Race As A Social Construct

As Ruth Frankenberg in her book The Social Construction of Whiteness: White Women, Race Matters argues, our daily lives are affected by race whether we are aware of it or not. We all see the world through a racial lens that colors our world black, white, Asian, Mexican, minority, or “other”. How we are seen and how we see others affects various domains of our lives and the lives of others; from the types of jobs we have, the amount of money we make, the kind of friends we make, the places we live, the foods we eat, the schools we go to, etc… The entire social structure we inhabit is affected by at least one social construction, race. Interestingly, most people in the United States (which consist of people of color) are aware of this, but have not dismantled it. Why is that?

Often times the word social construct is thrown around in various theoretical and general works without ever being defined or discussed. However, understanding what is meant by race as a social construct is vital to understanding the capacity race has to intersect and affect other aspects and domains of life and society, as well as how to dismantle it.

To begin, a social construct is ontologically subjective, but epistemologically objective. It is ontologically subjective in that the construction and continued existence of social constructs are contingent on social groups and their collective agreement, imposition, and acceptance of such constructions (for more on the notion of social constructions see The Construction of Social Reality by John Searle). There is nothing absolute or real about social constructions in the same way as there is something absolute and real about rocks, rivers, mountains, and in general the objects examined by physics. For example, the existence of a mountain is not contingent on collective acceptance, imposition, or agreement. A mountain will exist regardless of people thinking, agreeing or accepting that it does exist. Unlike a mountain, the existence of race requires that people collectively agree and accept that it does exist. Franz Boas, a physicist by training, supports this view of race best in his work Race, Language, and Culture where he observes that there is nothing biologically real about race. There is nothing that we have identified as race that exists apart from our collective agreement, acceptance, and imposition of its existence.

Race, although it does not exist in the world in any ontologically objective way, it still is real in society (as opposed to nature). Race is a social construction that has real consequences and effects. These effects, consequences and the notion that race is ontologically subjective is epistemologically objective. We know that race is something that is real in society, and that it shapes the way we see ourselves and others. Many rightly claim that race is conceptually unstable. However, this should not lead us to skepticism about race, i.e. that we cannot have any objective knowledge about race. We can know what race is and how it works regardless of the various shifts in meaning that have occurred through history and occur geographically.

The notion of race as a social construct I am proposing is partially captured by various works. In Takaki’s work A Different Mirror: A history of Multicultural America, race is a social construct produced by the dominant group in society and their power to define. In other words, the dominant group in society imposed the boundaries of group membership by defining race in terms of biology. If you were black, then you were biologically inferior to a white person. Takaki explains that Africans in America were first brought to America as indentured servants. After completing the terms of their servitude they were freed, and had the status of free men. The color line at the time had not been drawn. Nonetheless, with the growing population of free Africans in America, fear of losing hegemonic control began to spread through the white population. Due to this, race as a biological concept was developed and used to justify the enslavement of a growing free black population early in U.S. history. This initial biological understanding of race helped draw the color line. The boundaries of group membership were marked by skin color. Till this day the primary race indicator is skin color.

Frankenberg in her work The Social Construction of Whiteness expands on what race indicators and hence race identify today. She simply explains that race is an indicator of difference, but an indicator of what kind of difference she does not say. As we have seen through Boas’s work, there are no biological differences between different “races”. Additionally, race does not identify differences in culture and is always loosely connected to biology. According to Frankenberg culture is unbounded. We cannot conclusively say on the basis of skin color that someone participates in white, or black cultural practices (although many people still do). This notion of unbounded cultural practices is exemplified in Gary Taylor’s piece White Noise: What Eminem Can Tell Us About White America, where he describes a white man (Eminem) in the hip-hop culture. George Lipsitz in his work Lean on Me: Beyond Identity Politics also discusses how Joe Clark, a black man, engages in a form of racism that perpetuates white privilege and supremacy.

Jan Nederveen Pieterse’s work White Negroes, suggests that the difference Frankenberg speaks of is one of status. The meaning of race developed so far with Takaki, Boas, Frankenberg and now Pieterse suggests that race is a marker of status that includes or excludes one from broader social constructs and enables or disables certain powers. Race typically works through race indicators which are used to indicate which race you are, and consequently what sort of status you have in society, e.g. in President Jefferson’s time race indicated a status of slave or slave master. Since race and race indicators are collectively imposed and defined by the dominant group, so is one’s status. Additionally, since race is a social construct and is ontologically subjective, it continues to work only in virtue of collective agreement and acceptance. Many people may object that they are not part of the collective agreement and acceptance I am describing. Nonetheless, as Frankenberg discusses and admits she herself is evidence of, white people are often blind to racism and do not see the privileges they have due to their skin color. Regardless of white people being anti-racist, they participate within a racialized society which privileges them. As Frantz Fanon described in his book Black Skin, White Masks, many individuals may claim they are not racist while tacitly accept the dominant racist ideology by way of reaping the benefits coffered to them.

Let us summarize what we have said about what race is so far. First, race is a social construct contingent on collective acceptance, agreement, and imposition. Second, race has always been defined by the dominant group in society. Third, race indicates differences in status. The status indicated by which race you are, either includes or excludes one from broader social constructs, and disables or enables certain powers. To illustrate how this sort of understanding of race works let us look at the United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind case of 1923 and the United States v. Takao Ozawa case of 1922.

Thind, an Indian American man, filed for citizenship in the U.S. in 1923, and was denied on the basis of his not being white. The U.S. Supreme court found that while Indians were anthropologically categorized as Caucasian, the “understanding of the common man”, wrote Justice George Sutherland, “knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences”. Hence, despite being Caucasian, what many in the past (and almost everyone today) believed to be white, Thind was denied his status as white. The effects of the Supreme Court’s ruling retroactively affected all Indians who had already been granted citizenship. In the Takao Ozawa case in 1922, Takao argued that based on scientific evidence, he was white. Nonetheless, Justice Sutherland argued that he was not Caucasian, and hence could not be white, and consequently denied his citizenship. The rulings denying Takao and Thind’s citizenship strengthened anti-Asian sentiment.

The above cases demonstrate a profound kind of contradiction. The cases demonstrate a contradiction that was overlooked regardless of how obvious it was. Thind was not granted citizenship because he was not white, regardless of being Caucasian, and Ozawa was denied citizenship for not being Caucasian, despite being white. What allowed for this contradictory position to be maintained was the Supreme Court’s dominant status. The power Takaki describes is evident in the courts ruling. The common “white” man, and his status as dominant, allowed him to define the parameters of race, despite contradictions. As a result, Thind and Ozawa were excluded. By being excluded, by way of being denied citizenship, all the various powers enabled by the status of U.S. Citizen were disabled. Such powers included the right to vote, run for political office, and various other legal powers. In addition, other powers that are not as codified or legal, such as access to work unions, certain academic institutions, and certain neighborhoods were also disabled. The effects of the Supreme Court’s ruling trickled down and strengthened racist immigration policies, e.g. the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924, as well as affecting the lives of people of color in general.

The above contradiction points out how racist thinking has little to do with skin color, and much to do with status, power and fear. Roediger’s work Working Towards Whiteness exemplifies this point by showing how new immigrants, initially identified as “not white” but with an in-between status (regardless of having white skin), gained a new status (of white) and consequently- power. As we can see from the above cases and analysis, race is consistently utilized to maintain and control power due to fear of losing power and the current dominant position. Oddly enough, the ideology of white supremacy is inspired and maintained due to fear.

W.E.B. Du Bois in his work The Souls of White Folk questioned what it is about whiteness, that enables white men to commit crimes and not be condemned. In other words, he questioned why in virtue of being white, does a person have certain powers. With the analysis we have developed so far, we can answer Du Bois’s question. The answer is there is nothing inherent or intrinsic about white skin that enables white men to commit crimes and not be condemned. What enables white men to do so, is the structure of society in which they live. As we have seen, there is nothing ontologically objective about race and intrinsic or inherent in white skin that makes white people dominant. If there was, race would not be as fluid and unstable, and Thind or Ozawa would have been granted citizenship. Race and status are defined by the dominant group in society politically, economically, socio-culturally, and historically. The process of defining is made possible due to collective acceptance, agreement, and imposition. Additionally, the definition produced by the dominant group in society is constituted by collective acceptance, agreement, and imposition.

Frantz Fanon and his notion of socio-therapy, as developed in Black Skin, White Masks, advises that in order for racism to cease, society must abandon the notion of race. Fanon believed that only after society had realized that race is not real, would it overcome racism. Fanon is logically correct in assuming that racism will end when we no longer see through a racial lens, yet he is wrong in assuming that race is not real and that removing the lens is possible. To illustrate how he is wrong, take for instance Russell Simmons’ position towards homophobia and sexism in hip-hop. Simmons’ position is similar to Fanons. Simmons believes that by eliminating the words “nigger”, “bitch”, and “hoe” from hip-hop, it will solve the problem of homophobia and sexism within hip-hop culture. This is obviously misdirected because it simply evades the root of the problem. Frankenberg’s notion of power-evasive racist discourse can directly critique both Simmons and Fanon.

Thus far, I have repeatedly said that social constructs are contingent on collective acceptance, agreement, and imposition. It seems only natural to suppose that race will disappear altogether, as Fanon had hoped, once society stops collectively agreeing, accepting, and continuously imposing the notion of race. Nonetheless, this is a naïve supposition. Racism is engrained not only in the minds of people, but in the structure of society itself. Our legal system, our prison system, our educational system, our housing system, and various other aspects of society are all racialized. Take for example, Roediger’s assessment of the housing market after the Federal Housing Act in the 1930’s. Roediger shows how even capitalism–a layer in the foundation of U.S. democracy–is racialized by showing that the value of neighborhoods decreased and increased according to how it was racially organized. The more black people lived in a neighborhood the more the value of homes in that neighborhood would decrease. Abandoning the notion of race is not the solution to racism and white privilege. No matter how much we may attempt to make our legal language and documents racially neutral, race will always remain in the minds of people. Frankenberg’s notion of race cognizance seems to be a more viable and productive option. At the least, we have to come to terms with race, not abandon it but be aware of it, and understand it. Nonetheless, the general idea expressed in Fanon’s notion of socio-therapy (change society to cure the patient) seems to be correct. However, the change is not the abandonment of race, but instead a paradigm shift, or a revolution in the way race and differences are understood.

59 thoughts on “Race As A Social Construct

  1. The problem is solving itself, and it’s solving itself in a way that no one would have ever predicted. Or, I should say, in a way that was has long been feared. Racism is ending simply because there are more brown people than there are white people having babies. I personally saw how “white flight” changed my city, and has radicalized my city. But now there are no other places for white people to “flee” to in the wake of Latino and black encroachment; at least in my metropolitan area. People are learning to deal with race and other races simply because they have to. And in all honesty, races are redefining what their race can do achieve, or not achieve. For my part, I actually prefer people to categorize me as black rather than as some kind of “exception”, because I show the diversity that dwells within black people, even if it’s not perceived by outsiders. It’s like my college, I’m a black student that does exceptionally well in science and math classes, so well that I frequently help Asians and whites with their math or science even though people would have assumed that this would be impossible 50 years ago, and some still assume impossible to this very day. When you have to deal with people in the real world you find that some do well, some fail and that those that fail and do well aren’t necessarily tied to a certain race, but have certain values that propel them forward or that fail them. The question isn’t whether there are or are not biological differences b/w races. There are differences that we can see and measure, the question we have to ask is whether those differences are so great that it explains every disparity we see in society. I highly doubt that is the case, and only someone completely delusional or beholden to “genetic” reasoning would follow this notion. Stereotypes seep into our minds without anyone having to announce them…I don’t know how but they do, and it starts at a very young age. So from the very beginning we get ideas of who will succeed and who won’t by the racial categories we belong to. White people are for the first time having to understand that they are white and having to grapple with that. I’m not a person that is in favor of any vindication for past racism, actually I am stalwartly against because I think it would only divide society even more. Groupism has long been a problem if you follow European history. So looking at it roughly America simply created a privilege class, and this time you’re apart of this class if you’re white. And you’re not apart of this class if you’re black. Rather it be divine right, family lineage, or genetics there always has to be a reasoning as for why a person occupies a certain level of society. I believe that it will take time, but society will change on its own.

    1. you have missed the point; all that article shows is that certain couples have exhibited dispositions towards prenatal health issues

      to refer to these people as white, asian and so on is to take it, as a premise, that concepts of race are meaningful.

      you have assumed that race is a biological concept and then argued – on that assumption – that race is a biological concept

      circular arguments such as this are necessarily invalid.

      perhaps you wish to define race in terms of prenatal dispositions towards certain health issues? but this would hardly tie in with the established norms of society, let alone justify them

  2. If race is defined by the dominant group in society “politically, economically, socio-culturally, and historically”, and this definition holds up due to collective agreement, racism is very much alive and well within the structure of our society. If it wasn’t, definitions of race would not change so fluidly to meet whatever need the dominant ideology required at any given moment in time. It would then not be that easy to eradicate by removing the “racial lens” because this lens is not just over our eyes, but is a part of the very foundations of society. So, abandoning the notion of race altogether may not be possible, but perhaps becoming aware of race and understanding it will get us a little closer to seeing how it does not apply, thus abandoning the current negative view associated with race differences.

    1. and yet we still have not figured out exactly how to rectify the very root of our issues…the issue of racism. We all know its all within us, everyone of us is somehow affected by the social programming. social programming is designed and carried on From dominant group to an inferior group, just like when a Japanese lost a war against U.S and U.S imposed their political culture to the Japnese..
      We are all very much aware that race difference exists and what it does to us..
      However, we have no clue on how to embrace our “differences” Why would a majority group may feel the necessity to accept minority group’s culture ? do they need to ? Not really. Why?
      These notions so fundamental and yet we do not quite yet grasp it nor are we going to do anything major towards this issue…untill something big happens that may shift the current balance of world power…eg. fast developing countries becomes a modernized countries but without westernization and chooses its own and “began influencing and expanding its own cultural dominance onto other neighboring countries…
      I do believe on the notion that in order for us to truly embrace our differences, we do need to first understand the components that makes up what the term “race difference” really is…

      Those formula of components can be made up of
      Culture + Religion + Hitorical acchievment = Race difference.

      If we look at it this way, how many of us in North america really do know about asian culture…do we really need to know about them, their culture, way of life? instead we deploy our notorious preconceived notion of what they should be. Likewise, people who lives in Asia will most likely have no real clue what North Amercian culture is. I believe we currently live in a world where we are very slowly starting to at least acknolwdge it and few people dare to embrace our differences..

      I do believe in the notion that “might is right” does indeed applies here. Will the race differences ultimately be the real motivating factor behind world war III ? highly possible. Why the U.S and other european powers keeping a pressure on Iran over the nuclear enrichment projects? its because it is fuelled by the race difference…its culture, religion..so much differences when in fact they have got enough of their own WMD to wipe out half of the nations
      Hence, the War will quicken the issue of our race differenences.

      untill then embracing for other race seems not be that predominant among majority of human population. We need some tangible action and this War unfortunately will fix our struggle for our own rights of exsitence.

  3. Race is definitely a real thing in our world. The only question I have is, what does the notion of race add to our understanding of differences. I understand that there may be “risks” (in reference to the link provided by Razib) if you are an Asian woman and marry a white man, but does the fact that there are differences among geographically diverse populations justify the notion of race as a legitimate biological concept. Should we classify individuals that have a history of cancer in their family as part of a different race because if you marry into such a family the risk of your children having cancer is higher?

    Race is used as an indicator of difference, there is no denying that. But along with this notion of difference, a ton of other notions get smuggled in. For instance, if you are white then you are better off than you would be if you were black. What does that have to do with biology?

  4. “Should we classify individuals that have a history of cancer in their family as part of a different race because if you marry into such a family the risk of your children having cancer is higher?”

    no, because generally i think race (or population structure) as giving a good sense of total genome content similarity across individuals and populations.

    “For instance, if you are white then you are better off than you would be if you were black. What does that have to do with biology?”

    nothing in a direct sense. but in any case, the point of course might be that it can BOTH be a social construct and a biological one without the utility of one negating the utility of the other. but, they’re not totally independent either. social constructions of race often draw upon intuitions of what features are salient, and those salient features (i.e., skin color, hair form) are often (but not always) biological rooted.

    1. similarity, as in “total genome content similarity across individuals and populations”, is a matter of degree – one can be more similar or less similar to another, but, short of being identical, every individual is at some point on the same scale.

      how do you propose to draw meaningful lines between supposed races when your own criteria for determining said lines are fundamentally indeterminate?

      perhaps you have heard of the sorites paradox?

  5. Razib, is it race or population structure? My point is, that “usually” race does not refer to just population structure, at least not in America. Granted that it is used to index to a group of people that have ties to some geographic location and specific phenotypic features. But, attached to this, are also certain powers that are either enabled or disabled depending on what race you are identified as. These powers and meanings have nothing to do with biology. For instance (and this may be a crude example, but it might help), the “Asian Race” is used to index to people from Asia. Typically people who are of Asian descent are identified by certain phenotypic features. If you exhibit these phenotypic features, most often certain powers in society are enabled for you. This is due to the notion (at least in America) that Asians are the “model minority”. As such, you may have a better chance at getting a completive job, a loan, etc…

    Can we make do in biology and other related fields, without the notion of race? I think we can.

    With that being said, I agree with Tamika’s point that we cannot simply get rid of the notion of race. Rather, a different understanding of race should be developed. To start, biology (and other fields that continue to use the notion of race) should stop using it. Their use of this notion only legitimizes the added meanings and powers attached to it.

    1. This posting is hardly a “comment” or “reply.” May I suggest that, if you want to publish or post your own paper or article, you do so and not publish it as a “comment”.

  6. The K9 Comparison—What Dogs Tell Us About Humans

    By Frank Miele

    We share about 97% of our genes with chimpanzees. But when Francis Crick, co-discoverer with James D. Watson of the double helix structure of DNA, was asked what unraveling the chimpanzee genome would tell us about human differences he replied: “I wouldn’t waste any American money on the chimp”.

    The dog genome, Crick went on, would be a better target—because dogs vary so widely in appearance and behavior that unraveling their DNA would reveal much more about the influence of genes.

    Canine evolution, because of dog breeding, has been run in fast forward—in some cases, before our very eyes.

    In an informative experiment, Dmitry Balyaev selectively bred foxes [PDF] to show neither fear nor aggression when approached by humans. But the foxes changed in more than just their behavior. They developed floppy ears, short or curly tails, an extended reproductive cycle—successive generations literally becoming more dog-like before the experimenter’s eyes—probably the result of changes in hormone levels.

    And a recent study by the Max Planck Institute has demonstrated that that in certain cognitive tasks our canine best friends are more like us than are our simian nearest relatives. Fourteen-month old humans and almost any dog, but not even the brightest chimp, can use human pointing as a cue to find a food reward. Researchers Brian Hare and Mike Tomasello concluded [PDF] that this ability is heritable and due to recent selection, since wolves cannot do it.

    Dog breeds provide the classic case study of within-species differentiation. Those who would dismiss race and race differences regularly point out that DNA differences between races are minimal. But , as Vincent Sarich demonstrated in Race: The Reality of Human Differences (pp. 170 – 173) human racial differences in morphology are greater than in any non-domesticated species. They are around ten times the difference between the sexes within each race and larger than the differences that distinguish the two species of chimpanzee. Despite minimal genetic differences, human physical racial differences are clearly observable.

    Likewise for dogs. But only recently has genetic analysis been able to distinguish between breeds—or even between dogs and wolves.

    All the differences in body shape, size, color, internal chemistry, and behavior between the hundreds of breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, the Kennel Club UK, and the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (the World Canine Federation) are based on very few genes.

    But while it’s OK to talk about differences among dog breeds, not so for human races. Unfortunately, this has been true even in scientific circles. And that in itself is instructive.

    The classic study was carried out by Daniel G. Freedman for his doctoral dissertation. Freedman spent every day and evening rearing four dog breeds—Beagles, Wire-haired Fox Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Basenjis—from age two to twelve weeks.[See Constitutional and Environmental Interactions in Rearing of Four Breeds of Dogs D. G. FREEDMAN, Science March 14, 1958 (Pay archive)]

    He noticed that as soon as their ears and eyes opened, the breeds differed in behavior. Little Beagles were friendly from the moment they detected him. Shetland Sheepdogs were the most sensitive to a loud voice or the slightest punishment. The Wire-haired Fox Terriers were so tough and aggressive, even as clumsy three-week olds, that Freedman had to wear gloves in playing with them The Basenjis, barkless dogs from central Africa, were aloof and independent.

    Many of today’s breed differences are cosmetic. But originally breeds were selected to excel in certain elements of the basic wolf-dog ethogram [behavioral repertoire] and reduce or eliminate others. All of these differences, including the barklessness of the Basenji, make perfect sense in terms of what we know about the traits for which the different breeds were, or were not, selected.

    Beagles are scent hounds. They run in packs and use their sense of smell, which is better than that of almost all other breeds, to track fox and other small game.

    They have been selected not only for increased olfactory tracking ability, but also diminished aggression. Beagles are a band of brothers (often literally). They all have a job to do. They are usually kenneled together, and howl to other members of the pack when finding a scent or needing help.

    Fox hunting is sometimes called “riding to hounds” because that is what one does, mounted on horseback and following the pack as its members pick up the fox’s scent.

    Fox Terriers come in two varieties, Wire-haired and Smooth-haired, but this is largely a cosmetic difference. Like Beagles, they were bred for fox hunting, but their job is quite different. The Fox Terrier literally gets a free ride in the hunter’s saddlebag—at least, that is, until the fox, as they say, “goes to earth”. No fun that for the hunters because it ends the chase and their chance to bag the fox. Game to the fox…or so it would seem.

    But this is where the terrier earns his seemingly free ride and free lunches. The hunter grabs him by his short tail and hurls him to the ground. His job is to run into the den and convince the fox to resume the game by “making him an offer he can’t refuse”.

    No beagle in his right mind would want any part of this. Terriers, on the other hand, are born scrappers. There is a reason why we have the expression “a pack of hounds”, but not “a pack of terriers”. Rather than a peaceful assembly the latter would quickly become a canine gladiatorial.

    Even the smallest terrier, like the Jack Russell (made famous by the TV shows Frasier and Wishbone) thinks nothing about taking on a Rottweiler or a Pit Bull. Hence another dog saying: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog”.

    Among terriers, “two’s company, three’s battle royal”. Many people have purchased Jack Russells, thinking they’ll have a companion like the one on TV, only to find they’ve brought a canine Mike Tyson into their house. (With its recent popularity, breeders have started to select for less aggressiveness in the Jack Russells. Dedicated fanciers of any breed will tell you the worst thing that can happen is for it to become popular overnight because of some movie or television show. The heightened demand is met by the unscrupulous “puppy mills”. And even a dog from a reputable breeder can end up with an owner or family totally unsuited for him.)

    The third breed in Freedman study: the Shetland Sheepdog, often affectionately termed “Shelties”, or incorrectly, and to the great annoyance of their owners, “Miniature Collies”. They are indeed sheep herding, not sheep protecting, dogs.

    The Sheltie motto is “herd ‘ em, don’t hurt ’em”. They have been selected for being very responsive to commands from humans and for inhibiting the part of their wolf ancestry that says “look at all that nice mutton, here for the taking”.

    Shelties are excellent dogs for obedience training and competition. When I took my Great Dane, Payce, to K9 obedience school he was the second-best pupil in the class. A Sheltie was Number 1.

    One of the most basic behaviors taught in obedience school is for the dog to walk alongside the handler and stop and sit as soon as the handler halts, its front paws parallel with the handler’s toes.

    Payce had no trouble learning to sit. At 127 pounds and over 6 feet tall when he gets up on his hind legs, however, it wasn’t that easy for him to put on the brakes and stop on a dime. The Sheltie almost always stopped and sat dead even with her handler.

    Then one time the Sheltie goofed and ended up about six inches out in front. She looked around, and quickly backed up until her front paws were dead even with her handler toes, hoping he wouldn’t notice—very much as I had in basic training, hoping to avoid the gaze of the drill instructor.

    Everyone in the obedience class noticed the Sheltie’s miscue and attempted cover-up. The instructor—quite unlike my DI—pointed to it gleefully as an example of just how much the dogs can learn. Shelties been selected for both canine IQ and canine conscientiousness.

    Fourth in the Freedman study: the Basenji.

    Basenijis are more recently domesticated than most of the better-known breeds. Like wolves, they have never added barking to their behavioral repertoire. (Barking may be an exaggeration of the pup calling to its mother which human selection has enhanced as a means of dog-master communication).

    With their tails carried up in a corkscrew, Basenjis belong to a group called pariah dogs, which includes semi-domesticated breeds around the world. (When humans cease selective breeding of dogs, the distinctive breed traits disappear, the surviving dogs take on a pariah-like appearance and the full wolf-canine behavioral repertoire resurfaces.)

    Basenjis do not lack canine IQ, but they are at the opposite pole from the Shelties in conscientiousness. They don’t like taking orders from their owners. They are born canine scofflaws.

    In another classic study, experimenters put some dog chow out for the pups and told them “No!” Then they would leave the room to observe the pups through a one-way mirror to see if they would go for food. If they did, the experimenter would go back into the room and scold them “No!” while also swatting them on their backside, painlessly, with a newspaper. [Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog, By John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller]

    Shelties are so given to inhibiting, they wouldn’t touch the food. Some of them even had to be hand-nursed back into feeding again. Basenjis, on the other hand, started to chow down the minute the experimenter turned his back, before he even left the room.

    A third study compared the same four breeds in getting through a series of increasingly difficult mazes. The breed differences were not in the ability to master the mazes (a rough measure of canine IQ) but in what they would do when placed a maze they couldn’t master.

    The Beagles howled, hoping that another member of their pack would howl back and lead them to the goal. The inhibitory Shelties simply laid down on the ground and waited. The pugnacious Fox Terriers tried to tear down the walls of the maze. The Basenjis saw no reason to play by the rules and began jumping over walls of the maze.

    But what does this have to do with humans? Professor Freedman wrote that

    “I had worked with different breeds of dogs and I had been struck by how predictable was the behavior of each breed. A breed of dog is a construct zoologically and genetically equivalent to a race of man. To look at us, my wife and I [Freedman is Jewish; his wife Chinese], my wife and I were clearly of two different breeds. Were some of our behavioral differences determined by breed?” [Human Sociobiology: A Holistic Approach]

    Freedman and his wife set about designing experiments to test that hypothesis. Their story is interesting not just for its scientific results and for the different receptions they received in even the most prestigious scientific journals.

    The Freedmans decided to observe the behavior of newborns and infants of different races using the Cambridge Behavioral and Neurological Assessment Scale. Unlike the typical reflex tests performed by pediatricians, these tests, called the “Brazelton” after their developer, measure social and emotional behavior. [The Manner Born: Birth Rites in Cross-Cultural Perspective, Chapter 13, Ethnic Differences in Babies]

    The Freedmans found that European American and Chinese American newborns reacted differently even though hospital conditions and prenatal care were the same.

    White babies started to cry more easily, and once they started, they were more difficult to console. Chinese babies adapted to almost any position in which they were placed. When placed face down in their cribs, they tended to keep their faces buried in the sheets rather than immediately turning to one side, as did the Whites.

    In a maneuver called the “defense reaction” by neurologists, the baby’s nose was briefly pressed with a cloth, forcing him to breathe with his mouth. Most Caucasian and black babies fight the maneuver by immediately turning away or swiping at the cloth with their hands. Not surprisingly, this is listed in Western pediatric textbooks as the normal, expected response.

    But not so the average Chinese babies in the study. They simply lay on their back, breathing from the mouth, “accepting” the cloth without a fight.

    There were other more subtle differences. While both Chinese and Caucasian infants would start to cry at about the same point in the examination, especially when they were being undressed, Chinese babies stopped crying immediately, while Caucasian babies quieted only gradually.

    The Freedman noted that the film of their finding left audiences awestruck by the group differences.

    They then tested Navajo babies. Anthropology, linguistics, and DNA agree that Amerinds have a relatively recent Asian origin. And the behavior of the Navajo babies was indeed like that of the Chinese-Americans, not the Whites.

    Freedman submitted the paper on racial differences in neonate behavior to Science, the most prestigious scientific journal in the U.S. It had published his study behavioral differences in pups of different dog breeds without any problem or controversy.

    The paper on race differences, however, was rejected by a split vote of the reviewers.

    Freedman then submitted it to Nature, the British analogue to Science. It again received a split decision from the judges. Fortunately, the editor broke the deadlock by casting his deciding vote in favor of publication. [Behavioural Differences between Chinese–American and European–American Newborns D. G. Freedman & Nina Chinn Freedman, Nature December 20, 1969]

    Freedman’s studies are important because they used a comparable experimental design for humans and dogs. And although our society does not automatically consider being more or less active as being better or worse, unlike IQ, differences, race differences in behavior among humans were viewed even by scientists as too hot to handle.

    Group differences can be a life or death issue in which ideology should have no place. Take pharmacogenetics, the study of genetic differences in the tolerance and effectiveness of medicinal drugs.

    Breed differences are taken for granted in the Veterinary Drug Handbook (analogous to the Physician’s Desk Reference). Two examples

    * Ivermectin

    The active ingredient in the most commonly prescribed medicine for prevention of heart worms, it is quite safe used in the proper dosage, killing the parasites without having any adverse effect on the dog—except for Collies, Collie-like breeds, and Collie-mixes. For them, the same amount of Ivermectin that wouldn’t faze a Chihuahua can be fatal.

    * Thiopental

    This ultra-short acting tranquilizer is potentially lethal for greyhounds, whippets, and similar breeds. The lightly-built coursing and racing dogs carry more muscle and much less fat than other breeds. Fat is able to take up more barbiturate than muscle. Coursers take much longer to metabolize the drug in their system. Veterinarians use different tranquilizers

    Does race have any place in human medicine? The answer increasingly is “yes”.

    * Hypertension

    African American patients, on average, do not benefit as much as whites from ACE (Angiotensin Converting Enzyme) inhibitors, a standard treatment for heart failure.

    This is probably because of race differences in nitric oxide, which is produced by the cells that line our blood vessels and dampens contraction of the muscle cells, relaxing the vessels and lowering blood pressure. Blacks are more likely than whites to have nitric oxide insufficiency. Why, no one currently knows.

    Jay N. Cohn, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, has patented a drug called BiDil which is a combination diuretic and vessel dilator that replenishes nitric oxide. The Food and Drug Administration authorized the testing of BiDil, the Association of Black Cardiologists has recruited patients, and the Congressional Black Caucus has supported the project. And with good cause—Blacks have twice the rate of heart failure as whites, and those afflicted are twice as likely to die.

    * Tuberculosis

    Isoniazid was introduced soon after the end of WWII to combat tuberculosis. It was soon found that the drug was not very effective in Eskimos because they have a variant enzyme which metabolizes the drug so rapidly that it never has a chance to be effective.

    At least in medicine, humanitarianism and common sense are increasingly trumping ideology for humans as well as for dogs.

    The take-home lessons from our brief look at ourselves, our best friends, and our nearest relatives are:

    * Small DNA differences can produce large and significant differences in body shape, size, internal chemistry, and even behavior and cognition.

    * Changes in all three are often linked because of the action of a small number of “regulator” (master) genes.

    * When the selection pressure is high enough, changes can take place in a very short time—the stronger the pressure, the less evolutionary time required

    * These differences can be of vital importance in both human and veterinary medicine—and in human behavior.

    One can only hope that we can learn to handle group differences in humans as intelligently and humanely as we do those in dogs.

    Race: The Reality of Human Differences by Vincent Sarich and Frank Miele.

  7. You mis-understand Fanon. In Black Skin White Masks, Fanon is calling for a re-definition of what is considered human by Western Philosophy.

  8. Do you think maybe you can point me in the right direction by giving me some passages in the book that suggests this? I’m curious about this, because I’ve never heard this before?

  9. For an overview of the literature you can also check out the FAQ section on John Goodrum’s sites which contains more detailed references.

    The gene expression website contains pretty up to date information on genetic research.

    In terms of the canine analogy, you can also see
    James Serpell’s The Domestic Dog:

    ”Recently using genetic and biochemical methods researchers have shown domestic dogs to be virtually identical . . . to other members of the genus . . . Results using mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) data . . . reveal startling similarities among canids . . . Greater mtDNA differences appeared within the single breeds of Doberman Pinscher or poodle than between dogs and wolves . . . to keep things in perspective, it should be pointed out that there is less mtDNA difference between dogs, wolves, and coyotes, than there is between ethnic groups of human beings.” (pp. 32-33)” http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/004046.html

  10. I was just wondering who this article is by…?
    I want to use it as a reference in an essay I’m writing and it’d be helpful if I knew the name of the person haha.

  11. “There is nothing that we have identified as race that exists apart from our collective agreement, acceptance, and imposition of its existence”.

    Exactly the same as our definition of subspecies, and even, perhaps to a lesser extent our definition of species. These too are ‘ ontologically subjective, but epistemologically objective’.

  12. it is a bit of an open door and i like the neonatal experiment as it was taken to native americans, but baby’s are culturally shaped when they are born (proven to respond to sounds etc), and longer term exposure to social circumstances does induce heartfailure for a lot of reasons (alchohol, deathrates, food-deficiencies any nr of other factors.)famously ‘lower class’ whites in europe generally also feature more prominent heartfaillure.

    otoh i see absolutely no reason to suppose different population would not be bound to be different through the consequences of their genetical layouts. it is merely predictable that the relatively limited european and asian genes can express that the strongest. For example european people have a gene against cold (it redistributes energy to heat production), it is not fast to express and thus you see a lot of coloured people shiver when it starts freezing. also it has been supposed that the mere administrative system of china over several millenia shaped some of the chinese psychology.

    that traits that are redisputably derived long before, (2 1.5 0.8Ma, or all of that and more ) but in any instance moved very slow most often (the dental layout is so about’s site specific in the paleolythic, and btw so are the crania as far as we can still observe) makes it completely obvious a diversity of characteristics (to the limit of only the variation of the human genome) can be applied to any such existing genetical nuclei.(in the sense of geographical regions).

  13. Enjoyed this paper and think it makes some excellent points. I am very tired of my Jewish friends insisting that there is a “Jewish race.”

    Not only is that patently ridiculous (just as a notion of a Catholic race or a Muslim or Buddhist “race” would be) — they are also supporting and promoting a tool of their oppression.

    What stuns me, though is that I do not find the name of the author of this paper anywhere!

  14. It is trivial I know, but in the discussion of racial differences, let us consider musicians. Trumpet players are NOT equal to guitarists, otherwise they would play guitar and guitar players would play trumpet. The question of who is superior is ridiculous: if our bands play well together the song sounds good.

    And yet I find myself thinking that there are very real differences between trumpeters and guitarists. I learnt guitar with relatively little effort, yet my few attempts on trumpet have been – at best – horrible noises produced at the expense of great difficulty. My brother has been a good trumpeter and trombonist for ever, yet is a barely adequate guitarist.

    We can discuss these differences without having people get angry at us. We can admit to being good, bad, bewildered; or ignorant but in tune (a common state). But once similar differences are noted between races it becomes a politically charged issue. People wave their metaphorical arms. Fusses are made.

    I for one am sick of it. The truth is being obscured. And consider: how offended would I get if I was told that I would always be a useless trumpeter? Not at all – it is the truth.

    P B

    1. How does this apply to people at large? This is the problem you have, you see racial groups as individuals when of course this is impossible. Yes, you sucked at Trumpet, but does that mean all black people suck at trumpet, or even most black people suck at trumpet?

  15. Of course it’s only the white people (The ones who control the American media) who push for people to continue using race as a classifier.

    You want to keep the power for yourself. You bastards.

  16. If race has no bearing on achievements, then where are the great negroid, Asian and Mestizo composers, artists, sculptors, musicians, discoverors, explorers? As that insipid and ill-read, jewish, non-white, literary hack Frankeneberg wants us all to believe that we’re all the same, it’s no wonder she writes such blatant, carefully picked sources that support her ignoble effort at scientific deception and re-writing. She has no right or ability to call herself white when clearly her genetic make up is Khazarian.

    1. You are a dumb fucking moron to believe what you posted about great white master minds, white Europeans had a natural geographic advantage by their location between Africa the Middle East and Asia. Moreover who gives a flying fuck how much they discovered the very fact that you consider musical orchestral composition and exploration of the world to be praiseworthy “achievements” is the epitome of relativism and socially constructed values that shaped your primitive and simplistic outlook of the world. There is no way to prove that white imperialism in culture, warfare, exploration, conquests and so forth have been more beneficial than nomadic culture and its precipitates in the Serengeti Desert and its Human Constituents…whites also brought the possibility of Nuclear Holocaust, and AIDS by this logic of upward building and fealty to fetishisms of capitalism. Fuck you Mark Martin you dumb motherfucker of the world.

      Sincerely, Motherfucker of the World.
      p.s. fuck you and yours, cunt.

    2. Also the greatest Academicians are Jewish, Indian, Asian and of other Minorities. Arabs preserved great texts and expanded on ancient Greek knowledge when your white ancestors were in the dark ages in quasi paganish christianity, begging biblical figures and phantoms to save them. Without minorities you would not be able to read, write, have electricity, formal government or any other structures you probably so dearly enjoy. Why don’t you read a fucking book? Actually save the money and time buy a bullet and rent a gun and kill yourself you savage moron. Even in warfare whites have stolen tactics from Native Americans, since they were genius in warfare. You have no right to talk as a white man, I am half white and my Uncle earned a Silver Star in Vietnam, my father is a doctor and also served in the U.S. Air Force as an officer and pilot and Army as a green beret, you know not even a fraction of either of these great patriots one an anglo and the other and arab.

  17. so youre seriously suggesting that the racial differences are solely from “social construction of whiteness”? there are certain behaviors of each race..and by the way you are writing i can tell you are black-still angry about slavery by white man…do more research and you will find that your african masters sold you, they still deal in the slave trade, seriously,look it up. black people def have their own traits that dont co-mingle with the rest of civilized society….they are, generally, loud,obnoxious,rude,dirty,no interest to better themselves,lousy parenting skills,unevolved attitude-like they can never think of anything except when they were slaves….sound familiar? every other race AND gender has gone through a great deal of hardships and they came out of it…look at ALL women, look at the jewish people for gods sake!! they went through a holocaust, thousands of their people were slaughtered,people are still talking negative about them, but today they own half of this country-if not more. so what is the excuse for blacks…ok #1 they dont have proper diet to nourish their brains, #2 they live in bad environments with gangs and the such so they cant possibly concentrate on anything onstructive,#3 people call them black, or negro (which is another name for black) yeah, none of those excuses work for me. stop blaming everyone else for your failures. i honestly dont think the black race can achieve anything more, but id like to stop hearing them complain about it all the time. they have such a negative attitude all the time about everything, i cant stand being around them.

  18. Social construct?

    Racial differences in pelvic anatomy?http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18378751

    Racial differences in gestation period?http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2608264/

    Anatomical differences in the psoas muscles in young black and white men

    Taboo: Why black athletes dominate sports and why we’re afraid to talk about it. By Jon Entine.

    The Inconvenient Science of Racial DNA Profiling

    Serum testosterone levels in healthy young black and white men

    Black-white differences in hip geometry

    Scientists find great genetic differences among southern Africans

    Human genetic variation

    In DNA Era, New Worries About Prejudice By AMY HARMON

  19. Smith, how many blacks have you been around before in all your life.? Your statement that ‘the black race can’t achieve anything more’ is a non- statement. If your kind stop the brainwashing, dark-skinned people will be better off than you and your kind.This you know and thus develop a skillful brainwashing exercise for the unsuspecting dark-skinned people. You can get a few but not all. The language you used even shows your level of rudeness as compared to you counterparts. If you don’t want to hear them complain, close your ears. Life is full of choices.

  20. Blast from the past. 1960’s countercultralism. And pure Nurture over nature. Biology perhaps also 1960’s.
    Well not so long ago it was discovered that the rest of us but not Africans have some genetic material inherited from Neanderthals. Another group Desinovans also contributed to certain groups and there is no reason to suggest that we will not find other Eurasian ancestry that contributed genetic material to separate Asians from Caucasians.
    Second there is just a plethora of studies about how animal groups tend to separate themselves by their DNA. Pre-speciation beior.hav
    I suspect that a number of findings in the social sciences will have their basis in such separation mechanisms.
    And just for the counter-culturists, most racial groups avoid interbreeding with other groups and the term “half-breed” has rather ubiquitous analogs.
    We are animals first and then maybe a few of us manage to put that behind us.
    That wonderful song from “South Pacific” that suggests prejudice has to be taught, alas is only true in Bali Hi.

  21. I actually have to disagree with the lack of genetic difference between races. There has been a plethora of studies indicating physical differences in physical prowess, testosterone levels, etc. that can’t be attributed solely to cultural interference. I stress the most that “different” is not “worse” or “better.” You can’t completely disregard that if you watch an NBA game 82% of the players are black, even though the game of basketball was originally played by white men. Also, this article seems to suggest that if the social construct of “race” were to disappear the lines between us would also. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Whether we want to believe it or not, our skin would still be different colors.

    Using Eminem as a reference to indicate racial differences were merely cultural differences is flawed in that Eminem is completely unique in his style than the majority of black hip-hop artists. Do I believe that racism is still alive and well. Absolutely. Do I think there is a propensity to white supremacy, particularly in America. Yes, I do. However, utilizing pre-Civil Rights court cases and references is not the way to expose it, nor is trying to pretend race is no more than a figment of our cognitive biases. Conservative policies in America continue again, and again never fail to separate the rich, white elite from the poor, urban minorities. I say minorities not because ONLY minorities are poor, but because of the social inequality that has taken place in our past and present, you can’t talk about poverty without talking about race due to the high percentage of the minority poor. Unregulated capitalism in its purist form prevents those who have started at the bottom (many numbers of minorities have due to continued racism after the abolition of slavery, even after the Civil Rights movement) from competing in the market. The canon of capitalism is to create profit, not jobs or rights.

    Finally, I do agree with Fanon’s final point that to cure society of racism, is not to end race, but for a paradigm shift. For all the reasons in the article, there are sociocultural differences between race NOW even if there are no biological differences other than the evolution of skin color based on region. We cannot pretend we are all the same, rather accept that we are all different and that is just fine. Being black, white, orange, red, green, yellow, purple, doesn’t hurt anybody, nor does breing straight, gay, bisexual, transsexual. Hate is perpetuated by ignorance and lack of understanding is what gave birth to racism.

    1. I think what the author is referring to is where the racial lines are drawn is entirely arbitrary, and entirely based on whether someone passes (in terms of superficial outward features) for a certain ‘race’ or not. As for any biological basis:

      “In the United States both scholars and the general public have been conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions within the human species based on visible physical differences. With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within “racial” groups than between them. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species.”

      – from ‘Statement on ‘Race’ (1998) by the American Anthropological Association http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_(classification_of_humans)#U.S._anthropology

    2. I don’t think our views actually differ that much. I think where we get side tracked is the intent of the piece. The intent is to point out how race is socially constructed. I don’t believe that race and racism will ever end, and we are far from the days when we will stop utilizing it as valid biological concept (just look at all the comments on this page for and against this notion). The concepts will always remain entrenched in society, case in point how its been institutionalized in American capitalism. Evidence of this is clearly apparent in the value of a house in different neighborhoods (e.g. anecdotal but still a good example… how the value of a home decreases as soon as minorities move into a neighborhood)

      But… if race is socially constructed, and we are its constructers, why shouldn’t we deconstruct, rebuild, and improve it so that it is a concept that makes our world better?

  22. “Race as a social construct”
    I’m sure that the banker won’t see “Money as a social construct”, and I don’t expect that race, genetic variance, taxonomy etc are any different.

    1. Money is a social construction, and you’re right the banker will not see money as a social construct because for all intensive purposes he does not need to.

      What makes money different from any other piece of paper are the institutions that backs it, and institutions are nothing more than social constructions– but lets not open up another can of worms here.

      I’m not suggesting that to be ontologically subjective is the same as not being real. Money is real, so is race, genetic variance, taxonomy etc…

      What I am suggesting is that race (or more precise racism) is not a stable concept, and that what exactly it is has fluctuated over time because of it’s subjective ontology.

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