General Question

NerdyKeith's avatar

When it comes to race, can any one human being truly say they are 100% one particular race?

Asked by NerdyKeith (5464points) July 2nd, 2016

Such as 100% white, black, asian etc?

This was an interesting question a follower of mind asked on Twitter. Its not something I have considered before. But taking into account how long humanity is around, I’m thinking it is possible that quite a lot of us could have at least a distant ancestor from a racial identity in which we currently don’t identify as.

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58 Answers

jca's avatar

It’s not only possible, it’s probable.

Seek's avatar

We’re all Africans.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Amazon Aborigines, just saying.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

My brother bought a DNA ancestry test. I haven’t looked into the accuracy and I don’t care.

It’s a parlor game to me.

But the test says, I’m all European. , so I guess all white.

25% Scandinavian surprised me. I think of myself as 50% German/Bohemian & 50% English/Irish.

Seek's avatar

I’m 98% British isles and northern Europe.

I am still an African ape.

Love_my_doggie's avatar

There’s no such a thing as races, only ethnicities. Each of us, therefore, belongs to zero races.

flutherother's avatar

No they can’t. They might even have a bit of Neanderthal DNA in them.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Race is a social construct, not a biological fact. The construct depends in part on historical/genealogical facts but it also depends on a conceptual framework that discounts our ancient origins (not least because we were ignorant of them when that framework was created). The conceptual framework takes it as an axiom that some people count as 100% white, black, Asian, etc. Whether or not it can cash this out into real terms is a different question. But the existence of “100%” cases is not questionable from within the social construct of race. Asking this kind of question, then, is really a way of undermining that construct by pointing out that it is ultimately groundless.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

Race is a social construct, not a biological fact.

I’ve never understood that claim.

If you had a line-up of people with long ancestries from Sweden, Japan, and Nigeria, you are pretending you could not determine which is which?

Darth_Algar's avatar

@Call_Me_Jay “25% Scandinavian surprised me. I think of myself as 50% German/Bohemian & 50% English/Irish.”

The Scandinavian and German people are really the same. As are, to a large degree, the English and (somewhat lesser) Irish people. Going back from roughly the Roman to Viking eras you had successive waves of migration from the regions of central Europe (roughly comparable to modern Germany) northward and westward into Scandinavia and the British Isles. Hence, for example, how closely related the German, English and Scandinavian (Norse, Swedish, Danish, Icelandic) languages are.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Genes float around through populations. “race” as people often see it does not actually exist. I’m 99% european according to genetic testing. Regional ancestry is really all that dna tests can show.

Seek's avatar

Actually, before the 1100s, the Irish has more biologically in common with people in modern day Spain than England. Ireland was populated by people who emigrated from Basque country.

CWOTUS's avatar

I’m nearly certain that I’m 100% human.

Love_my_doggie's avatar

^^^ You’ve just described the only, true race; that would be the human race.

I had a medical procedure, in a hospital, last September. The preliminary paperwork asked me to list my race. I answered “human.” Sadly, some administrator inserted “white” in my file. How very disappointing…

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

The preliminary paperwork asked me to list my race. I answered “human.” Sadly, some administrator inserted “white” in my file. How very disappointing…

Whites have received preferential treatment in American hospitals. Your hospital is keeping track in an effort to identify and eliminate bias.

Darth_Algar's avatar

For what it’s worth certain races are more prone to be susceptible to certain diseases, for example. As a case-in-point, if I recall correctly, something like 80% of sickle-cell anemia cases occur in blacks. That might be part of the reason hospitals ask about your racial background.

Setanta's avatar

Yes, there is only one race, and that’s the human race, so everyone can say with certainty that they are 100% human.

CWOTUS's avatar

Whites have received preferential treatment in American hospitals. Your hospital is keeping track in an effort to identify and eliminate bias.

… or to make certain that you get the exceptional care to which you are obviously entitled.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Call_Me_Jay “I’ve never understood that claim.”

As a starting point, see the American Anthropological Association Statement on Race. The short version is this: there is no single genotypic feature or phenotypic effect nor any set of genotypic features or phenotypic effects that are associated with all and only members of any putative race. Therefore, there is no way of delineating the necessary and sufficient biological conditions for racial membership. When we talk about race, we are creating a category—not describing one.

“If you had a line-up of people with long ancestries from Sweden, Japan, and Nigeria, you are pretending you could not determine which is which?”

Of course I would be able to. I am a competent user of the social construction, as are most people who grew up with it. (Compare language usage. It is uncontroversial that language is a social construction, but that doesn’t stop me from easily distinguishing English from non-English, French from non-French, or Greek from non-Greek. I am not as reliable when it comes to languages I haven’t learned, however. I have a similar problem with racial subgroups that I’m not familiar with.)

But here some more problematic cases to consider. First, what race are Irish and Italian people? Are they white? Are they unambiguously white? If your answer to either or those questions is “yes,” the 18th and 19th centuries would like to have a word with you. Second, how about Finns? Are they white, or are they Asian? This was quite a debate in Sweden. Third, what race is Cameron Diaz? How about Carlos Santana the musician? Or Carlos Santana the baseball player? And just how many people need to have a similar mixture of putative racial traits before they become their own race?

imrainmaker's avatar

I’m curious to know..how does this DNA test would tell if I’m mix of which race if that’s not biological thing?

JLeslie's avatar

I doubt it. Not if you go back far enough. One of the “purest” gene pools is the people of Iceland. Viking stock.

As you probably know the I Icelandic people were selected for the gene sequencing to find genetic markers for disease. It’s voluntary, it wasn’t mandatory they participate and give DNA, but many did. I don’t know where that study is at present time. It started many years ago.

Seek's avatar

@imrainmaker – the tests look at your mitochondria, and tell you the location from which that DNA is most often found. It says nothing about skin color or other racial traits.

YARNLADY's avatar

@jca No, it’s not possible.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Probably not.

cazzie's avatar

There is a really good Australian show that recently explained all this and it took three celebrities on a tour of their ancestry. The Aborigine actor had no more markers from Africa than his white co-participants. I’ll see if I can find the program. The show is called ‘DNA Nation’.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

The Coates essay just shows what I already thought – “Race is a social construct if we define race as a social construct.”

It’s a word game. He’s beating up on a straw man. It’s pretending that “race” always means every person can be assigned to exactly one of race. And that “race” is always used to attribute behaviors to people based on their ancestry. And race is always used to label a group as superior or inferior.

It’s nonsense. Race is ethnicity. It’s a simple observation. It isn’t derogatory. We have black people and white people just like we have tall people and short people.

cazzie's avatar

That being said, we can see certain genetic markers on mitochondrial DNA that show what areas of the world our ancestors most likely came from. Race is a construct. The markers on DNA shouldn’t be confused for ‘race’.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

For what purpose?

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Call_Me_Jay The Coates essay is mostly about race and intelligence. Nor does it say any of the things that you have uncharitably read into it. In any case, I notice that you still have no response to my earlier point (which is independent of the Coates essay). Nor have you presented answers to the questions I asked earlier.

And no, race is not ethnicity. “Swedish” is not a race, even when it is used as an ethnicity rather than a nationality.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

The Coates essay is mostly about race and intelligence. Nor does it say any of the things that you have uncharitably read into

That would be exactly what I “read into” it, leaping to the conclusion that, as I wrote, “race is always used to label a group as superior or inferior.”

And yes, race is a kind of ethnicity. Ethnicity is a grouping people, either by common culture or physical traits.

And no, I am not answering your irrelevant questions. You’re beating the same straw man as Coates, fighting arguments I did not make.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Call_Me_Jay In other words, you don’t have a response so you’ve decided to offer falsehoods and irrelevancies instead. Very well.

cazzie's avatar

Can I just reiterate race is not genetics. Genetics is not race. There are groups, like groups of Jews or the Icelanders that are of interest because of their genetic isolation and diseases it makes them prone to. It isn’t their race. It is what has become isolated in their genes due to lack of diversity, genetically speaking.

JLeslie's avatar

@cazzie True. Good clarification.

I think what’s tricky is the word race is used in a sloppy, ambiguous way. Look at all the people calling Trump racist, because of what he said about Muslims and Hispanic. Neither categories are race by any definition except common usage. Even journalists are using the term, and theoretically they should be more knowledgable about the English language.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

@SavoirFaire

You have latched onto the dishonest claim that race is “a conceptual framework takes it as an axiom that some people count as 100% white, black, Asian”.

Which is nonsense. That isn’t the dictionary definition. I explicitly pointed out above that isn’t how the word is used.

You are countering claims nobody made, and declaring anything else irrelevant and false.

Feel free to beat that straw man some more, but I’m not engaging your dishonest circular arguments.

Uberwench's avatar

@Call_Me_Jay You seem to be confused about the social construct claim. Just because race isn’t a social construct doesn’t mean it isn’t real. A lot of constructs are real. Like @SavoirFaire said, language is a social construct. But that doesn’t mean English isn’t real.

Being a social construct also doesn’t mean biology has nothing to do with it, and I don’t think that anyone has argued differently. To the extent that the social construct about race is based on perceived physical differences that we assume go “straight down to the bone,” so to speak, biology is obviously part of the story.

But the point that social constructionists make is that those assumptions are false. We see stark physical differences when we compare the lightest white people to the darkest black people, and we assume that those differences indicate some generalizable biological difference that can separate all white people from all black people. But it turns out that isn’t true. There’s no way to define black people or white people based on physical traits that doesn’t accidentally lump people we think are white into the black category or black people into the white category (or other races, but I’m just using the two for the sake of simplicity).

I also think you are misreading @SavoirFaire. He didn’t say that race is “a conceptual framework takes it as an axiom that some people count as 100% white, black, Asian.” He said that the social construct about race depends on “a conceptual framework takes it as an axiom that some people count as 100% white, black, Asian.” So he wasn’t giving a definition of race. He was talking about one of the assumptions that went into the social construction (it was created by people who thought that some people count as 100% white, 100% black, or 100% whatever).

But I also don’t think the dictionary definition of “race” is where you should plant your flag. Dictionary definitions aren’t really useful in this kind of discussion. Dictionaries don’t get into the nitty gritty. They’re just glosses to help us get a general sense of how a word gets used in a language. The dictionary definition of “water” doesn’t say anything about H2O, and the dictionary definition of “murder” doesn’t say anything about it being morally wrong. But a scientific encyclopedia or a treatise on ethics would mention those things because they are more complete.

cazzie's avatar

For example…. ‘Social construct’ will assume that the Aborigine has more racial links to African heritage than the immigrant from Scotland. DNA research proves this is false. Science proves we are all more related than not. Everyone learns a lesson from this and is nicer to each other and lives happily ever after. The End. (if only)

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

@Uberwench But I also don’t think the dictionary definition of “race” is where you should plant your flag.

I see you another person unaware that dictionaries are records of actual usage, and many words, including “race” have multiple definitions.

He said that the social construct about race depends on “a conceptual framework takes it as an axiom that some people count as 100% white, black, Asian.”

An “axiom” I don’t hold to or believe.

But you keep fighting the people in your imagination who say that. They are so wrong!

JLeslie's avatar

That’s why the story of Adam and Eve has some very nice things about it. If you believe they were the first people, then that means we are all related. We all descended from the same two.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

And what happened after that? They had children? Who did their children breed with?

Uberwench's avatar

@Call_Me_Jay Okay, I think you’re just trying to save face at this point because that makes no sense. I’m unaware that dictionaries are records of actual usage? Then why did I say as much in my answer when I said that dictionaries “help us get a general sense of how a word gets used in a language”? And I also acknowledged that words can have multiple definitions! If a dictionary wouldn’t mention that water is H2O, but a scientific encyclopedia would, then obviously they are giving different definitions of the same thing.

As for the axiom, I also don’t believe it. And I don’t think @SavoirFaire does, either. Again, I think you are misinterpreting what he said. He didn’t say that it is an axiom. He said the social construction treats it like an axiom. In other words, when the social construction about race was created, it was just taken for granted that some people counted as 100% white, or black, or whatever because the people who started the whole thing thought that was true.

cazzie's avatar

We are all related. It just goes back farther than the bible writes about because that is a fairy tale.

Seek's avatar

Dictionaries are descriptive, not proscriptive. They record how a word is used. If the dictionary were proscriptive, the words “d’oh!” and “w00t” would not appear.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer With each other. It’s the only explanation if you believe in that story. Each other or their parents.

@cazzie Some people believe that story. Maybe the most fervently religious are some of the most “racist” in my country, so maybe they should think about it.

I’ve had some religious people say to the Adam and Eve statement, “siblings sometimes hate each other and often don’t get along well.” I find it pretty sad that that is the response of some. We are all God’s children means nothing to some people I guess, and I’m not talking about atheists when I write that.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@JLeslie I adore you, friend. Thank you for stating the obvious.

cazzie's avatar

If you believe in science you realise that even further back, we are related to every living thing on earth and even the materials earth itself is made of. We and everything around us were all a part of stars. Forged in the internal mass where elements are changed into heavier and more complex versions. We are made of star dust.

JLeslie's avatar

I’m talking about the people who believe in Adam and Eve. I like the idea of thinking we are all related, which Adam and Eve supports. Personally, I believe, know, we are all “related” even to the flora and fauna all around us. I feel connected in many ways, one being that our DNA material is the same just in different sequences. ACTG. Those four letters creating anything from a marigold to a human being. It’s really incredible amazing.

If the Adam and Eve story helps people feel connected I’m fine with it. Or, whatever other story that promotes an idea of connectedness and caring for each other and all living things.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

There is a real genetic adam and a mitochondrial eve. Both are estimated to have lived 200,000–300,000 years ago. A cosmic picosecond before now.

Darth_Algar's avatar

Naming those two “Adam” and “Eve”, while an understandable allusion, was a mistake. It gives the impression that they were the first humans, which is not at all the case. They are simple the most distant common ancestors of all people now living. Certainly there were humans before, and possibly unrelated humans after, but all other genetic lineages have died out.

Seek's avatar

And really it’s rather arbitrary to stop at that particular set of parents. We could just as easily call Mitochondrial Eve the most distant common ancestor to all members of the genus Homo, or all members of the Family Hominidae, or the Order Primates…

cazzie's avatar

Some of us like science explanations and some like quaint fairytales, I guess. But we were trying to explain that DNA is not race so I think this case calls for science.

JLeslie's avatar

^^Unless your talking to some religious person who can’t grasp the science. Then we can talk in the terms they understand so they are nice to others. That’s my only point. We don’t have to belittle (fairy tale) or talk circles around people just because we might have more of a grasp of the scientific explanation.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

It is arbitrary if a disaster happened and we bottleneck through a single mating pair we have a new genetic adam and mitochondrial eve.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me

Except that “Y-chromosomal Adam” and “Mitochondrial Eve” were not a single mating pair and likely lived thousands of years apart.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Of course, probably be better to just call them genetic baselines.

Setanta's avatar

There appear to have been many so-called bottlenecks in human history—mankind teetered on edge of extinction more than once.

Those populations who left lived through very hard times. The people who became modern Europeans and Asians underwent a severe population bottleneck sometime between 100,000 and 30,000 years ago, getting down to as few as 1,000 people who were reproducing, it appears.

USA Today Science article from 2011

Basically, until the appearance of settled argriculturalists or semi-nomadic pastoralists about 10,000 years ago, humans were just another primate living on the edge.

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