is improper as they are generally from Sub-Saharan Africa or the Sub-Continent as it was wont to be called, as the people of Africa north of the Sahara have been Caucasian since before recorded history.

Caucasians vary as wildly from Scandinavians, Celts, Semites, Persians, and Indians.  Indians in particular go to demonstrate that skin color is not the defining feature of race, ranging from fairly light skin color to as dark as any Sub-continental or Aboriginal.

Variances are easily noted in the Mongoloids, often referred to by more modern scientists as East Asians, distinct differences can be seen from the Japanese, the Koreans, the Chinese, the Tibetans, or the Mongols.

Back to the original topic, genetically speaking such racial groups are rather distinct, though any individual within such a racial group may only share 90% of the characteristics which denote a particular racial group, they do share common genetic similarity.  More importantly, people in such groups will tend to have similar genes inherited from both sides of their family.

When you mix racial groups, certain features will tend to be genetically dominant, or expressive.  In particular, most of the genetics which characterize Caucasians are genetically recessive compared to the more dominant genetic alleles of the Negroid.

That term so casually tossed around of “bi-racial” literally indicates that such person is the mixture of two parents from two different racial groups, “bi” meaning “two”, and that the parents are purely of that racial group.  Barack Obama, is a prime example of a bi-racial individual; because his father, being from Kenya, and his mother being white, his genetic code is right down the middle 50%.

As you can note, as was noted by Gregor Mendel, the dominant gene will be the one expressed; and most of the Negroid genes being dominant, the bi-racial offspring of a black and white person will appear, for all intents and purposes as if they were purely black.

However, those recessive genes find expression in later generations, when those bi-racial children marry other bi-racial children.  The amount of those recessive genes which become expressed can vary considerably with a fair degree of randomness.

As generations pass, and people become more mixed those genes of any minority population will tend to blend into the genes of the majority, even though dominant genes may find greater expression in the first generations, as those genes become diluted, they become expressed in a far less cohesive form, less distinctly an expression of a unified race.

Such mixed race people can be more easily seen in the variations of a certain South American countries where races mixed much earlier and to a greater extent in more equal proportions.  There is a contrast between the populations of countries like Peru, or Mexico, or Brazil, and countries like Argentina which had relatively few natives to mix with the European Spanish and who, like North America, imported relatively few people from Sub-Saharan Africa.

What many in America do not want to admit, is that the black population in America is a very mixed race of people.  As Frederick Douglass noted in his speeches that black people in America after two hundred years were a mixed race people owing as much to their European ancestors as to African.

So, to the point, because I’ve gone long on this post, looking at a picture of Ms. Markle, one would be hard pressed to really say that she had inherited many of those dominant genes which would place her in the black community.  A picture of her standing beside her mother shows that her mother certainly had a greater share of those genes, which is what one would expect.

While mixed, it would be difficult to estimate what percentage of her genetic code originates with the Sub-Saharan African race.  What percentage would one actually be considered a “pure” person of any race?  We cannot merely dismiss the concept as racist.

If race exists, and it does, then at some point, perhaps 90 or 95%, one could be deemed purely of a particular race.  We ought to avoid the phrase “bi-racial” except in clear circumstances like Obama, and not through the term around because we want to push someone into that group, or pull her into our own.

I would leave the reader with the understanding that this is not a “new or purely modern” concept.  Genetic evidence shows that in settlements around the Gobi desert, a Mongoloid region, there were Caucasians living, with red hair.  In their genetic code, being on a major trade route, it showed traces of Negroid DNA.

Races do not disappear simply because they are mixed.  The human genome is not a blender, but it does create unique individuals, each valuable in their own unique way.  Except for identical twins, of course.  Don’t be too quick to let people politicize genetic science, like they have the weather.

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