One practical way forwards is to move away from having people identify themselves using only checkboxes. I am not calling for an end to the study of genetic ancestry or socio-cultural categories such as self-identified race and ethnicity. These are useful for tracking and studying equity in justice, health care, education and more. The goal is to stop conflating the two, which leads scientists and clinicians to attribute differences in health to innate biology rather than to poverty and social inequality.
In my considerable experience, “race” is a marker for socio-economic factors, and is rarely predictive when there is data to control for those other factors.
I know with certainty that I have ancestry (eventually) going to Africa. I have no evidence whatsoever any ancestor of mine ever lived in the vicinity of the Caucasus Mountains.
There were people in vicinity of the Caucuses a few thousand years ago, and it is most likely that all of us, including @CrisprCAS9 and every black person alive today, descend from them.
May I make a suggestion?
I’d like readers to have a look at the family tree of Homo sapiens, shown here.
It seems that there are four main branches: L0 (South Africans), L1 (Central Africans), L2 (West Africans) and L3 (East Africans and everyone else). There has, of course, been some inter-breeding between the various races, as well as other species of Homo (Neandertals and Denisovans), but not enough to obscure the main branches of the human family tree.
Perhaps we could rename the various non-African “races” as follows: Indo-Euro-East Africans, North-East-Asian-East Africans (a term including Native Americans), South-East-Asian-East Africans and Australo-East Africans. These would be sub-branches of L3. Or perhaps numbers would be better: L30 (for East Africans who haven’t migrated), L31, L32, L33 and L34, respectively.
Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne has written a couple of articles on the subject of race that strike me as balanced: here and here. As he points out, “different populations have different frequencies of ailments.” Thoughts?
Not to pick on Coyne here, and I mean that sincerely, it seems like he is using a strange definition of race.
Is there a definition that isn’t?
Many people have gone around with him on that subject on many occasions. He seems to think that any genetic differences between populations make a race, even if genetic variation is geographically continuous. Chinese are easily separated from Norwegians, but a transect across Europe and Asia would reveal no point at which the separation occurs, and the clines for different loci would be different. Geographically structured genetic variation only makes races if the variation is both discontinuous and consistent at multiple loci.
Yes, that is my point. There are several ways in which his definition of race is so revised and qualified that it can’t reasonably be taken as the historical meaning of the term. There is not a correspondence by his use of the term “race,” and the groups to which different racial categories are applied.
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