and the Meaning of Race [top]
the sequencing of the human genome was completed in 2000, it was heralded
as evidence that race was a cultural construction with little base
in science. The sequencing apparently shows that approximately 99.9%
of the human genome is the same in everybody, and that there is greater
genetic variation within each race than there is between races.
to Dr Craig Venter of Celera Genomics, one of the organizations involved
in the sequencing, the level of genetic similarity shows that: "Race
is a social concept, not a scientific one." There is only one race,
Dr Venter and other scientists at the National Institutes of Health
have unanimously declared: the human race.
Freemen of the North General Hospital in Manhattan told the New York
Times that only about 0.01% of our genes are responsible for our external
appearance, on which we base our racial categorizations. The humans
brain is finely attuned to recognize differences in appearance to
facilitate differentiating between individuals. We therefore place
great emphasis on appearance. But these differences in appearance
translate into only tiny differences in our genetic make-up.
scientists and academics believe that this new information challenges
the legitimacy of racial categorizations and shows that race is a
meaningless notion. In 1997 the American Anthropological Association,
which has published an official statement on race, urged the government
to cease using racial categories.
writers, such as Professor Joseph Graves, author of "The Emperor's
New Clothes: Biological theories of race at the Millennium," have
questioned the value of racial categories in medicine. However, not
everyone agrees with this statement. Some researchers continue to
see racial classifications as scientifically useful, while others,
such as surgeon general Dr David Satcher, believe that the evidence
race with health disparities in America warrants the continued use
of the categories.
Anthropological Association, "American Anthropological Association
Statement On 'Race'," http://www.aaanet.org/stmts/racepp.htm.
Angier, "Do Races Differ? Not Really, Genes Show," The New York
Times, Aug. 22 2000, http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/082200sci-genetics-race.html.
Villarosa, "A Conversation With Joseph Graves: races as the same machines
in different colors," The New York Times, Jan. 1 2002, http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/01/health/genetics/01CONV.html.
Marshall, "DNA Studies Challenge the Meaning of Race," Science,
282 (Oct. 22 1998): 654-655, http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/282/5389/654.
M A Rothstein
and P G Epps, "Pharmacogenomics and the (ir)relevance of race," The
Pharmacogenomics Journal, 1 (2) (2001): 104-8
Satel, "Medicine's Race Problem," Policy Review, 110 (Dec.
2001/Jan. 2002), http://www.policyreview.org/DEC01/satel.html.
Wade, "For Genome Mappers, the Tricky Terrain of Race Requires Some
careful Navigation," The New York Times, Jul. 20 2001, http://college3.nytimes.com/guests/articles/2001/07/20/857931.xml.
Science and American Indian Identity
American Indian identity is a complex matter. As with many contemporary
ethnic identities, genetics, in the form of ancestry and blood quantum,
plays an important role in identity construction. While many American
Indian tribes require that potential members show a particular blood
quantum before they are accorded tribal membership, few tribes currently
use genetic tests to determine eligibility.
genetic tests to identify ancestry are becoming available. A new Texas
based company, Family Tree DNA Genealogy by Genetics, Ltd performs
genetic testing for Native American ancestry on individual customers.
The company carries out mitochondrial
DNA testing to determine Native American ancestry inherited through
a direct line of maternal descent. They can also perform Y
chromosome testing on men. These tests are, of course, limited
to exclusively the maternal or paternal line.
are no reports of American Indian tribes requiring or relying on DNA
testing for membership, but the Western Mohegan an officially unrecognised
tribe of the upper Hudson, has reportedly tested the DNA of its members
in an effort to prove they possess American Indian blood.
2000 a piece of legislation was introduced into the Vermont Legislature
that proposed that the State's Commissioner of Health establish standards
and procedures for DNA-HLA testing to determine the identity of an
individual as a Native American. It was intended that the results
of such testing would be conclusive proof of the Native American ancestry.
The bill failed to become law before the end of the 1999 legislative
session and has not been reintroduced. However, during its short life
it provoked a strong reaction. Debra Harry, the director of the Indigenous
Peoples Council on Biocolonialism called it "outrageous" and said
that it "demonstrates a complete lack of knowledge about genetics."
One internet site even set up a petition against the bill.
Kimberly Tallbear, of the International Institute for Indigenous Resource
Management, has suggested that critics misinterpreted the Vermont
bill, which she says was intended to provide an additional, rather
than sole, means of establishing Indian heritage. Nevertheless, she
notes that the bill is an example of an approach that assumes "that
a person's culture and identity are chiefly biologically determined
rather than being socially constructed." She also cautions that "scientists,
policy makers, and others who advocate that genetic testing be used
to determine culture or identity, imply a eugenics-type belief that
genetic markers are synonymous with culture and somehow guarantee
testing is approached with a certain amount of skepticism and resistance
by some in American Indian circles. Tallbear considers this reluctance
to be in part based on "an increasingly widespread belief among Indian
people that to entertain ideas about the benefits of science and technology
is to be anti-traditional." She also believes that tribes fear that
scientific establishments cannot be trusted with their genetic resources.
This concern to retain control over genetic material is evidenced
in The Mataatua Declaration on Cultural and Intellectual Property
Rights of Indigenous Peoples signed at the 1993 First International
Conference on Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights of Indigenous
Peoples and in the 1995 Declaration of Indigenous Peoples of the Western
Hemisphere Regarding the Human Genome Diversity Project.
Tallbear, "Genetics, Culture and Identity in Indian Country," paper
presented at the Seventh International Congress on Ethnobiology, Athens,
Georgia, Oct. 23-27 2000, http://www.iiirm.org/publications/Genetics/ISEPaper.pdf.
of Indigenous Peoples of the Western Hemisphere Regarding the Human
Genome Diversity Project," signed at Phoenix, Arizona, Feb. 19 1995,
Mataatua Declaration on Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights
of Indigenous Peoples," signed at the First International Conference
on Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights of Indigenous Peoples,
Jun. 12-18 1993, Whakatane, New Zealand, http://users.ox.ac.uk/~wgtrr/mataatua.htm.
Lebrun, "The limits of science, and of sense," The Times Union,
Mar. 6 2000, page B1 (visited Jul. 9 2001 at LEXIS-NEXIS® Academic
Tree DNA Genealogy by Genetics, Ltd, "Native American Match," http://www.familytreedna.com.
Yona, "DNA testing in Vermont," The Abolitionist Examiner,
Apr./May, 2001, http://www.multiracial.com/abolitionist/word/yona-parttwo.html.
The Cohanim [top]
to Jewish tradition male descendants of Moses' brother Aaron were
selected by God to serve as priests. These priests are known as the
that the Y chromosome is passed from father to son one might expect
that male members of the Cohanim living today would carry similar
Y chromosomes. In addition, it might be expected that these Y chromosomes
would show that the Cohanim and the Levites (the Jewish caste of which
Moses was a member) shared a common ancestor in the Temple period,
approximately 3,000 or 2,000 ago.
conducted by researchers from the United Kingdom and Israel showed
that although the Y chromosomes of Levite men are very diverse, Cohen
Y chromosomes are relatively homogenous. In a sample of 306 Jewish
males from Israel, Canada and the United Kingdom the researchers found
that a particular series of polymorphisms, known as a haplotype, was
noticeably common among both Ashkenazic and Sephardic Cohanim. This
haplotype is called the Cohen modal haplotype or CMH. Identification
of the CMH in a high proportion of men belonging to a particular group
can be used to support claims that the group has Jewish ancestry.
the results of their study the researchers were also able to estimate
how long ago the Cohanim they sampled had shared a common ancestor.
They estimated that the common ancestor had lived approximately 2,600
years ago, sometime between the Exodus and the destruction of the
N, Thomas M. "Why Y? The Y chromosome in the study of human evolution."
Science Spectra, number 14, 1998, 32-37. Available online at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/tcga/ScienceSpectra-pages/SciSpect-14-98.html
MG, Skorecki K, Ben-Ami H, Parfitt T, Bradmann N, Goldstein DB. "Origins
of Old Testament Priests." Nature, volume 394, 9 July 1998,
Lemba are a black Southern African Bantu speaking group who claim
to have Jewish ancestry. They observe customs that suggest a Jewish
link such as not eating pork, male circumcision, and keeping one day
a week holy. According to their oral history, they came to Africa
from "Sena in the north by boat". The original group, which is said
to have been almost entirely male, made its way to the coasts of Eastern
Africa. If the Lemba do indeed have Jewish ancestry then one might
expect to find a similarity between the Y
chromosomes of Lemba men and those of Jewish men living in other
parts of the world.
recent study the Y chromosomes of around 136 Lemba were compared to
the Y chromosomes of Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, Yemeni and non-Lemba
Bantu speakers. The study's results were suggestive of a genetic history
the Lemba that is not incompatible with the Lemba's oral tradition.
Researchers found evidence of Semitic origin in the Lemba, although
it was not clear whether this origin was Jewish or Arab, or a mixture
study also found that the Lemba carry the Cohen modal haplotype
(CMH) at a frequency similar to that found in Jewish populations.
The CMH has been suggested as a signature for the ancient Hebrew population.
In fact, the Lemba men who showed a very high frequency of the CMH
were those who identified themselves as belonging to the Buba
clan. The Buba is recognized as the senior of the twelve Lemba clans,
being the oldest and for some ritual purposes the most important.
In many ways the Buba may be likened to the Cohen. Non-Lemba Bantu
speakers in the study did not carry the CMH.
researchers concluded that the Lemba most likely have a mixture of
Jewish, Arab and Bantu origins, although the CMH present in Lemba
men could have an exclusively Jewish origin. The genetic evidence
is therefore consistent with the Lemba oral tradition of a Jewish
N, Thomas M. "Why Y? The Y chromosome in the study of human evolution."
Science Spectra, number 14, 1998, 32-37. Available online at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/tcga/ScienceSpectra-pages/SciSpect-14-98.html.
Article on the use of Y-chromosome analysis to trace the alleged Jewish
ancestry of the Lemba people of southern Africa.
Site with an interactive game illustrating the Y-chromosome analysis,
along with articles on the use of this technique in tracing the ancestry
of the Lemba, the Cohanim, and Sally Hemings' children.
Interview with Tudor Parfitt, describing his investigation of the
Lemba's claims of Semitic origin.
MG, Parfitt T, Weiss DA, Skorecki K, Wilson JF, le Roux M, Bradman
N, Goldstein DB. "Y Chromosomes Traveling South: The Cohen Modal Haplotype
and the Origins of the Lemba - the 'Black Jews of Southern Africa'."
American Journal of Human Genetics, volume 66, number 2, February
Black Seminoles [top]
Seminoles are an American Indian tribe that originated in Florida
around the beginning of the 18th century. Over a period of approximately
200 years slaves in neighbouring states fled to Florida, where many
found refuge among the Seminole Indians. These former slaves fought
alongside the Seminoles in a number of wars against the Americans
and were relocated to Oklahoma in the mid 1800s, where the tribe was
given a reservation. In 1866 the Seminoles in Oklahoma signed a treaty
with the United States government under which the blood Seminoles
and the Black Seminoles were accorded equal rights. Thereafter the
Black Seminoles of Oklahoma were known as "Freedmen."
2000 the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma passed a resolution to amend
their tribal membership criteria to require possession of one-eighth
Seminole Indian blood. This new focus on blood quantum is not only
in breach of the 1866 treaty, but it also has the effect of expelling
many of the Freedmen from the tribe because many cannot show possession
of Indian blood.
time when using genetics to prove identity is becoming more and more
common, the Freedmen are an interesting case primarily because genetics
has traditionally taken a back seat in the construction of their "Indianness".
Their membership of an American Indian tribe has for generations been
based on a shared history, rather than on shared Indian genetics.
However, the Freedmen's membership of the Nation is now under threat
as the tribe moves over to an identity system that places genetics
above history, that values blood quantum over contribution to tribal
story of the Freedmen offers a very unusual understanding of what
it can mean to belong to an American Indian tribe. It also illustrates
how genetics is becoming a popular way of defining identity.
Wickliffe-Ary, "Seminole Nation in Election Conflict Over Freedmen
and Their Voting Rights," Native Times, http://www.okit.com/news/2001/august/seminoles.html.
Gardner, "Lawyer discusses Seminoles," The Dartmouth, Jan 19
Glaberson, "Who is a Seminole and Who Gets to Decide," The New
York Times, Jan. 29 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/learning/students/pop/010130snaptuesday.html.
homepage of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, http://www.cowboy.net/native/seminole/.
Opala, A Brief History of the Seminole Freedmen. Austin: African
and Afro-American Studies and Research Center, University of Texas
at Austin, 1980.
Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson
Article on the use of mitrochondrial DNA analysis to trace the founding
female Maori population of New Zealand, which also refers to a study
showing genetic links between Polynesians (including Maori) and a
people who lived in Taiwan around 5,000 years ago.
by University of North Carolina sociology professor John Shelton Reed
on the Melungeons, an ethnic group from the Southern United States
about whose ethnic ancestry little is known.
Official website of the Melungeon Heritage Association.
Website devoted to the "Melungeon Movement".
Caste System in India [top]
caste-based hierarchies a form of racism? This
question was the topic of a heated dispute between the Indian government
and representatives of the Dalit (or "Untouchables") at the
2001 World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa. The Dalit
argued that caste-based discrimination is a type of racism and that
their political struggles should be included in the agenda of the
conference. The Indian government resisted this argument, arguing
that the caste system is unconnected to race.
Indian government eventually succeeded in almost wholly excluding
any substantive discussion of caste at the conference. However, a
recent genetic study suggests that higher caste groups in India are
genetically more similar to Europeans and that lower castes are more
similar to Asians. Some observers have taken this study as evidence
that discrimination based on caste is more similar to discrimination
based on race than defenders of the caste system admit.
caste system in India is a hierarchical social structure divided into
four levels called varnas. Each varna is an endogamous group
that has traditionally been assigned differing social roles. From
highest to lowest, those occupying the four varnas are:
beyond the four varnas there is a fifth group called Achut,
or Untouchable. Members of this last group are considered too polluted
even to be included in the caste hierarchy. They are outcasts, and
they are assigned roles that, though necessary, are thought too low
for members of the four varnas.
times, Gandhi tried to give the Untouchables a less offensive name,
while still preserving the category. He called them Harijan, or children
of Hari, a Hindu deity. Going even further, the constitution of the
modern, democratic state of India outlawed the practice of untouchability
in an attempt to efface the concept. Yet, despite this effort, the
concept of untouchability is still part of the caste system as it
survives in India today.
to this concept and the oppression it has been used to justify, the
Untouchables of India have organized themselves into a political group
demanding equal rights under the democratic constitution of India.
As a start, they have discarded the terms "Untouchable" and "Harijan"
and have adopted the title, "Dalit," which means broken, torn asunder,
or crushed. Further, they have attempted to make the world aware of
their situation. The Dalit community argued that their case needed
to be heard at the World Conference on Racism in Durban, but the Indian
government vigorously opposed this argument. They argued that the
Dalits are not a racial group and thus have no place in a conference
debate between the Dalits and the Indian government raises complex
questions about the nature of race and caste. These questions have
been complicated still further by a recent study suggesting that the
notion of caste originated in the concept of race. A study led by
Bamshad of the University of Utah indicated that higher castes
in India have more European genetic markers while the lower castes
including Dalits have more Asian genetic markers. Critics of the caste
system have taken this study as a refutation of the argument that
caste was originally based not on birth but on the ''nature'' of individuals.
News article providing more details of the debate between Dalit and
Indian government officials.
Paper by Gerardo Vildostegui on the caste-race debate.
A collection of links to articles on both sides of the race-caste
Abstract of Bamshad article mentioned above. (Full text is password-protected.)