Tag Archives: Race, genetics

Using George Zimmerman as an object lesson in the anthropology of policing

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this guest column from Kevin Karpiak. Kevin is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology at Eastern Michigan University.  His work focuses on policing as a useful nexus for exploring questions in both political anthropology and the anthropology of morality.  He is currently completing a manuscript based on his dissertation research (UC Berkeley 2009), entitled The Police Against Itself: refiguring French liberalism after the social, which provides an ethnographic account of the ethical work undertaken by police officers, administrators, educators and citizens as they experiment with new forms of sociality “after the social moment” in France.  He also maintains both apersonal blog and a group blog on the Anthropology of Policing. -R)

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been exploring the tragedy involving George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin in a course I teach entitled “Policing in Society.”  My goal is to use the event as a concrete opportunity that can give students practical experience in using the tools we learn in class for conceptualizing “police,” “society,” and their relationship.  An added benefit is that it allows students to form and articulate their own positions in regards to such issues.

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Race, racism, anthropology #1: Mullings on “Interrogating Racism”

The comments section from my last post about the Napoleon Chagnon controversy eventually led into a discussion about race, racism, and anthropology.  If you read more about the debates surrounding Chagnon, it’s pretty clear that they bring up some important (and complex) issues about race, power, the academy–and anthropology’s place within all of this.  Near the end of the comment thread, one of our readers mentioned an article that’s well worth reading  (thanks, Kat): Interrogating Racism: Toward an Antiracist Anthropology, by Leith Mullings (Annual Review of Anthropology, 2005).

I thought that would be a good place to start for a discussion about some of these issues.  So I read the article and jotted down some notes.  I am just going to go through some of my own questions and responses to the piece by Mullings, and then I’ll open things up for discussion.  Please feel free to jump in whenever you want. Continue reading

Racial Differences In Skin-Colour as Recorded By The Colour Top

colortop

The “Bauhaus Optischer Farbmischer”
(via Mabak)

The title of this post comes from a 1930 article in Man which discusses the superiority of such tops over various other ways to measure skin color, such as Broca’s skin color charts. While I knew anthropologists had used Broca’s charts, I don’t recall reading about the use of color tops, which was apparently quite common. The tops used were actually by Milton Bradley, but as best I can tell they were quite similar to the Bauhaus design pictured above. [Can anyone find a picture of the actual Milton Bradely tops?]

The colour top is a device made by the Milton Bradley Company, of Spring- field, Mass., U.S.A., a firm which manufactures kindergarten supplies. It is, primarily intended for teaching children the principles of colour blending. The first investigator to use it for recording skin-colour was Davenport, who employed it in his study of the heredity of skin-colour in Negro-White crosses in Jamaica (1913). The principle is one with which we were all familiar in our childhood. The apparatus consists of a small top, of the disc variety, spun by means of a wooden spindle kept in place by a nut. On this basal disc, which is of cardboard, are placed paper discs of various colours. When the top is spun the colours blend… The proportion of each colour which goes to the make-up of this composite surface can be varied at will, by merely moving the discs round upon the spindle… By suitable adjustment of these four discs, the spinning surface can be made to reproduce,with a considerable degree of exactitude, the colour of human skin of all shades and gradations that may be met with.

Be warned, however,

The judgment must always be made while the top is rotating at full speed. Even slight slackening of speed renders matching difficult and the records unreliable.

I learned of the use of these tops from an interview with Michael Keevak, author of Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking. It sounds like another interesting book from the man who wrote The Pretended Asian: George Psalmanazar’s Eighteenth-Century Formosan Hoax, which I blogged about back in 2006.

Why Are Evolutionary Psychologists Less Intelligent than Other Mammals?

Santoshi Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist who blogs for Psychology Today. If I were as stupid as he is I’d probably shoot myself, but that didn’t stop someone at the magazine from letting him post the nonsense of Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women? (The same people who don’t know how to use capitalization in titles, maybe…)

The article disappeared pretty quick (the link above is to the Google cache), so either someone at the magazine had a lucid moment or they don’t know how to work their Internet thingies, but either way, it’s out there and it bears the imprimateur of a pretty mainstream magazine.

Here’s the gist: During interviews for a longitudinal study of American adolescent health called Add Health, researchers assign a score for how attractive their subjects are, using a scale of 1-5. Kanazawa takes those objective-because-it’s-a-number-yo! figures and averages them by race, does a little factor analysis, and concludes that black women are objectively less attractive than all other women.  And after discarding a few factors like the “fact” that black women are fat and stupid (which, he points out, doesn’t seem to hurt black men much, who are seen as the most attractive of men), Kanazawa concludes it must be because black women are so testosteroney.

We will NOT be seeing Mr. Kanazawa on Are You Smarter than a Fifth GraderContinue reading

Eugenics Image Archive

eugenics

Over at BoingBoing Carrie McLaren points us to the Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement. Despite its annoying flash-based interface, the site is a useful resource.

It’s hard to believe eugenics was as popular here as it in fact was without seeing the visual evidence. The images here include Fitter Family contests, where white Americans competed at state fairs–much like cattle–to determine who had the best breeding. (Make sure to check out this traveling exhibit.) Also, lots of documents and flyers linking criminality to immigrants and heredity. (Oh, the irony of using the swastika to indicate the racial inferiority of Germans!) The interface is pretty clunky but it’s worth pecking around.

For background on the early 20th century American eugenics movement, you could do worse than [Carrie's] interview with historian Daniel Kevles.

Move over Obama

Hot on the heels of some discussion of racial attitudes in Asia, “China has called up its first black athlete”:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/5157717/China-calls-up-its-first-black-athlete.html. Ding Hui, whose mother in Chinese and whose father is from South Africa, has “joined the national volleyball team”:http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/sports/2009-04/16/content_7685380.htm. Just as Americans think they have ‘ended race’ by reinforcing racial classification so strongly that a kid with parents from Kenya and Kansas raised in Manoa and Indonesia gets labelled as ‘black’ (and elected as president), so too the head coach of the National Youth Volleyball team, Zhou Jian’an, says “We pick players for their ability and to meet the needs of the team as a whole… He’s no different from the other players. They are all Chinese.” The head coach of his league volleyball team also notes: “He’s also a great singer and dancer.” The Telegraph reports that “On Chinese internet forums, he has been lauded for the ‘whiteness’ of his teeth and the ‘athleticism of his genes’.”

All of which is to say that inverting the moral valuation of different forms of racial classification is not the same thing as dismantling the system of classification itself.

Are we causality crazy?

update: I forgot to post my amended picture:

11genome-600

Steven Pinker’s latest apology for behavioral genetics is in this weekend’s NYT Magazine. There are two things to pay attention to. 1) he’s right about personal genome sequencing: regardless of whether it’s correct, or the results can be properly interpreted for people, people are going to do it, and for all kinds of reasons, good and bad, and this is in itself something that will change behavior–call it proximate causality for individual behaviors. And the comparison with astrology, sorcery and other forms of readouts about your fate should probably be taken more seriously, especially by anthropologists, rather than used as a dismissal of genetic essentialism or determinism. 2) genetics seems to have become so confused with heritability that the claims about “what genes cause” have become incoherent; scales are routinely mixed up, which is what results in the manic fantasizing about why we conserve one gene or another (“gene so-and-so is correlated with baldness, therefore baldness must have conferred an advantage on our distant ancestors by serving as an effective way to deflect light before mirrors were invented” etc). As a result, our ability to argue about the roles that distant causality play versus those that proximate causality play have been compromised. Oh, and one other thing, There is no mention at all of epigenetics… is that deliberate, I wonder, or does it represent troubling ignorance on Pinker’s part?

and btw, I will note that our category for genetics at SM is “Race, genetics” which (and I’m not blaming anyone here) is interesting.

Let Freedom Ring from your Navigation Toolbar!

I feel compelled to blog this: a browser for black people. Mostly it’s because when I tried to download it the captcha program made me enter the words “reveled Empire.” (!) But also because, as someone putatively an expert on open source and culture, I was a bit (okay very) surprised that it exists, and doubly so that it’s serious. Two things: 1) yea open source! anyone can download Firefox and create their own “Browser for X people.” As anthropologists we could make browsers for our peoples. Except that my peoples made the browser in the first place, so y’all will have to go on without me. 2) Do we need further confirmation that race is now simply a demographic marketing category, and that anyone who feels it is actually an identity has confused consumption profiles with values?

I’m off to make a browser for cynics. or maybe one for black panthers, which strikes me as something we might need more right about now.

Transhumanism vs. Anthropology

In my ongoing quixotic attempt to highlight places where anthropology should be and isn’t, I thought I would bring up the issue of transhumanism, once more with feeling.
Over the years of being a participant-observer amongst geeks, I’ve repeatedly found myself amongst transhumanists. I’ve even written about it a bit, though only as a kind of limit case for certain understandings of history. The only good scholarly work on transhumanism I know of is by Richard Doyle (which is to be distinguished from scholarly work BY transhumanists, which is actually remarkably common if you cast a wide net). I’m a bit gun-shy from trying to engage experimental philosophers, but I’ve often wondered why there is so little interest from anthropologists in this brand of scientific-cum-theological thinking—or vice versa. It seems to me that crap like Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near is pretty bad press for this group—worse in any case than Ted William’s freezing his head, which is just the kind of creepy shit the press loves. There are a lot of interesting variations on transhumanism, from your basic immortality by downloading consciousness onto silicon, to more probable concerns with alteration of the human body through drugs, surgery, or bionic additions. This is just to say that like any ism, it’s pretty hard to pin down.

So I was happy to see that a publication I had never heard of before— “The Global Spiral: A Publication of the Metanexis Institute”— has published a series of articles by scholars in science studies, philosophy and literature (Andy Pickering, Don Ihde, Katherine Hayles and others) about transhumanism (volume 9, Issue 3). Unfortunately, they are all pretty un-anthropological in their approach, preferring to criticize transhumanism rather than engage it. I know why… extreme versions of transhumanism can be pretty unctuous, raising specters of race-purity, eugenics, bad technological determinism etc. However, I for one am pretty surprised by the continued growth of this “movement” (what makes it a movement?) and lately, I’ve started to think that it might well move into a more mainstream light as there are people like Nick Bostrom (an Oxford Ph.D.) and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies gaining attention and authority… Wait a minute, ethics and emerging technologies? Isn’t that what I study?!? Quick, freeze my head!
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AAVE is Tangible and Irrefutable Evidence of Difference

Tomorrow I’m teaching my Taiwanese students about Black English, also known as African American Vernacular English (AAVE), or Ebonics. For this I’m using Chapter 9 of Lippi-Green’s book, English with an Accent, which contains her essay, “The Real Trouble with Black English.”

In re-reading the following passage I found myself thinking about the whole Reverend Jeremiah Wright kerfuffle.

in spite of many years of empirical study which is established AAVE as a normally functioning spoken human language, its very existence is often doubted and denied by African and European-Americans alike. The real trouble with black English is not the verbal aspect system which distinguishes it from other varieties of US English, or the rhetorical strategies which draw such a vivid contrast, it is simply this: AAVE is tangible and irrefutable evidence that there is a distinct, healthy, functioning African-American culture which is not white and which does not want to be white. This is a state of affairs which is unacceptable to many. James Baldwin who wrote and spoke so eloquently on the issues at the heart of the racial divide in this country, put it quite simply: “the value [of] a black man is proven by one thing only – his devotion to white people”

Protestant Stereotypes

Jay’s “Around the Web column”:http://savageminds.org/2008/05/04/around-the-web-11/ that featured the “Missions for Dummies post about how Latin Americans ‘are touchy feely’”:http://missionsfordummies.blogspot.com/2008/05/touch.html has been rolling around in my head for some time. Mostly this is because I have spent a lot of time reading cultural history of America as background for my new research project on World of Warcraft and have been thinking a lot about American theories of selfhood, markets and commodification, what constitutes human flourishing, and so forth.

I was struck by Irwin’s (the Missions for Dummies guy) insight that ‘Latins’ are ‘touchy feely’ since, in much of the United States, this is a stereotype that ‘white ethnics’ (Italian American, Irish American, Jewish, etc.) have of themselves — that they hug, kiss, and touch each other with a frequency and gusto that is a bit unseemly. The other stereotypes that I’ve heard from my friends in these communities is that ‘their people’ are 1) too loud and 2) prone to serve Too Much Food at family functions – or any functions really.

Now, an anthropologist you always want to ferret out the unexamined side of the contrast — the ‘what is taken for granted in my assumptions’ that goes unsaid. In this case I think what these stereotypes point to is not some distinctive way that white ethnics act, but an implicit contrast with the anglo-protestant norm, which appears to be that anglo-protestants prefer to sit together without touching, silent and hungry. Which is, actually, not a bad way of summing up a certain interactional style which I must admit I have witnessed in certain areas of rural Wisconsin and Minnesota during my time with local church parishioners there.
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Misogyny Vs. The Human Chin

Nicholas Kristof speaks to evolutionary psychologists and decides that misogyny doesn’t exist because there is no evolutionary motive for hatred, only a “desire to control them and impregnate them, so as to pass on one’s genes.”

The idea that something can’t exist because there is no convenient evolutionary just-so story for it is absurd. Kristof should read some Stephen Jay Gould:

Gould’s favorite example is the human chin, whose presence is an incidental consequence of the differential growth rate of two bones in the lower jaw. The dentary bone which carries the teeth elongates more slowly than the jawbone itself, so the chin juts out. In our ape-like ancestors the jawbone grows more slowly so no chin develops. Of course one can always try to invent a story about why having a chin confers more reproductive potential, but that is a parlor game, not science.

If humans can have chins, they can also have misogyny. Maybe even misogynists with chins.

No but seriously: Euro-American?

I have a really simply, totally stupid question here: what does the term ‘Euro-American’ mean? It surfaced recently in the comments on this blog and I have seen it elsewhere, but I honestly have no idea. Can someone tell me when/where this concept was first used, and what exactly it is supposed to do analytically and describe ethnographically?

I ask because my Ph.D. fieldwork was on gold mining in Papua New Guinea, and in particular about negotiations with Papua New Guinean land owners and Australian mine employees. The mine employees were mostly former colonial officers who have shifted from being ‘liasons’ between Australia’s imperial administration to mouthpieces for global capital. The topic, in other words, was highly ‘raced’ — although what it meant to be ‘white’ and ‘black’ varied depending on when and who you asked, white and black were still/thus the central terms I found in my fieldsite. I continue to use them, unapologetically, in my work even though/because they are part of a global discourse with deep roots in colonialism. (For more on race in PNG I cannot recommend Ira Bashkow’s superb “The Meaning of Whitemen” strongly enough).

I am always a bit suspicious of the new terms since they often refer to more or less the same thing that the old term referred to, but obscure its genealogy. The distinction between The North and The South, for instance, has always driven me nuts because PNG is north of Australia and in OZ/PNG English when expats leave Australia they ‘go south’. So in my field work The South is to the north of The North, which is really a pain.

This leads me to the term ‘Euro-American’ — is this just code for ‘white’? Because if so then it simultaneously denies and reinscribes the racial basis of the distinction it is making. Are white Australians and South Africans ‘Euro-American’? I ask because this term seems to obscure the global nature of white settler colonialism in favor of an emphasis on Europe and the New World. Are African-Americans ‘Euro-Americans’ because they are ‘American’ even if they are not ‘Euro’? How does the term compare with ‘Western’ or ‘WASP’?

Again, I ask because this term is not, as far as I know, one that is very widely used in the PNG/Australia context that I work on.

Stuff White People Like

I’ll be damned if we aren’t going to take our reader’s complaints seriously and start thinking criticially about things like the dominance of north american anthropology and our tendency to post inane shit. Like this blog. Which is the funniest and most incisive thing about Race I’ve read since Gloria Anzaldua.

Race and IQ

Richard Nisbett has the most thorough trashing of research claiming a link between race and IQ I’ve seen yet.

For the poor, a group that includes a substantial proportion of minorities, heritability of I.Q. is very low …

Even when a trait is highly heritable (think of the height of corn plants), modifiability can also be great (think of the difference growing conditions can make).

… Tested in later childhood, the German children of the white fathers were found to have an average I.Q. of 97, and those of the black fathers had an average of 96.5, a trivial difference.

… when a group of investigators sought out the very brightest black children in the Chicago school system and asked them about the race of their parents and grandparents, these children were found to have no greater degree of European ancestry than blacks in the population at large.

… A superior adoption study — and one not discussed by the hereditarians — was carried out at Arizona State University by the psychologist Elsie Moore, who looked at black and mixed-race children adopted by middle-class families, either black or white, and found no difference in I.Q. between the black and mixed-race children. Most telling is Dr. Moore’s finding that children adopted by white families had I.Q.’s 13 points higher than those of children adopted by black families.

…Within each race, prior knowledge predicted learning and reasoning, but between the races it was prior knowledge only that differed.

… That environment can markedly influence I.Q. is demonstrated by the so-called Flynn Effect. … in the Western world as a whole, I.Q. increased markedly from 1947 to 2002. In the United States alone, it went up by 18 points. Our genes could not have changed enough over such a brief period to account for the shift; it must have been the result of powerful social factors.

… In fact, we know that the I.Q. difference between black and white 12-year-olds has dropped to 9.5 points from 15 points in the last 30 years — a period that was more favorable for blacks in many ways than the preceding era.

… Most important, we know that interventions at every age from infancy to college can reduce racial gaps in both I.Q. and academic achievement, sometimes by substantial amounts in surprisingly little time. This mutability is further evidence that the I.Q. difference has environmental, not genetic, causes. And it should encourage us, as a society, to see that all children receive ample opportunity to develop their minds.

UPDATE: The New Yorker has an article about a new book by James “Flynn Effect” Flynn. (via Amardeep)