The Complexity of Race

Bill Vallicella takes issue with Pat Buchanan’s recent discussion of Trump’s supposed racism. Buchanan says:

[W]hat is racism?

Is it not a manifest dislike or hatred of people of color because of their color? Trump was not denouncing the ethnicity or race of Ilhan Omar in his rally speech. He was reciting and denouncing what Omar said, just as Nancy Pelosi was denouncing what Omar and the Squad were saying and doing when she mocked their posturing and green agenda.

BV says:

Buchanan’s definition is on the right track except that he conflates race with skin color, which is but a superficial phenotypical indicator of race.

True enough. Race is more than skin deep, and skin color is among the least significant manifestations of racial differences. More significant manifestations include certain physical proclivities (e.g., “white men can’t jump”) and marked differences in the distribution of intelligence.

Races are nothing more (or less) than subspecies of Homo sapiens under this taxonomy:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Suborder: Haplorhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes
Family: Hominidae
Subfamily: Homininae
Tribe: Hominini
Genus: Homo
Species: Homo sapiens

It is hard to pin down races (subspecies) with great precision. There are gradations of differences within the broadly defined races (Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid). Consider, for one example, the range of “subraces” comprised in the Mongoloid category.

There will be even more gradations as a result of international mobility and the erosion of social barriers between whites, Asians, blacks, and Latinos (or Hispanics) — the latter of which include groups that are admixtures of Caucasoids (mainly Spaniards) and Mongoloids (various Amerindian strains of long-ago migrants from Asia).

The subtlety of racial gradations is captured by the (not uncontroversial) study of genetic clustering:

Genetic structure studies are carried out using statistical computer programs designed to find clusters of genetically similar individuals within a sample of individuals….

These clusters are based on multiple genetic markers that are often shared between different human populations even over large geographic ranges. The notion of a genetic cluster is that people within the cluster share on average similar allele frequencies to each other than to those in other clusters….

A major finding of Rosenberg and colleagues … was that when five clusters were generated by the program (specified as K=5), “clusters corresponded largely to major geographic regions.” Specifically, the five clusters corresponded to Africa, Europe plus the Middle East plus Central and South Asia, East Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. The study also confirmed prior analyses by showing that, “Within-population differences among individuals account for 93 to 95% of genetic variation; differences among major groups constitute only 3 to 5%.” [But significant differences flow from the 3 to 5 percent, such as the aforementioned differences in athletic ability and intelligence.] …

Rosenberg and colleagues … have argued, based on cluster analysis, that populations do not always vary continuously and a population’s genetic structure is consistent if enough genetic markers (and subjects) are included. “Examination of the relationship between genetic and geographic distance supports a view in which the clusters arise not as an artifact of the sampling scheme, but from small discontinuous jumps in genetic distance for most population pairs on opposite sides of geographic barriers, in comparison with genetic distance for pairs on the same side….

Think of “K” as representative of the degree of commonality, where K=1 represents a loose relationship and K=7 represents a much tighter one. Here, for example, is a graphical presentation of the result of a K=7 analysis:

From: Low Levels of Genetic Divergence across Geographically and Linguistically Diverse Populations from India Rosenberg NA, Mahajan S, Gonzalez-Quevedo C, Blum MGB, Nino-Rosales L, et al.PLoS Genetics Vol. 2, No. 12, e215 doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0020215[1] (fig. 2A) original caption: “Representative estimate of population structure for 1,384 individuals from worldwide populations, including 432 individuals from India. The plot represents the highest-likelihood run among ten STRUCTURE runs with K = 7 clusters. Eight of the other nine runs identified a cluster largely corresponding to India, and five of these eight produced plots nearly identical to the one shown.”

The presence of distinct physical and political-cultural boundaries is obvious in the sharp breaks that occur at five points (reading down from the top). Also striking is the closeness of the clustering patterns for Europe, North Africa, and the near Middle East. (The inhabitants of those areas used to be identified as Caucasiod.)

Where an American belongs on the graph depends on where his ancestors came from. Despite much genetic mixing, the origins of most Americans are still readily identifiable — especially “Americans” like Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Occasio-Cortez. And so race — as we have known it — is still an important distinction that can’t be removed simply by saying that “race is a social construct” or “race is only skin deep”.

(See also “Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications“, “The IQ of Nations“, “Why Race Matters“, “Is Race a Social Construct?“, and “Real Americans“.)