Race as a construct vs race as genetics: fascinating Guardian article


A while back we were talking about race as a social construct vs. race as a genetic reality. This article profiles people in a town called East Jackson, OH who have always identified as black even thought they are “phenotypically” quite white. I think it underlines the fact that our racial categories are a product of personal histories and social standing, not some objective truth based on genetic realities.

Most of Shreck’s generation and the generations before her here in East Jackson, on the edge of Appalachian Ohio, were raised to believe they are black. Never mind that they might register to most as white by appearance, or that there is hardly a trace of black ancestry left in their blood. This inherited identity most East Jackson residents still cling to and fiercely protect is based on where they were born and who they were told they are. It comes from a history rooted in racism and an identity placed upon their ancestors – and now many of them – without their consent.


Ever since we’ve begun discussing these things here, I’ve developed my own mental comparison which I’d like to run by knowledgeable people here to see if it is an accurate way to think about the “white race” (or any other so-call human “sub-class”) not existing except as a mental / social construct.

It would be like if somebody historically had made a big deal (social construct) about brown-eyed vs. blue-eyed people. We all agree that there is no such thing as a “brown-eyed race”, but yet if people had made a big deal of separating these out historically (and yes, there would be many - green or grey or other who could not easily be assigned in that artificial binary) then suddenly such a “race” would have existed … but only as a social construct. So it isn’t that the biology of this or that eye-color or lighter or darker skin doesn’t exist. But the thinking of it as a clear genetically-recognizable division between human populations is what doesn’t really exist. Does that all sound accurate?

Have you ever heard of Jane Elliott and the “Class Divided” experiment? She basically created a superior brown-eyed race in her third grade classroom after only two days of indoctrination. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/introduction-2/

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I don’t believe I had ever heard that. It would be interesting (and I think a lot riskier still) for a teacher to try that out today! But maybe we need the reminder more than ever. I plan to send that link to a colleague of mine … [thanks].

Sort of goes along with Latino culture, talking about their race, when the reality is there is no Latino race, but is a culture of sometimes complex mixed extraction.
Of course, Darwin spoke of race, but he was addressing cabbages.:wink:

La Raza is interesting because it is a racial identity based on and celebrating “racial mixing.” People who claim it claim both Spanish and Indigenous or African ancestors.

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When I toured in Ecuador a couple years ago our tour guide referred to herself as “Mestizo” (I think I’m getting that correctly) meaning of both Hispanic and indigenous descent. When such things are recognized as common enough, I suppose all the distinctions should be happily recognizable as dubious. But if it is a matter of celebration and pride … then … no harm, right?

This reminds me of the philosophy that many hold to of Essentialism-

I think that idea gets people caught up when thinking about evolution and changes to lineages over time as well. But reality is much more complicated or nuanced than what this type of thing can allow.

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