Posted by: Lister | January 29, 2007

Debunking Race

My previous posts in the racism section have been instances of racism. This post is a story that undermines racism by illustrating how hard it is to define “race”.

If you were asked to categorise the race of a white man from Yorkshire, how would you do it? Would you say he is African? Well some part of him could be: Yorkshire clan linked to Africa

A Leicester University study found that seven men with a rare Yorkshire surname carry a genetic signature previously found only in people of African origin.

The men seem to have shared a common ancestor in the 18th Century, but the African DNA lineage they carry may have reached Britain centuries earlier.

[…] Y chromosomes can be classified into different groups (called haplogroups) which, to some extent, reflect a person’s geographical ancestry.

Certain haplogroups might be very common in, for example, East Asia and very rare in Europe.

By chance, the researchers discovered a white man with a rare Yorkshire surname carrying a Y chromosome haplogroup that had previously been found only in West African men. And even there, it is relatively uncommon.

[…] Sharing a surname also significantly raised the likelihood of sharing the same type of Y chromosome, with the link getting stronger as the surname gets rarer.

So the researchers started recruiting people with the same last name, which starts with “R” and originates in Yorkshire.

Of 18 people they tested, seven carried the rare African haplogroup.

[…] Professor Jobling echoed this view: “This study shows that what it means to be British is complicated and always has been,” he said.

“Human migration history is clearly very complex, particularly for an island nation such as ours, and this study further debunks the idea that there are simple and distinct populations or ‘races’.”

By posting this, I don’t mean deny that there are black people and white people. There are also tall people and short people, blue-eyed people, red-haired people…. Why should colour of skin be any more of an identifier of race than any other difference?

Of course, racism would still be unjust even if races were well-defined. Just as sexism is unjust even though male/female are fairly strict categories. (There are some exceptions.)

I also found this interesting:

[…] There are other precedents for the finding. When scientists analysed the DNA of the third US president, Thomas Jefferson, they found that his Y chromosome belonged to a haplogroup known as K2.

Jefferson’s father claimed Welsh ancestry. But his Y-haplogroup is vanishingly rare in Europe and has not yet been reported in Britain.

In fact, genetic studies show that Thomas Jefferson’s K2 haplogroup ultimately came from north-east Africa or the Middle East, the areas where it is most commonly found today.


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