01 March 2017

Is it true there's no such thing as race?

The Historical Society of Ottawa meeting on Friday saw Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey speaking on Ottawa's Black History. Along the way he stated that there is no such thing as race.

As a member of the human race I was surprised.

Rev. Bailey mentioned a 1950 UNESCO Statement on Race (starts on page 30 at http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001229/122962eo.pdf)

The Oxford English Dictionary has the following primary definition of race

A group of people, animals, or plants, connected by common descent or origin.
In its widest sense the term includes all descendants from an original stock, but may also be limited to a single line of descent or to the group as it exists at a particular period.

Oxford Reference says of race:

A classification system used to categorize humans into large and distinct populations. Race is not to be confused with ethnicity; the answer to the question ‘does race exist?’ is, biologically no, socially yes.

The same source says of ethnicity:

A highly elastic concept applied to groups who say they share or are perceived to share some combination of cultural, historical, racial, religious, or linguistic features. Ethnicity also often implies shared ancestral origins; thus there is thematic overlap with the older concept of peoples and some modern notions of race.

So race is "not to be confused" with the "highly elastic concept" of ethnicity which includes racial features in its definition!

At the end of his presentation I asked Rev Bailey whether he had any concern that DNA tests offered for genealogy risked exacerbating racial divisions. He appeared not to think so citing the difference between concepts of ethnicity and race.

Is there a reluctance to acknowledge the existence of race due to abhorrence of racism? The OED defines racism as:
A belief that one’s own racial or ethnic group is superior, or that other such groups represent a threat to one's cultural identity, racial integrity, or economic well-being.

Notice race and ethic are used considered equivalent.

Would we deny the existence of capital if we abhorred capitalism?

Following my question colleague Bryan Cook commented that DNA shows we are all "out of Africa."


Kat said...

Thanks, very interesting! I do believe that race is simply a social construct, basically used to classify or divide people. Nice to see that someone else agrees!

Bryan Douglas Cook said...

I believe that there is a Human Species, Homo sapiens, which has descended from other Species with origins almost exclusively on the African Continent. Genetically, we have mutated into Haplogroups,Clades and Sub-Clades which in common parlance could be called ethnicities or races and they comprise the wonderful fabric of Human Diversity on Earth....something in which we should all delight.The mutations are in response to environmental, radiological and sociological influences and serendipity. I prefer to use the terms ethnic and tribal origin and affiliation. Racism is drawing hateful distinctions between ethnicities and tribes which have no basis in science or sociology and are usually done for purposes of subjugation. Interestingly, we all may be morphing in a sociological sense, with consequent genetic mutation and at rates dependent on our state of anthropolical development, in a new species, Homo technicus. How many baby boomers can manipulate a tiny key pad with all fingers and thumbs while simultaneuosly double or triple tasking? Some modern babies and banjo players can!