Looking in the Cultural Mirror

How understanding race and culture helps us answer the question: "Who am I?"

Yet One More Reason Races Don’t Exist

Do “racial” features vary together in “syndromes?”

This is my third post explaining why races don't exist--the other two are Another Reason Races Don't Exist  and The Main Reason Races Don't Exist. Once again, I'll begin by pointing out the difference between what might be called social race--using the word race to classify people by what they look like, or by their ancestry, or by some other social criteria--and biological race. In contrast to biological races, social races do exist--though racial systems of classification differ from one culture to another--and form the basis for unequal treatment of differently categorized groups

The mistaken view I want to deal with here is the idea of "racial syndromes." To Americans the key elements are skin color, facial features, and hair form and color; and these are believed to characterize the Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid "races." Actually, these 18th century terms have long been dismissed as unscientific by sociocultural and biological anthropologists and by evolutionary biologists--though the word hasn't necessarily gotten out to non-specialists in other disciplines.

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Instead of the various visible features clumping together, they vary separately. This is easy to verify wherever you can find a broad range of people, such as the New York City subway. All you have to do is make up a chart and discreetly rate the people you see for skin color, hair form, hair color, eye color, the ratio of nose width to length, and lip thickness. You will quickly discover that all combinations exist.

If there were racial syndromes, then a "totally white" person would have very light skin color, blond straight hair, blue eyes, narrow nose and thin lips. A "totally black" person would have very dark brown skin color, black tight curly hair, dark brown eyes, broad nose, and thick lips. And people in-between would have, to a correlated degree, tan skin color, light brown eyes, brown wavy hair, and intermediate nose and lip forms. Of course, such people do exist, but so do people with all the other possible combinations.

For example, some people have half "black" features and half "white" features, and no in-between features. In the United States, they are all considered black, but in northeastern Brazil they are considered neither black nor white, and there are various names for them, depending on what they look like. Thus, someone with light skin color, blond tight curly hair, broad nose, and thick lips would be called a sarará, and someone with dark skin color, black straight hair, brown eyes, narrow nose and thin lips would be called a cabo verde.

These cultural differences in classification show that race is a cultural category rather than a biological one, and that people can change their race by traveling to a culture where they are labeled differently.

Not only can one see evidence that the idea of racial syndromes is incorrect by looking at diverse populations--it is obvious in many African American families. Ranking the members on separate scales of skin color, hair form, and other visible features will often produce quite varied results. For example one person has the lightest skin color, another has the straightest hair, another the narrowest nose, and so forth.

In summary, another reason races don't exist is that so-called racial traits do not vary together in "racial syndromes."

 

Check out my most recent book, The Myth of Race, which debunks common misconceptions, as well as my other books at http://amazon.com/Jefferson-M.-Fish/e/B001H6NFUI

The Myth of Race is available on Amazon http://amzn.to/10ykaRU and Barnes & Noble http://bit.ly/XPbB6E

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Jefferson M. Fish, Ph.D., has authored and edited 12 books, including The Myth of Race and other publications on race, culture, therapy, and drug policy.

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