The Myth of Race: America's Original Science Fiction

Part I: What is Race? | Part II: Where Does the Genetic Information of Individuals Come From?
Part III: Genes, Culture, and Identity | Question and Answer Period




Powerpoint Presentation of this Lecture

Presenter

Dr. Joseph Graves, Jr., PhD, Professor Evolutionary Biology/Life Sciences, Arizona State University West, Phoenix, AZ

Joseph Graves:
This presentation will revolve around three sets of questions. The first part looks at race. What is the biological definition of race? Do modern humans show racial variation under that definition? The second part looks at, where does the genetic information of individuals come from? In particular, where does the genetic information of people described as African American originate? Part three looks at the relationship between genes, complex traits, behavior and culture? How do genetic and cultural evolution differ? Why do we insist between a false separation between biology and social science? That last question is one that I felt compelled to add from this morning's conversation, in that by talking about human beings and human biology we are always talking about human society. Our capacity for culture and the fact that we are an obligatory social species is what makes distinguishes humans from other primates. For a fuller treatment of what I am going to discuss, look at my book, The Emperor's New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium, Rutgers University Press, 2001 or A Devil's Bargain: The Social Construction of Race and the Fight for America's Soul, to be published by Dutton Press in 2003.

Part I: What is Race?

Historically people have treated culture, genes, genetics and society as if they could be separated and that meaningful intellectual progress could come from that separation. No such program makes any sense. I work with colleagues of African American, Hispanic and American Indian decent. This morning the topic came up of science or scientific technology or scientific ideology being a double-edged sword. Everything is a double-edged sword. The water on your table is a double-edged sword. You can drink it or drown in it. The significant question is, who wields the sword. Science, at least western science, has been inculcated with racist ideology. Were racists doing the science? Did they have a social agenda? Did they have a political program they wanted to run? Does anyone think that science would be immune from the social forces around it? Preachers were not immune. Bankers were not immune. Actors, playwrights were not immune. Why would scientists be immune? Unless we diversify the ranks of the scientific enterprise, we will always be talking about what those scientists are doing.

I also reject the idea that scientists are not community members. In the community that I live in, I go to church on Sunday. I coach my kid's basketball team. I go to PTA meetings. I talk to the local press. I pick up garbage in my neighborhood. The scientists that everyone is talking about here are members of their communities. It was their community interests that constructed the science they did.

Scientists are people; they have the same sets of cultural misconceptions and cultural agendas as any other group of people. Here's an example.
"Eminent scientists are still confused on the issue of the biological meaning or race. Because of this mixing, many anthropologists argue quite reasonably that there is no scientific justification for applying the word "race" to human beings. But the concept itself is unambiguous, and I believe that the word has a clear meaning to most people. The difficulty is not with the concept, but with the realization that major human races are not pure races."
This is James Crow. It is published in Daedalus, one of the publications of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences. Why would an eminent geneticist, a man who wrote one of the major textbooks in population genetics, write this? He contradicts himself by saying that race is an unambiguous concept and that the word has a clear meaning but then says that races are not pure. If it's unambiguous then how come human races are not pure? To say that most people know what it means is not the issue, certainly not in this concern.

So what have people thought about biological race in the human species? A table from my book on 18th century naturalists' views on the racial traits of the Negro shows considerable disagreement about the hierarchy for racial features in the human species. François Bernier believes that traits of the Negro relative to European are neutral and does not know if they are inherited or the result of environment. Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz, of Germany, also thought the traits were neutral. Why did he think that? Because one of the most brilliant students he ever had was a West African mathematician by the name of Wilhelm Antan Amo. So he said, Africans seem to be just as teachable and as brilliant in mathematics as anyone else. He didn't know if this was a result of genes and he was sure the environment played a role.
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, the founder of the Western science of anthropology, thought that there was no objective ranking to human races and that genes and environment both played a role. The 18th century naturalists do not believe that Africans represent a separate species from Europeans.

Things changed in the 19th century, mainly from the institutionalization of chattel slavery in the British empire and in the Americas. We see a new view arising amongst naturalists. For example, Charles White looked at skulls and sex organs and said that the differences were genetic, not environmental, and that blacks, or Negroes represent a separate species. Georges Cuvier, considered the Aristotle of his age, also said that the Negro is the most degraded of human races. Louis Agassiz, the founder of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, sees the Negro as a genetically inferior separate species. John Bachman stands in opposition. He was a slaveholder. How does Bachman know that blacks are not a separate species? He talks about the fertility of the hybrids. The children produced by slavemaster lineages with slave women are just as viable as children of the "pure" races. Using the biological species concept, he concluded that all humans are members of the same species.

What changed in biology in the nineteenth century? I would argue that there was no progress or change in terms of the science in terms of what biologists understood about nature or about the question of varieties. What really changed was the social importance of slavery and the social importance of the declaring that blacks or the Negro as a separate and inferior being.

Charles Darwin gave us the means to address this question more directly. He doubted whether human races were real. In The Decent of Man, he describes the racial multiplication problem. In examining what naturalists of his time were using as characteristics to define human races, he notes that none of them agreed. Darwin realizes in those cases they really were not looking at true geographical varieties or races. That's why he concluded that there was no consistent means to determine who belonged in what group. So he reasoned that humans must be a case of a protean or polymorphic species, in which there was no clear or unambiguous way to assign individuals into "racial" groups.

How long have we realized this? This article appeared in the New York Times in July 17, 1950. It says, "No scientific basis for race bias found by world panel of experts." Again, the date, five years after the revelations of the Nazi Holocaust, is significant. Why would the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) gather scientists, anthropologists, historians and philosophers to discuss the concept of race? This makes perfect political sense in the context of what happened in the Holocaust in Europe. All of the scientists in this group, which included at least one Nobel Prize winner (Herman J. Muller) agree that there is polymorphism in the human species, that there really are not distinct races that one can identify using biological criteria.

So what are these criteria for a race?

First, there must be a sufficient genetic distance consistent with that of subspecies rank; or populations must have been maintained as unique evolutionary or genetic lineages. We can measure "population subdivision." The great American geneticist Sewall Wright developed a series of statistics that allowed us to examine the genetic variation at the level of an entire population, local populations, or within a given individual. We call these measures of variation Wright's F statistics.

We take the entire human population and we subdivide it in logical ways based on geography or any other criterion you want to use and examine whether they are essentially the same, sharing genes across their entire range, or discrete and separate groups. If we found that groups were discrete or separate that would indicate the existence of specific races. Here we use Wright's Fst, that examines the degree to which subpopulations differ in gene frequency from the a total population, created by pooling the genes of all subpopulations. This statistic can take on a value of 0 meaning no subdivision whatsoever or 1 meaning totally subdivided in which case identifying geographical races make sense. The data for modern humans based on 133 gene sequences is 0.156--not much greater than 0.000. This is inconsistent with the existence of races in humans. To put this statistic in context, we could compare it to fruit flies, to round worms to fish, but the important thing would be to compare our value to other large bodied mammals that can move around well. Lets consider the Fst value for the gray wolf from North America, Eurasia, and in the Northern Hemisphere. Gray wolves are strongly subdivided. Wolves are in different national parks and cannot travel to mate with one another and are therefore going to diverge in gene frequencies over time.

Human beings have always moved relatively freely between geographical regions of the world. We can calculate what the effective migration rates have been. To get to the value of 0.156, we can calculate both the effective population size and migration rates for humans by an equation. Ironically, Jim Crow wrote this equation. The equation appears in Crow and Kimura: Fst=1/(4NM+1), where N is the effective population size and M is the migration rate. Effective population size just means that you are more likely to mate with someone in your local geographic region than with someone on the other side of the world. For Fst to equal 0.156, NM must be 1.35. Modern human genetic diversity can be explained by the long term average of 1.35 individuals per 25 years moving between major population centers. Or, 13.5 people for 250 years, moving between major population centers. Or, 135 people per 2500 years moving between major population centers. Human migration over long periods of time easily explains modern human genetic diversity.

Prehistoric human movement differed from movement in modern times. Populations hypothetically left Eastern Africa and populated the rest of the world. We know from genetic data that probably anatomically modern humans left and went to Australia around 70-72,000 years ago. They moved about one mile per year, so it is not as if everybody got up, picked up their stuff and just kept walking. Populations spread out. They expanded their geographical range along the sea because we knew how to gather fish, shellfish, and food along the coast. The migration routes were not open to Asia or Europe at that time. Later on, at around 50,000 BC, people moved into the area that is now considered the Holy Land for Christians, Moslems and Jews. Then, they had an entryway into Europe. Eventually, people gradually moved around the world until every portion of the world is inhabited by anatomically modern humans. With agriculture, industry, technology and the ability to navigate, the scale of human migration increased dramatically. Because of this movement, they spread genes from various areas around the world.

Second, are there races because of the existence of unique evolutionary lines or genetic lineages in the human species? Many people have seen diagrams that give the appearance that there are unique evolutionary histories for specific groups, for example showing a spit between sub-Saharan Africans and all other populations (Europeans, Chinese and Melanesians.) Neighbor-joining techniques tell us about the genetic distances between various groups. For example, sub-Saharan Africans are closer to each other genetically than they are Europeans, than they are to Chinese or Melanesians, but this does not say that these are unique evolutionary lineages. Though the computer is programmed to draw phylogenetic trees, that could be taken to infer the existence of unique evolutionary lineages in our species, the nuclear genetic data does not show statistically significantly genetic variation that makes these differences to be races. It is simply a function of geographic distance between the populations. Populations that are close to each other share more genes than populations that are more distant from each other and we can tell by geographic distance how much genetic distance we should expect to find. If there were biological races, you would not find this relationship; you would see groups of people in clusters rather than a continuous spread along the genetic distance data. Human data is continuous showing that populations share genes along a gradient of geographic separation.

It does not have to happen this way. Fruit flies do not do that. Fruit flies show local adaptation to conditions and therefore do not fit the distance model. Anatomically modern humans do.

Third, how much genetic variation exists? Overall, humans share about 99.8% of their genes in common. The other .2% accounts for all human variation. This happens because 67% of all human genetic loci are invariant. The remaining 33% are polymorphic, that is capable of genetic variation and this is where the discussion of genetic variation within and between groups must begin. For forty years, we have known that 85% of polymorphic human genetic variation occurs at the individual level. What that means is that any two people in this room, without regard to the geographic origin of their ancestors, by chance alone shares 85% of their different genes in common. Nei and Roychoudhury in 82 showed that this could be as high as 93-97% of the genetic variation within groups and only 3-7% between them. Mitochondrial DNA shows the same picture. There is about 5-7% genetic variation between populations on the same continent but only about 10% between different continents.

Dr. Kittles showed you that on the X-chromosome region he looked at there was more genetic variation in the African American and the Western Africans than in the rest of the world. This is because humans originated in Africa. They had more time to accumulate mutations in Africa and only a subset of Africans left. So they took a subset of the genes, not all of them.

There was a discussion earlier about how the new genetic technology could enhance discrimination or end the race concept. We had the means to say goodbye to the race concept a long time ago. The new genetic technology does not add anything new. We could have done it by looking at physical features. These do not define races. When we use hair type, skin color, body proportions, all the ones that everyone is convinced put you into a racial group, we do not get trees of relatedness that match our known evolutionary and migratory history. In other words, you cannot use physical features to clump people in the races. For example, this diagram of relatedness by physical characteristics shows Swedes and French people being linked together. That makes sense. It also shows that Eskimos are more closely linked to Swedes and French people than Eskimos are to North American Indians. That does not make sense. It also shows that North American Indians are more closely linked to Swedes and French people than they are South American Indians or Japanese and Chinese. So by using physical characteristics, we get a diagram that does not make migratory sense-it cannot be true. The people in Papaua, New Guinea and Australian aborigines are the most genetically distant group from sub-Saharan Africans. Yet, on this tree of physical traits they look the same. They used to call people in Australia "Negritoes" which means that they looked like Negroes. Again, using physical characteristics does not define racial groups that match the genetic codes that human beings exhibit. Ashley Montagu made this point in 1943 in Mankind's Most Dangerous Myth. It happened because physical variations to define races is discordant. Different genes respond to different pressures, and that they are not correlated with just each other in different populations.

Part II: Where Does the Genetic Information of Individuals Come From?

Misconceptions persist because of the belief that biological races exist in anatomically modern humans. Here are some of the common examples. Races differ in intellectual ability, morality and temperament. Races differ in athletic abilities. Races differ in sexual appetites, in particular that blacks are hypersexual. Races have specific diseases, thus membership in race with predict an individual's disease predisposition. Again, this is inconsistent with what we know about the genetic variation in humans, so if we apportion human genetic diversity there are 86% shared in all world populations. Every population in the world has these genes, but may have them at different frequency. Of these, 10% are unique to a given continent, and 4% are unique to a specific local population. People have said to me, 'Professor Graves, that means that if you have 4% that are unique to a specific population, couldn't you use those 4% to identify a race?' I said, yes, if you want to do it that way; you could. But that would mean that we've got about 2000 races in the human species because you can identify these 4% of rare alleles to specific geographical regions. What's the point in identifying any of them if you have so many? You would have races by every hilltop, every valley, every divide in a river. At that level, the whole idea breaks down.

Polymorphic genes are genes that vary in frequency. These are the genes that everybody does not have in common. These are genes that occur at loci where no single gene or allele has a frequency of greater of 99%. Some of the ones that have been best studied are disease, like phenylketonuria, Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia. A map showing the frequency of the allele for cystic fibrosis shows that it differs in various portions of Europe. There are four things that maintain these polymorphisms.

*The first is called balancing selection. That is also called heterozygous advantage. This explains sickle sell anemia. Though the origin of this allele is uncertain, we do know that it is distributed at high frequency in groups that have been anthropologically described Negroid, but also groups that have been described as anthropologically Caucasoid. There are high frequencies of the sickle cell allele in Western Africa, but also in the Middle East and in the Mediterranean and in India. The only reason we think that sickle cell is a black disease is because the slaves imported to North America came from Western Africa. If they had come from the Mediterranean, if they had been Greek, they would come from the Middle East, or if they had come from India, Americans would have been describing sickle cell anemia as an Indian disease or a Yemen disease or whatever. It is not a racially identified disease. It has to do with the presence or absence of malaria. For example, Kenyans, who live at high altitude, do not exhibit any sickle cell because the mosquitoes that carry malaria do not live at high altitude, so you do not find it there.

*Second, is environmental variation in fitness. Alleles face either positive, zero or neutral or negative selection in different habitats, so if environments vary in a predictable way, such as physical gradients and solar radiation climes in these genes or continuous changes in them result. The vitamin D binding and melanin pigmentation locus in human beings goes from being in high frequency in northern Europe and as you go south, the frequency decreases. Why does this happen? Well, melanic skin protects you from sunlight exposure. If you're in an area with higher solar radiation you better have darker skin. This is not just increased in sub-Saharan Africans; it is increased in people who are anthropologically described as Caucasians, Australoid, and Asians. This response to solar radiation is discordant membership in a so-called anthropologic race.

*There is also frequency and density-dependent selection which is not relevant to today's discussion. Polymorphisms can affect important things. For example, these are polymorphisms in cytochrome enzymes that are responsible for drug metabolism. There are two variants on my list: No 2 and No. 4. Both have serious consequences: one producing an inactive enzyme and the other producing no enzyme. We have different frequencies of these genes depending upon whether you're European, Asian, western African or eastern African.

*The first one is present in 1-3% of Europeans, 0% in Asians, and it has not been detected yet in West or East Africans. For the second variant: 1% of Europeans, 15% in Asia, and again, not detected in West of East Africans. You could design a drug that works well in that 15% of Asians. Even so, you would not have a drug that is racially identified because there's 1% of those Europeans who would need that drug, too and 85% of the Asians would not.

*Enzyme No. 19 which produces inactive enzymes is present in 13% of Europeans, 23-33% of Asians, 13% of West Africans, and 14-15% of East Africans. There is no useful racial pattern for designing drugs based on these variations.

Some physicians argue that we need to make black drugs, white drugs, and Asian drugs. If we are going to customize drug therapy it has to be on the basis of specific genes which may exist in any population and which cannot be identified with socially constructed race.

There is much we do not know about African genetic variation. If you look at the numbers here in this study from December 2001, there is data from 12,525 Europeans, 2136 Asians, 936 African Americans, and 60 Africans. Why are all the data being gathered on people of European descent? Going to Africa to take genetic information is not as simple and certainly has not been carried out to the same scale. We do not know as much as we think we know about genetic variation in west and east Africa because we do not have that data yet.

Individuals may carry genes that have both diverse geographic origin and evolutionary histories. We can now prove by genetic markers that a Jefferson male-and I personally think it was Thomas, because the historical narrative tells us that Sally got pregnant four times and he was home from Washington four times at the four times she got pregnant which makes me believe that it probably wasn't one of his brothers or one of his brother's kids. And we know that he fathered at least Eston Hemings who was therefore seven-eighth European, based upon his genealogy. Sally Hemings first child does not carry the Jefferson Y-marker. He went to Paris and took his 13 year-old daughter and her 13 year-old handmaiden, Sally Hemings with him. Sally Hemings was the one-half sister of Martha Wales. Martha Wales was Thomas Jefferson's first wife. He is in Paris with his daughter and a woman who looks very much like his deceased wife: we can imagine what happened. The first child, the one she gets pregnant with in Paris is not his by genetic marker. That child is the one that he has to convince Sally Hemings to bring back to America-clearly he thought it could have been his because he invites her back to the United States. The French had outlawed slavery. Once she and her brother set foot on French soil, they were free and did not have to come back to the United States. Sally's brother had a very successful pastry business in Paris. They could have easily lived there but Jefferson convinces her that she should go back to America with him and he promises that he will free all of her children. Eston Hemings, is fathered by a Jefferson male. Eston Hemings is still identified as slave by Virginia law, the rule of hypo-descent is still in effect. Eston describes how she "escaped" from the plantation, and I think you all know the story. She escaped with a carriage, with a trunk full of money, with all her clothes, and with a driver. She moves to Philadelphia, redefines herself there as white, marries into Philadelphia high society. I'd love to escape that way. The narrative again tells us that Beverly Hemings was freed by Jefferson, for his promise.

How can we prove ancestry? Humans have 22 pair of autosomal chromosomes with all of the genes on them that make us who we are. The vast majority of genes that make us who we are, are on the 22-autosomal chromosomes, not on the one pair of sex chromosomes. The sex chromosomes are called X and Y. Generally, XX individuals are given female traits, and XY individuals exhibit maleness. In each generation, individuals receive one half of their autosomal chromosomes from their mother and one half from their father. This mean that you receive one-quarter genes from each of your grandparents, one eight from each of your great grandparents, and so on. Since the number of ancestors you share genes with doubles with each generation, if one went back 24 generations, you receive genetic material from a maximum of 33,554, 432 people, assuming none of your ancestors contributed to more than one line of descent--a poor assumption. If this were true, you would be descended from about 16% of the world's population in the year 502 AD, a lot of people.

So, your autosomal genetic material would give you many different lines of descent. For people called African Americans, this would include origins in Africa, Europe, and the Americans, which ultimately are from East Asia. However, mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosomes would be used to trace their own stories, which would be different from the other lineages.

This comes to the question of the privileging of the X and Y. If we consider males, Y has only one gene on it that's of significance, and that's the testes determining factor. It makes a person a male; that's all it does. There are no other genes of significance on the Y. Because the Y-chromosome has few genes, it does not recombine with the X, and therefore is inherited intact. That is why the Y-chromosome can be used to trace male lines of descent. Mitochondrial DNA would tell us that most African Americans have African maternal lineages, although, some would have American Indian or European. The Y would tell you the same story.

There is a wide variety of admixture percentages in North Americans with African descent. Recent studies suggest that the average African American has between 17-20% European admixture and could have as much as 10% of their genes originating in American Indians. There could be as much as 30% probability of African American genetic predisposition actually originating in Asians and Europeans. Remember that Asians and Europeans began their genetic odyssey in Africa so at any specific locus, a European of an Asian may have allele that was originally African, as opposed to originating outside of Africa. This makes us all even closer genetically.

Part III: Genes, Culture, and Identity

Does knowing anything about ones genetic ancestry explain an individual's cultural identity? We must recognize the rules of genetic inheritance are different from those of cultural inheritance. Genes are governed by Darwinian mechanisms. Genetic change is very slow compared to cultural change.

The genetic basis of human behavior evolved over about 100,000 years ago, long before anyone migrated out of Africa. It is unlikely that there has been much genetic change in the human brain since we became anatomically modern humans. This is the basic template for human culture in all human beings, all around the world. All humans want to raise their kids in a safe environment, have some idea of religion, have art and music, and have language. All the fundamental aspects of human behavior were fixed a long time ago. How those things change is an interesting enterprise; that is fundamentally the same for all humans.

How can we then try to understand complex traits, behavior and culture? These certainly cannot be easily explained by genetic distance. Single genes or quantitative traits are not good candidates to explain differences between populations. Genetic explanations require the ability to control environments because of things like permissive mutation and environmental affects. Any physical characteristic, including behavior, is a product of genes and environment and the interaction of gene and environment and the covariance of genes and environment, plus the error in the way you measure the behavior. For some of these traits the measurement error term is not important. I could reliably measure the height of people in this room and not be off too much. But if I start measuring people's intellectual capacity with various tests, that error can be extremely large. Furthermore, the effects of environmental covariance can confuse what we think is the product of genes alone. As I measure intelligence, I should have to note that 'this one was in the same quantitative genetics class in graduate school as I was and that one read Falconer.' But so often, we cannot measure environmental covariance or we are not interested in measuring it, or we do not want to admit that we make mistakes. So, it drops out of the equation they report variation in intelligence between groups as if it is an innate trait and that is the crux of the problem.

The impact of these environmental differences is complex. Studies of malnutrition in rats show that maternal affects on adult health extend over several generations. So it is not enough to know what my health condition is. You must know what happened to my mother, what happened to my grandmother, and possibly, her mother. It can be shown that differential stress exposure plays a role in predisposing some African Americans to hypertension. We know the offspring of alcoholics mothers show fluctuating asymmetry in their teeth. This is a general developmental problem that affects numerous systems and is linked to lower IQ in college students. Numerous studies show that lasting adult pathologies can result from stress in the maternal environment. If you measure African Americans professionals today, you may not know that they might have grown up poor and disadvantaged. When I went to the refrigerator while my mom was at work, I used to open it up and see nothing but white. One of the earliest memories of my childhood is when my mother took me with her to a house where she was a maid. She worked in the homes of my classmates cleaning the house. The lady whose house it was said, 'little boy, are you hungry, would you like something?' I was trained to say, "No thank you, ma'am.' She took my hand and took me over to the refrigerator. I was six years old and had never seen that much food in my life. I did not believe that people had that much food in their house. We lived from paycheck to pay check. Growing up like that influences all sorts of things: my health and my emotional and mental wellbeing. Those influences are complex and cannot be simply explained as variance that is determined by genetics -which is what people in behavioral genetics want to do.

Question and Answer Period

Audience member:
How does this play out in terms of children who have come several generations?

Dr. Graves:
I have a problem with even beginning to explain antisocial behavior or criminality as a genetic behavioral phenotype because in my opinion, the people who run this country are the criminals, but they just haven't gone to jail. You cannot conveniently define this phenotype of criminality to be the people that you put in jail, not the people that you let go.

The behavior in our culture comes from our brain. 40% of the human genes have something to do with what happens in the brain. We are beginning to look at genetic variance that correlates with behavior. Consider the example of addiction. Cocaine addiction is linked to dopamine transporters and genetic variation for these transporters exists in humans. A very interesting experiment showed that socially subordinate macaques, a form of monkey, were more likely to self-administer cocaine with a button than dominant males who, being on the top of society do not need any dope. Environmental and social variation also influences behavior. How you can possibly understand human biology without reference to human society? It's meaningless proposition.

Here is another example of a biological factor that is influenced by social conditions. You've heard the expression, "They all look alike to me." There is some biological basis to that. Euro-American cannot readily recognize African American faces though African Americans readily recognize Euro-American faces. When this paper, 'Differential Responses in the Fusiform Regions of the Same Race and Other Race Faces,' came out in Nature-Neuro Science in 2001, major newspapers had headlines like 'Recognizing Race is Genetically Encoded.' Though that was the headline, the data was quite different. The authors only attained statistical significance by aggregating responses by the African Americans and the Euro-Americans. They were really studying the speed of recognition. What they really found was white people were able to identify white faces well but did not identify African American faces well. By contrast, the African American subjects were not statistically different in the way they identify European, American and African American faces. The subjects of this study were 20 medical students at Stanford University Medical School, as if this is a representative sample of American life. Why can African Americans recognize Euro-American faces. If you're an African American at Stanford University Medical School, you better be able to tell who's who.

Audience member:
Why can not the whites identify African American faces?

Graves:
An African American is likely to be exposed to more Euro-Americans faces and learn to say that's Fred or Bob. Many Euro-Americans who go to Stanford Medical School have had limited personal exposure to African Americans aside from television.

Audience member:
Does that have something to do with imposing your beliefs on what you see?

Dr. Graves:
Yes, I think it is a perfect example in these researchers could not see what was obvious in their data. They see a genetically encoded difference in the ability to identify faces. I look at their interpretation and see an example of the social construction of race.

This brings me back to my opening statement. The social conceptions of race can be erased. Kurzban, Tooby, and Cosmides have shown in proceedings at the National Academy of Science last year that humans learn to recognize kinship in small geographical areas where there would have been no racial variation. A person recognizes Fred, Jane, Paul or Ottuk of whoever, but you do not see any geographic or racialized variations. They tested whether the socialized views of race by college students could be altered by exposing them to an alternative social world. First, they showed a series of videotapes in which all the African Americans were the bad guys and Euro-Americans were the good guys, then they switched it around. They found that in the social world, clues to coalitional affiliation were altered and therefore changed. Less than four minutes of exposure eliminated the socialized views of race, not for gender. This makes sense because early in human evolution each person needed to recognize who was male and who was female but did not come in contact with racialized variation. So, people could not reverse the gender identification but they could reverse the racial identification.

That experiment suggests that the ability of humans to recognize the importance of coalitional allegiance may be genetically controlled. It may be something that we learned very early on in our history. However, the form of how we recognize that allegiance might be quite fluid. Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon are genetically twins but one is a Palestinian and one is an Israeli. Even though they are genetically identical, they have cultural and social reasons to be at each other.

Racism is not a necessary feature of human society though but coalitional allegiances might be ingrained. They have been and are a feature of present American society. People ask, 'Professor Graves, you say biological races are not real?' I say, 'Yes. Biological races are not real, but socialized races are real as a heart attack, and do not confuse those two.' There are no genetic barriers to dismantling racist ideology; it is a question of whether we want to.

I challenge all of you to imagine what a society would look like that has overcome its false association between genes and culture. I'll end my talk today with an anecdote. Yesterday my son participated in his first competitive swim meet with the Sun-West Swim Club. He has been swimming competitively for just a month and he was competing against children who have been swimming for over two years. The boy took two bronze medals in the three events he was entered. Some believe that African Americans are not supposed to be able to swim because we have got some heavy bones--we just sink. Now he is now in a place where he's getting instruction from somebody who is an excellent swimmer, so the kid's learned how to swim. It is amazing what culture can do.