The delusion of race:
I cannot know what people are thinking if they do not express themselves, but I suspect that people hesitate because they are afraid to get involved with something that might involve the concept of race.  I could hardly sympathize with that more.  It is a bad idea.  But you can hear the capitals dropping.  “You’re Really talking about Race, aren’t you?  This is just Code for Racism, isn’t it?”  Let me be clear.  I’m REALLY NOT.  For my purposes, race has no biological meaning. 

The first problem with this unfortunate concept is that “race” usually means a contest.  There are winners and losers.  The notion that a person is born a loser just does not wash.  But as soon as you trot out the word, there is that second meaning. 

The second problem is that the notion is abroad that certain races are more intelligent than others.  You certainly could not prove that by me.  I suppose the most outrageous assertion is that Blacks somehow are intrinsically less intelligent than Whites.  That is not my experience.  In order to prepare for this project I had to learn something about how to manage computer graphics.  I went to a college.  Actually I went to a couple of different colleges.  Essentially everything I learned I learned from either a Black teacher or a Black fellow student.  They were a minority but they did most of the teaching.  Perhaps they were simply more willing to be helpful.  But they knew their stuff.

So what is this rather nebulous intelligence thing?  It is the ability to master concepts and apply them.  A concept can be represented by a word.  So intelligence, useful intelligence, simply means the willingness and ability to learn words.  Math skills?  Math is just a language.  Every bit of it is just another word.  Once one is past algebra and beginning to start calculus, the first rock to founder on is … the definition of a “limit.”  Yes.  It is just another word.  In an effort to get away from simply testing for word use, some test questions have little diagrams to interpret and relate to each other, which picture matches picture A the way B matches C?  I generally do extremely well with such questions.  The trick is simple.  Break it down into words.  Describe the pictures in words and the rest is easy.  It’s all words.  My professional career is as a diagnostic radiologist.  I look at an image and translate it into words.  From there, another specialist can figure out what he needs to know. 

So how are Black people with words?  They are extremely good.  I have one black friend who used the word “feist.”  She dropped it into the conversation being very careful that I understood it from the context.  If one of my white buddies uses a word that obscure, it means I am victim of a snow job. 

I once was shopping for a chess set.  The young Black woman asked what design I wanted.  I said, “Just the ordinary kind.”  With great tact she let me know that I meant Staunton. 

There is a story I believe to be true.  There was a Methodist minister who had graduated from college in English with the highest grade average that college had ever witnessed.  He told this to a man who graduated from Harvard in English with honors.  He told it to me.  A Black man once told the minister that the African word for elephant was “boliform.”  End of story.  The problem I had was that the word sounded right to me.  And the idea of an African word sounding right to my English trained ear did not sit well.  I finally figured it out.  “…form” is a standard English combining word meaning “shaped like.”  Take any Latin root for a word that means an object, add form and what you have is impeccable English.  Cruciform means shaped like a cross.  Reniform means shaped like a kidney.  Baltiform means shaped like a belt.  You can use a combining word as freely as you can combine any two words in English.  It is perfectly good usage.  Are you ready for this?

“Bolus” is Latin for a mouthful of chewed but unswallowed food.  So “boliform” means a shapeless mass.  That’s pretty good for an elephant.  So the Black man, introducing a word that he expected this brilliant White man to understand and drawing a blank, had the choice of saying either, “It’s English, you blithering idiot.  Don’t you understand your own mother tongue?”  and deflecting the issue.  He chose tact.  But in fact his command of the language was better than the command either of the minister or of the Harvard graduate.  So don’t hand it to me that Black people are not intelligent.  I am not buying. 

So does that imply the reverse?  Not at all.  Here is a little secret for you.  If you speak two languages, you will be able to handle neither as well as you could if you spoke that language alone.  Learn half a dozen and you will sound like you have an add accent in every single one of them.  Black people seem to love words but have little interest in foreign languages.  It is no surprise that they are better at English than Whites.  If you think you are smarter than a Black person, I suspect it is because you have been treated with a courtesy you are unaccustomed to. 

So if Black people are courteous and at least as intelligent as Whites, why are they not high status?  On average they have lower incomes, but this should not be true with anything like a level playing field, and great effort has gone into leveling the playing field. 

Perhaps the answer is technology.  White people love technology.  They got their technology from the Industrial Revolution and have adored it ever since.  And the Industrial Revolution, as we explained on November 12, 2008, was an accident brought about by a viable mating strategy among the power elite.  Anybody could have done it.  Indeed, that strategy may have cultural roots that go back into the mists of time before the English Channel opened.  But it happened, and the resulting empowerment of people who could be comfortable with technology overwhelmed all opposition.  Maybe. 

So where did this “race” notion come from?  It is widely understood and accepted.  So who invented it?  What was his evidence.  What were his early trials and frustrations?   What piece of evidence provided the clincher for him and persuaded the world?  Easy.  There was no such person.  There is no such evidence.  The idea is just as unfounded as the equally pernicious notion that it does not matter whom you marry, that the bigger and more diverse and better mixed the gene pool, the healthier it is from a genetic standpoint.  It is just not true.

But even lacking some genius, the idea had to come from somewhere.  Here’s where.  Count the races:  Black, Brown, Red, White and Yellow.  Five of them.  They are supposed to be skin colors.  But they are not.  Black people are dark but they are not black.  The skin pigment is melanin, which is brown.  If you try to achieve a true black by loading the skin up with a maximum amount of melanin, what you get is blue.  There is no blue pigment in skin, just as there is no blue pigment in a blue jay feather or a blue eye.  The color is the result of diffraction on a protein substrate.  The darkest tribe in Africa consists of people with bluish skin.  Brown?  Yes, I guess that’s real.  Red?  I once had someone tell me he was and Indian because of his red skin.  It looked like a sun burn to me.  No real Indian I ever knew looked really red.  White?  White if they have leprosy.  Yellow?  If they are jaundiced.  So somehow somewhere a palate of colors was devised and applied to people in defiance of the most casual observation.

I have mentioned the four humors.  For time out of mind, the notion of health was dominated by the belief that four humors – black bile, blood, phlegm and yellow bile – determined a person’s emotional tendency.  Disease was the condition of some humor being present in excess, and health was the balance.  Never mind that blood and phlegm are not humors at all, nor that the different kinds of bile have about the same effect, this discreditable theory persisted for thousands of years. 

Phlegm is white, blood red and the other two are self explanatory.  The healthy balance is brown.  That is all there is to the theory of race.  It was assumed that each “skin color” represented a different emotional climate and different abilities.  Again, no evidence.  It was just assumed.  So intrinsic in the idea of race is the notion that mixing them is a good thing. 

I hope you are screaming, “Foul!”  The balance of humors goes back to ancient Greece.  They were aware of White people and if their art is to be trusted of Black people.  (There is a bas relief in Athens of a young boy happily working with an obstreperous horse.  The stone is white, but the features of the boy look African.)  Brown can be assumed.  Their contact with east Asians must have been extremely limited, and likely they had no idea of Native Americans at all.  So how could they possibly have known what skin colors would ultimately be found.

Well in the first place, those skin colors were not found, as I said.  In the second place, the original idea probably had nothing to do with skin.  It was probably hair color.  Let us see.  Blood is the best humor to have.  It is resilient, cheerful, vivacious.  We still use the word “sanguine” for a person with a positive attitude.  And while the notion red skinned people is debatable, there is no question that there are redheads.  The ancient Greeks would paint their statues.  Close study has found traces of red paint in the hair.  Since they were quite self conscious about striving for ideals, they probably assumed that red hair was rather standard.  It would have been uncharacteristically quirky of them to give a rare or non existent hair color to their otherwise classically beautiful works.  That makes sense of course.  They would naturally assume they were the best, just like everybody.

At the other extreme is black bile.  It is the color of misery, weakness, sickness, vulnerability and apathy.  We still use the word “melancholy.”  Black was the hair color of their ancient enemies the Persians.  Artwork again makes it quite clear.  And of course the people the Greeks liked the least would be assigned a predominance of the humor they least desired.

Yellow is the color of the short temper.  It is a caustic but brittle humor.  It is disagreeable, just like this whole subject.  And there were certainly yellow haired people, the barbarians to the north.  Herodotus, the first historian, tells a tale of a man tricking the Athenians by presenting a yellow haired woman to them as a goddess.  There were probably conflicts with the barbarians, but nothing like the bad blood between Greek and Persian. 

White is the color of phlegm, the color of calm detached rationality, of steady nerves but little spontaneity.  Old people have white hair.  Old people also probably decide what is or is not a good thing. 

That leaves brown, the healthy balance.  Brown haired people?  I dare say there were such.

So the balance of humors sort of works for hair color.  It was only yanked by intellectual violence, not to say dishonesty, into the service of classifying people by skin color. 

The reason the idea was invented in the first place is probably the urban imperative.  Cities have to recruit.  If you want healthy children, by this logic, you do not stay in your village or “deme,” you come into the city where you can find someone with different hair color.  Presumably the best of all would be for a young woman to marry a white haired old man.  At least that is what the old men would have said.  Click forward a couple thousand years and the world is different.  There are more different kinds of people.  But the urban imperative remains.  Recruit or die, unless you are bright enough to realize that high status people can have all the children they want if they only adopt the right mating strategy.

As you go to progressively more distant cousins for mates, your expected fertility falls and falls, but falls ever more slowly.  There is no great wall when you reach a change in skin color.  You would hardly notice the difference in fertility between that and an inappropriate mate that was the same color and far less distantly related.  Race just does not matter biologically.

There is another thing about this notion of race that makes it even more destructive.  Many years ago people looked into the fear of snakes and found that it was so pervasive and so powerful that it was in all probability instinctive.  That would make sense.  Snakebite can be very dangerous and frequently is easily avoided if one only knows to be prudent.  An instinctive fear could provide significant protection at little cost. 

I had once gone to a zoo to see an anaconda.  I asked several times where it was and could not find it.  At last I blurted out to the fourth person I asked, “There is nothing down that hall but a single window.”  I was told it was behind the window.  “There is nothing in the window but a log.”  I was told it was behind the log.  I went and looked.  Yes.  Maybe there was a quarter inch of snake visible above the log for a few inches.  For those inches, my eye had seen not a log but a snake.  That was enough for my feet to take me the other direction and my mind to announce that the window was definitely not the place to go.  Instinct can strike without your knowledge. 

In an effort to cope with the negative effects of racial prejudice, people have done some ingenious experiments.  In one study they tested people to see how easy it was to create and how easy to suppress racial prejudice.  What they found was that the dynamic was exactly the same as a phobia of snakes.  Pardon me for making a cognitive leap, but that sounds like fear of other races is instinctive.  In another study, they took people who declared themselves to be free of racial prejudice and had them look at pictures of people of their own race and people of different races.  They were asked to make judgments about the people depicted.  Many of them came out with results that were admirably objective, unsullied by and racial taint.  But secretly the researchers were looking not only at what the choices were but how long it took to make a choice.  Everybody took longer to say something good about a contrasting race than their own race and longer to say something bad about their own race than about the contrasting one.  Instinct strikes unseen.

So it appears that although race has no biological meaning, or very little, it has a psychological meaning.  That means the idea is not going to go away any time soon.  I suppose it is logical to guess that, as with snakes, there is a very good biological reason to have the phobia.  At some time in the past, recognizing a person to be of a different race and avoiding that person increased ones chance of long term offspring.  That is no longer true according to the statistics.  Just because a person is of your own race does not mean that person is a viable choice of mate.  But we are going to have to live with the psychological reality for a long time.  I should think it will not be forever.  If we adopt a rational mating strategy, that phobia will cease to have any function at all, assuming it still does, and it should fade.

The conclusion of both of those studies was that racial aversion is real and must be overcome with vigorous training.  I am sure if any of those well meaning people came to me with a sunburn and asked for advice and if I diagnosed excess of blood and prescribed leeches, they would object strenuously.  But there they were, eagerly trying to balance the humors where they could. 

There is an irony that makes this misconception called race even more invidious.  Suppose a person is presented with the idea that mixing races is a good plan.  Suppose that person, being instinctively driven, rebels and decides that race is very important and that races need to be kept separate.  The result would be that the person would chose a mate of the same race.  But having made that decision, the person is likely to feel that anyone of the same race is a perfectly good mate.  That decision would be perfectly wrong.  So the idea of race is destructive if you buy into it at all; whether you take the attitude that mixing races is good or mixing races is bad, the end is the same.  You will be distracted from choosing on the basis of kinship of sufficiently close degree. 

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