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Race, ethnicity and community

What does ‘race’ mean today, to a biologist? The ‘candelabra’ model of racial development is now rejected in favour of a ‘trellis’ model.


Nigel Pocock


Even with Neanderthals, cross-species mating was occurring. Modern Europeans consequently have between 2%-5% Neanderthal DNA. The trellis model allows for constant movement of populations.

This does not mean that groups of people did not try to defend their local identities, in order to prevent ‘miscegenation’.

No doubt they did, but such an exercise was bound to fail, for all kinds of reasons—wars, population pressures, technological innovations (e.g., ocean-going vessels), and market forces.

Beneath the melanin, there is therefore an enormous overlap of biological characteristics between peoples. Populations are like a vast overlay of interlocking circles, with the map varying, depending on the biological characteristic being mapped.

These include:

Fingerprints: All people groups share dominant patterns, either of loops, whorls or arches. Europeans and Black Africans are united in sharing loop patterns.

Cerumen (ear wax):  Again, Europeans are linked to Black Africans, in sharing the same gene that controls for cerumen type, but not to peoples in the east.

Lactase enzyme: This feature links people in Europe with groups such as the Fulani of West Africa. It is probably an evolutionary development related to milk consumption.

Amino-acid beta-aminoisobutyric acid: This is secreted by East Asians, but not by Europeans or Australian Aborigines.

The incredible pattern of overlaps and differences suggests that the gene pool is very mixed, and that the trellis model is a better explanatory tool than the candelabra model of species differentiation.

The differences between groups of people are estimated at only 15% (it is around 85% within a population, showing how genetically mixed populations are).

Culture is therefore the determinant of ‘race’, leading to socio-neurological changes, as part of a feedback loop.

‘Ethnicity’ is part of culture, as notions of ‘pigmentocracy’ are of ‘ethnicity’.

Creating status hierarchies based on degrees of pigmentation exist widely. It may be that, as some research suggests, that this is a development and rationalisation of what was originally a response to night and day, light and darkness, as many ancient sayings attest, for example, in the Bible.

Analysis of football players shows that exactly the same fouls attract different penalties, depending on whether they are wearing black (severe penalties) or lighter colours (less severe).

What makes a ‘community’ work is trust. Trust tends to be facilitated by a sense that another person is ‘one of their own’.

Thus ‘communities’ are essentially groups of people who have internalised the same value-systems. ‘Associations’ are groups of people with common professional interests.

They may even be attendees at a community-building workshop. In this case, it is listening, especially to those who are vulnerable, that creates empathy and community. It is in sharing pain, that deeper relationships become possible, and people become pro-social towards each other.

Just as with community-building workshops, so with society. They have to be carefully managed, and yet free. It is arguable that too rapid immigration will make community, in the deeper sense, impossible, because there is insufficient time to facilitate such changes.

Ghettoisation will then result, with all the problems associated with such, communities. Biology is certainly involved, but not in the way people might expect.

(Photos: Pixabay)









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