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Tag Archives: Scientific Racism

It’s 4 am, I have insane insomnia, and decided to write my first posting. I just finished reading (Race): The Reality of Human Differences by Vincent Sarich and Frank Miele. I noticed this book while I was stacking books at my job, and decided to check it out. It is possibly one of the most unprofessional, excuses for an academic textI have read for awhile, and it is dripping with biological/genetic determinism and neo-scientific racism, as well as this sort of bell-curve racism that is all the rage these days.

Sarich is an anthropologist, whose research has been mostly biochemical, and he is credited with the Mitochondrial Eve Theory. Miele is a journalist, trained in psychology under Robert Travis Osbourne (Created a twin study in the 60s about culture and genetics. Osbourne also oppossed school desegregation– probably not for any progressive reason). Both authors are supporters of “The Bell Curve.”

Anyways… I have problems with these two, and their very unscholarly writing. I think I’ll address each Chapter.

Chapter 1. Race & Law

I’m not sure why opening a book that is going to argue for the biological reality of race would start with a social construction like law. They argue that law has no definition of race, and as such it is a given that race is an innate, biological fact. They use the cases of Rice v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Haak v. Rochester School District (I’ve used the authors names for these cases). The authors misnamed both cases, and if you want to show bias actually google “Haak v. Rochester School District.” The first hit is a page dedicated to showing “reverse discrimination.” But back to the point– Sarich and Miele’s argument is that “the legal system, not only continues to accept the existence of ‘race’ but also relies on the ability of the average individual to sort people into races. Our legal system treats ‘racial identification’ as evident.(14)” That passage a) doesn’t prove there is anything innate about race, and b) is wrong. Race has always been contested in the courts (come on… think about the one drop rule), some specific examples are here and here. And let us not forget that the Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Jews, and Greeks were all considered non-white at some point in this country’s history. Meanwhile Native Americans, Arabs, Persians, Turks, and other Middle Eastern/Near Eastern peoples have been legally considered white at some point or another (Middle Eastern/Near Eastern people are counted as white on the census, even if the “average person” doesn’t see them as such). Hell, Benjamin Franklin did not consider the French, Swedes, or Germans to be white, and it can assumed neither did his contemporaries. Obviously law does not lay race out so plainly, and it spent alot of time deciding who was white and who wasn’t. The second half of Chapter one deals with law enforcement using DNA to identify race. These tests are controversial, and Colorlines did a much better job writing about it than I could.

Chapter 2: Race & History

These two spend this chapter basically arguing that White people didn’t invent race (a point they reiterate ad nauseum throughout the book). Instead they trace race back (to groups of mostly brown people, I can see the shifting of guilt easily enough). The authors argue that because different groups of people are depicted with different physical characteristics (skin color, hair, facial features). Then they refer back to a cognitive psychology experiment wherein children age three are presented with

“an adult (termed the target figure) and two figures of children, each of which shared one of three characteristics– race, body build (light or heavy build), and occupational uniform ( postal or medical worker)– with the target. They were asked which of the two figures looked like it was the target’s offspring; and which of the two figures looked most similar to the target. (25-26)”

The children usually decided that skin color was the connecting trait. Sarich and Miele offer this as proof of an innate ability to determine race, and as such race is a fact. I find two problems wrong with this assumption: a) Why would anyone assume that children would find clothing (/career) or body build to be less transient than skin tone? Differences in skin color are an observable fact. Or why would a child think clothing or body build is passed on to offspring more? b) is, as the person who did the experiment, Lawrence Hirshfeld, basically says; even if three year olds can spot racial differences, three years is a long time to absorb rhetoric and ideas from parents, after all at this time children are learning just how to view the world for the first time.

So… that was a tangent they took, but back to history… Thier argument that race is ancient is to look back first at the Ancient Egyptians. The Ancient Egyptian paintings they use as evidence depict Egyptians as red, Asiatics or Semites as yellow, Northerners and Libyans as white, Southerners or Negroes as black (see now the use of the word Negro bothered me in the text. Ancient Egyptians didn’t use that word, and neither do most people these days, so I checked the endnotes on the book…. they used one text for this section of the chapter… “History of Anthropology” from 1934! So their sources are out of date, and they don’t correct offensive terms). So Egyptians painted people the color they saw them, and we don’t accurately know what sorts of terms were used… the people are referred according to Sarich and Miele to be designated by geography. Another example used in this book is the caste system of India. Hey I can’t argue with it, me personally I see the caste system as pretty fucked up, it existed, but reducing it again to some biological race is over simplifying. But they couldn’t end the chapter without saying that the dark Southerners are filling up high-tech industries globally, and the fair-skinned groups in the North-West Frontier (read Pakistan) seek high tech weapons. Why the hell is that included? It serves no purpose. Then comes descriptions of the Chinese and race (i.e. civilized v. barbaric groups) and the Greco-Roman groups perception of race (i.e. that black people have big penises and have woolly hair).

Then it leads into Islamic perceptions of race. This one takes the cake for bias. This is a pretty blatant attempt to paint Islam and Muslims in a bad light. They doesn’t divide Islam into civilizations, but defines a heterogeneous group by religion. There is also 10 pages of discussion about Islamic racism (and slavery). In fact there are 2 1/2 pages (more than the pages spent describing the Indian Caste system or Race in Ancient China) on a section titled: “Islamic Black Slavery Preceded Slavery by White Europeans.” Passing the race potato. This section sickened me, and the same arguments that a recognition of physical attributes is racism continued. I’m not saying that the ancient world was free of racism, I’m just saying this chapter assumes things, is poorly researched, and is just trying to take the heat off of White Europeans.

Chapter 3: Anthropology as the Science of Race

Oh yay. This chapter is easy to sum up. Anthropology was a science of race, everything was good, racism was ok ( their argument that no one was really racist, that they just recognized, and acted, upon observable, scientifically “proven” differences between the races. There were different schools of thought, but they were all cool. And everything was good to mean, old Boas showed up. Franz Boas showed up, he was a German Jew (the book points out that Boas and his pupils were mostly Jews– repeatedly. They never say that they view it as a negative, but it definitely preoccupied the authors thoughts) . Boas changed American anthropology forever, from race-based, to culture-based. Sirich, as a physical anthropologist is I’m sure not neutral on which he thinks best. The authors argue that the Boasians were influenced by their oppressions in Europe as Jews and didn’t have as much of an objective viewpoint as the scientific, WASPy, anthropologists.

Chapter 4: Resolving the Primate Tree

This chapter was simple in critique– it had none. It was a long excuse for Sarich to talk about what he has spent a large portion of his life studying– primate blood. It also gave background (though way more than necessary) settingup for the next chapter.

Chapter 5: Homo Sapiens and Its Races

More bragging about research done in ’79. Sarich pat’s himself on the back alot. Talks about applying his ape DNA research, to human scales for how long we’ve been a species (Out-Of-Africa 38,000-48,000 CE by Sarich’s estimates).

Chapter 6: The Two “Miracles” That Made Humankind
Sarich poses to questions… a) What advantage allowed us to beat out hominid competitors, and b) why was there no interbreeding. Somehow this is tied in with race, at least in the intro, and then it never really gets touched.

Chapter 9: Race and Physical Differences

Sarich & Miele first discredit the idea that race is arbitrary, because only 15% of genetic variation is between peoples of different races. Thier reasoning for race not being determined by say sickle cell or the ability to consumer dairy is because these are “ancestral human conditions.” Sarich and Miele then argue that because the different groupings of genes is just as much inside ethnic groups as between them then:

“But the discordance issue he raises applies within groups as well as between them. Heis dismissive of the reality of the Fulani-Xhosa black African racial unit because there are characters discordant with it . Well then, one asks in response, what about the Fulani unit itself? After all, exactly the same argument can be made to cast the reality of the category”Fulani” into doubt. Diamond’s no-race position is thus clearly logically untenable and need concern us no longer.”

Did you notice that. They took the argument to almost the last point, but instead of deciding that if it makes no sense genetically for the Fulani to be grouped together as a distinct unit, then maybe race doesn’t make sense either. Why could they not realize that maybe race, and the Fulani are culturally constructed? Instead they dismiss Diamond completely. His argument was completely rational and tenable. (If I was them I wouldn’t have mentioned Diamond at all, rather then grapple with his argument, lose, and decide to dismiss him).

Then Sarich and Miele argue for the physical differences between groups: hair, skin color, lips, eyes… ok those make sense. However arguing that Black people are more athletic is ridiculous. Also they make a logical fallacy/overlook a detail/or dismiss an idea– bodies aren’t just shaped by genetics. Aspects of the environment control our bodies just as much. We know consuming the right amount of calories makes one taller, and we know that illnesses (that often shape bodies) are influenced by environment. My friend who grew up in Egypt says that people there are stronger, in some parts of the world you see people balancing washing machines on their heads, or a television, or engaging in some feat we find impossible. Would you argue that it is genetic? That seems ridiculous, as these changes seem to be controlled more by where and how someone grew up. Plus… using the Kenyan Olympic team as an example is ridiculous. The chapter then continues making such comparisons as human races to breeds of dog (wtf), and then talk about racial differences in responses to medicine. This view of course ignores environmental similarities between races, and such essentialist ideas don’t help those who a) multiracial or b) different genetically from others they share skin tone with.

Chapter 8: Race and Behavior

AKA IQ Tests. The authors like thinking they are breaking taboos (they’ve been hanging around those academic types too long– there isn’t anything taboo in general American public discourse in saying that Black people have lower average IQs. Believe me, I battled that everyday in high school. They of course ignore all the evidence pointing towards environmental reasons for differenc3es in IQ scores, or the fact that IQ tests are recalibrated all the time so the average (i.e. white, middle class man) scores 100. Then they go on about brain size equaling intelligence (note Neanderthals had larger brains than homo sapiens).

Chapter 9: Learning To Live With Race

In their eyes race is a genetic-biological fact. Their solution to living withit? Meritocracy and individualism. Along with getting rid of Affirmative Action. After all you got where you are all by yourself, and screw anyone that complains, they are just jealous.


I just wanted to add these are the most pathetic endnots I have ever seen… no real formatting. Everything is either some non-academic website, the authors’ previous work, or a book from the first half of the 20th Century.

Anyways… thats my long. long, rant on this book.