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Racial Constructs In Genetics

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The word Caucasian should be banned in scientific studies and papers because it is “associated with a racist classification of humans”, according to a group of leading academics.

Hmm.

Explaining their reasons why, they say: “[Caucasian is] an 18th-century term invented to denote pale-skinned northern and western Europeans, or in other archaic connotations a wider range of people based on skull measurements, including west Asians, south Asians, north Africans and Europeans.

Well, not entirely and not so much. Some South Asians – those largely from North India – and not some others, those from South India say. Useful to have a group word which covers this slightly more related to each other than to other groups of humans set even if we junk the specific word.

As a result, he says this more technical language would see the label of “European” replaced with “The European-associated PCA cluster,

Well, OK, that’s going to quickly run through the cretin to ‘mong to short bus spectrum. Whatever word you come up with to describe the underlying will be adopted, sure, but will then take on the earlier meaning because the concept is the thing being recognised.

As here:

Many of the foundations of physical anthropology, human biology and human classification were developed in service of political ideologies, and the long-term repercussions of this history persist today. One recent example are the attempts by White supremacists in the US to assert ‘racial purity’ via possession of an allele that bestows lactase persistence (and hence the ability to digest milk post-weaning) and which reached fixation in European populations during the Neolithic. The absurdity of this misapprehension about genetics is highlighted by the fact that this trait does not delineate European ancestry, as equivalent mutations emerged independently and exist at a high frequency in Kazakhs, Ethiopians, Tutsi, KhoeSan, Middle Eastern pastoralists, and amongst many populations where dairy farming has been a significant part of local agricultural practice during their evolutionary history.

Did you note the sidestep fandango there?

Yes, quite, the specific allele that bestows this particular type of lactose persistence is an identifier of a certain ancestry. As other alleles that bestow other variations of lactose persistence are markers of other backgrounds. Even given the idiocies which certain political groupings are assigning to this allele that’s still a grotesque sidestep fandango.

Most human geneticists are aware of the problems of imprecise or misused language,

Err, yes, to which we might add misused logic too….

Another example in frequent use is “Bantu”, which effectively refers to a very broad linguistic grouping comprising hundreds of millions of people in Africa, speaking over 400 distinct languages or dialects. There is some overlap between genetic clusters and Bantu-speaking dialects or languages, but not across the whole group. Furthermore, the word Bantu was used as a catch-all term in apartheid-era South Africa for many different Black African peoples, including groups that were not Bantu-speaking, and had widespread derogatory use in that society.

Bantu – despite the Saffer use of it – is a useful classification. And one that even if we don’t use that word we need to have another one to encompass the concept. Because the past of Southern Africa is hugely determined by that expansion of that group/culture out of the Cameroon Highlands over the past few millennia. We can rename the Celts the Beaker Folk or whatever else we like but the insurgence of Iron Age peoples from the steppes still has to be dealt with in any description of the past of Europe. So too that Bantu expansion whether we use the word Bantu or not. The distribution of the Twa and Khe San – to use descriptive phrases that no doubt someone will find objectionable – remnant populations doesn’t make sense without thinking of the irruption.

Yes, this does have political implications in that said Bantu are, the further south one goes, ever more recent arrivals to the point that at the Western Cape they’re later than the ancestors of the Saffas. But this is still true whichever word we use to describe the group/culture.

This rather gloriously misses the point:

For example, researchers working with Indigenous American populations frequently collect genetic samples from only those individuals who have the majority of their genetic ancestry from groups that pre-date European contact (or attempt to mask genomic segments inherited from post-contact admixture in analyses). While this sampling strategy may be useful for understanding certain historical questions about the peopling of the Americas, the exclusion of people with genetic ancestry from more recent admixture events from a cohort labelled “Native American”, “Indigenous” or with a more specific population or tribal name implicitly defines these categories in genetic terms. This is both inaccurate and not how Indigenous peoples in the Americas define themselves.

How people define themselves is interesting and useful and it’s also not genetics. It’s societal, or cultural, even religious perhaps, but it’s not genetic. Jews can be usefully divided into Ashkenazim and Sephardim. When discussing religion that’s a cultural thing, when looking at the incidence of Tay Sachs a genetic. They’re different at one level, not so much at another.

Marseille is very definitely a French city – it is, after all, La Marseillaise – but the distribution of Greek, Carthaginian, Phoenician, Frank alleles is still an interesting subject. Even before we get to the perhaps more recent – or perhaps not more recent – additions of Berber and Arab.

That is, genetics is studying something different from how a group describes itself. Ryan Giggs and Shirley Bassey are Welsh, no doubt about it, they’re also not entirely Celt.

By using such labels carelessly, scientists contribute to public misunderstanding
of what it means to be an Indigenous person in the Americas [7], and implicitly elevate genetic definitions of “Native American” over tribes’ sovereignty in defining their own membership. It can also inadvertently lend support to attempts by individuals not affiliated with Indigenous communities to claim status as “Native American” on the basis of genetic ancestry testing, and apply for certain financial and legal benefits in the United States and Canada [8].

Doesn’t that just screw Lizzie Warren then? And this is simply stupid:

Geneticising the category of “Native American” can also adversely impact medical treatment of community members; assumptions regarding physiology and genetic background may be used by physicians in diagnoses and treatment of community members regardless of whether they accurately apply to specific individuals

Sometimes this is important, that we think about genetic background. Tay Sachs, as mentioned. Cystic fibrosis among Northern Europeans (sorry, The European-associated PCA cluster), sickle cell among West Africans (no, not Bantu, the next group over). This is actually the point of doing the genetic stuff however it might trample over groups’ self-definitions.

Yes, they’re grossly missing the point:

Groupings defined by genetic
variation do not necessarily
correspond with cultural, linguistic
or ethnic categories, and usually
exclude many individuals to whom
such terms apply, as well as
including individuals to whom they
do not.

Err, yes, that’s rather what we’re trying to study, isn’t it? How the varied classifications – social, religious, geographic, whatever – interact or don;t with each other and with genetic variations?

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