Forum > Touchy Subjects > American racial/ethnic categories
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5299519/

If you're interested, the above study gives the anthropologist's perspective on race and why it's fairly useless having no real basis in biology and even dangerous for it's effect on health and cultural experiences.

Being indigenous actually has some objective value. An indigenous people in a legal or perhaps ethical sense have more of a right to occupy a land being the first inhabitants. To simply move in like early settlers and colonialists did and occupy already occupied lands wasn't really justified given that they were a foreign power.
  
Right, but if race is meaningless, why are indigenous peoples grouped separately from settlers? That's what I'm getting at. This may feel circular, but from a layman's perspective and without any clear definitions, it sounds like you're saying all the things commonly referred to as race are useful, but race is not.
  
@E7
So if you don't recognise the concept of an Amerindians as a racial category, by what mechanism would you identify the-indigenous-people-of-the-USA? If you were in charge of indigenous rights in the US, and someone approached you claiming to be Amerindian, how would you determine they were telling the truth? Amerindians have different DNA, so they are biologically distinct from African and European-Americans, which is basically what the word "race" means. I mean if you acknowledge that there is a genetically distinct population with tens of thousands of years of divergent ancestry, then that's what most people mean by "race", I think.

I get that there is a degree of social construction around where one race ends and another begins, like where precisely Europe becomes the Middle East. That's what that whole embarrassing debate about the Tsarnaev brothers was about. They were Chechens, which is on the cusp. Salon ran an opinion piece saying "Lets hope the Boston Bomber is a white American" and it's like well they were sort of, but Chechen Muslim refugees weren't what Salon meant. Their article was headed with a big picture of Timothy McVeigh vs Osama bin Laden (who is also white according to the US government).

If we regard it as purely cultural, should a genetically-European-American be considered an Amerindian if they learn an Amerindian language? In the early days of colonisation it was common for Europeans to assimilate into indigenous tribes, for example Pakeha Maori in New Zealand. But I think the context where that was legitimate is gone now.
  
Grayseff said:
Right, but if race is meaningless, why are indigenous peoples grouped separately from settlers? That's what I'm getting at. This may feel circular, but from a layman's perspective and without any clear definitions, it sounds like you're saying all the things commonly referred to as race are useful, but race is not.
Race commonly refers to biology and geography but it doesn't give any useful distinctions based on those. Being indigenous means your people were literally the first inhabitants of a region; being of a certain race could be stretched to mean nearly anything.

Millpond said:
@E7
So if you don't recognise the concept of an Amerindians as a racial category, by what mechanism would you identify the-indigenous-people-of-the-USA? If you were in charge of indigenous rights in the US, and someone approached you claiming to be Amerindian, how would you determine they were telling the truth? Amerindians have different DNA, so they are biologically distinct from African and European-Americans, which is basically what the word "race" means. I mean if you acknowledge that there is a genetically distinct population with tens of thousands of years of divergent ancestry, then that's what most people mean by "race", I think.

I get that there is a degree of social construction around where one race ends and another begins, like where precisely European becomes Middle Eastern. That's what that whole embarrassing debate about the Tsarnaev brothers was about. They were Chechens, which is on the cusp. Salon ran an article saying "Lets hope the Boston Bomber is a white American" and it's like well they were sort of, but I imagine Chechen Muslim refugees wasn't quite what Salon had in mind.

If we regard it as purely cultural, should a genetically-European-American be considered an Amerindian if they learn an Amerindian language? In the early days of colonisation it was common for Europeans to assimilate into indigenous tribes, for example Pakeha Maori in New Zealand. But I think the context where that was legitimate is gone now.
You're still missing the point. Race in general doesn't necessarily make as many useful distinctions as being Amerindian does. If that's considered a race by whatever measure you're using then so be it. Amerindians are an indigenous people. If that fits your definition of a specific race then that's fine, but just as you said, there's more than a small degree of social construction regarding race. Most races are fabricated based on skin color alone. There's literally no sound evidence that race means anything without providing more specifics. I don't need to refer to Amerindians as a race to find a practical way to provide them with special rights that pertain to their situation because as I've stated several times, being indigenous isn't as vague and ambiguous as being of a certain race can be.
  
Right: Cartoon is not a useful definition, but a televised, scripted program where drawings are animated -- typically aimed at children -- is. Got it.
  
Yeah, I see your point. Perhaps I just get triggered when I see the word race because it's so often used to make meaningful distinctions when it actually has none unless you specify that you're using it in regard to things such as indigenous peoples.

I mean, biological variability exists but this variability does not conform to the discrete packages labeled races.
  
I get that you could verify someone's status as an Amerindian without using the word "race". You could test their DNA and/or verify their family tree. But you'd be recognising them as a biologically distinct group of people and you'd also be affording importance to that. As far as I can tell, you recognise that there are biologically different groups of humans and that this is important, but you don't want to call it "race".

I notice the US census seems to cope with white, black and Amerindian, then utterly breaks down when it comes to Asian and Polynesian:

  
That's probably because race has a lot of useless connotations. Being indigenous to a region is about as far as you can go. Biology doesn't really offer a lot of distinctions that have any merit in separating people into categories beyond that. My ancestry is so mixed throughout Europe that I can't even call myself indigenous to any one region.

At the end of the day, a lot of things like affirmative action value something as arbitrary as race because people have made so many arbitrary distinctions based on race that it has put certain people at a disadvantage. In order to make reparations you're kinda forced to use those discriminatory vague values in reverse. This is why we try to help indigenous peoples too. They were displaced by an outside force when they were the original inhabitants of that region.

Whether affirmative action or likewise, indigenous rights worked to help the situation is another debate. I'm inclined to think it has helped in certain instances but has caused a lot of other problems as well.
  
So how precisely is race useless when it's important to identify races in order to make reparations for racial injustice? Furthermore, an ongoing debate is how much help indigenous people want in integrating into colonial societies, and how much ethnic communities want success under the existing white model.
  
Perhaps I chose my words poorly; race is just next to useless. It only happens to be useful in finding disadvantaged people who're disadvantaged because of the insistence upon using race to categorize them in the first place.

Instead of attempting to legislate "white guilt" and "anti-colonialism" I propose something far more radical. Why don't we just not make any discrimination based on race or whether a person is indigenous or not? Instead we can help anyone who's disadvantaged for any reason beyond their control. I'm all for equal opportunity.
  
Right, last time we tried to eradicate races and make them successful like us it ended very, very, badly.
  
You seem to be setting up a straw man. I’m not suggesting we dismantle people’s culture in order to force compliance. This problem wouldn’t exist if the indigenous people weren’t originally forced out of lands they inhabited but that’s history. The way I see it they should have their own nation.

Integration into our culture hasn’t been entirely successful so far. It’s been a slow death that’s caused the indigenous culture to disappear as we continue to try and make them fit into American culture.
  
I'm just completely confused by your exact point. Race doesn't matter, except where it does, but it shouldn't because we should help everyone become successful equally, except when they don't want to be like us.

I'm purely picking at your reasoning to try understand exactly what you're saying.
  
Race isn’t a useful way to categorize people. Race does matter, but shouldn’t. We should provide people equal opportunity, not force them to abandon their culture.
  
Wait, so if a category of distinct people of distinct genetic origins and culture wish to maintain it, is it still not useful to describe them as a group of culturally and phenotypically different people who originated from an area with which they identify in terms of that distinction? Should Hmong, Tongan, Samoan, Middle Eastern or Chinese migrants no longer identify with their distinct heritage? Part of which includes centuries of selection which has led to different phenotypes being prevalent?

In all honesty it seems like the only way in which race is not useful to you is that as a white person living in America your cultural identity no longer matches your genetic identity. I'm not saying that's a problem, most expatriate white countries come to a point where "NZ European/White American" is more useful than "1/16 Scottish, 1/4 Irish, 1/12 English, 13/147 gypsy on my father's mother's great-great-aunt's side."

Again, this fully isn't a problem, it just genuinely seems like every time I mention any facet of race that isn't directly related to white expatriate Americans you say "Of course, that's just a fact."
  
Has anyone touched on branching evolutionary paths? Racial categorization can be useful in a medical sense, in that regard. Asian populations have more DNA from Denisovan ancestors, European cultures tend to have more Neanderthal, etc. I'd imagine this has a pretty big impact on physiology.
Sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, lactose intolerance - just a few disorders that impact people with specific ancestries at differing rates.

I realize that this is more of a debate on the social categorization of race, but given that race is a composite of culture, ancestry, and phenotypes, it seems that at least one of the characteristics that determine race has a valid medical application.
  
Those census questions are so inconsistent and arbitrary. It's like a progression from disinterest to interest. If you're anything west of the Indian subcontinent they don't care, you're just a big white blob of whiteness. If you're anything south of the Sahara, you're just black - although you get a range of nice synonyms white people don't get. If you're Amerindian, they want to know your specific tribe. If you're Asian or Polynesian, suddenly they're really interested and want a specific nationality. It distinguishes Chinese and Korean, but it doesn't distinguish German and French. But if you speak Spanish it gets super interested and you get a whole separate question about why you speak Spanish - but if it's because you're Spanish you have to tick "other"!

"I'm from a European/Middle Eastern/North African background"
"Spain?"
"No, Ger-"
"White, don't care, next"
"I'm from a sub-Saharan African background"
"Okay, black or whatever you're calling yourselves this week, next"
"I'm from an Amerindian background"
"Oooh, what tribe?"
"I'm from an Asian/Polynesian background"
"Wow! That's really interesting, tell me what nationality specifically!"
  
Grayseff said:
Wait, so if a category of distinct people of distinct genetic origins and culture wish to maintain it, is it still not useful to describe them as a group of culturally and phenotypically different people who originated from an area with which they identify in terms of that distinction? Should Hmong, Tongan, Samoan, Middle Eastern or Chinese migrants no longer identify with their distinct heritage? Part of which includes centuries of selection which has led to different phenotypes being prevalent?
“Distinct genetic origins” only applies to purely indigenous peoples. Biological variability exists but this variability does not conform to the discrete packages labeled races. Indigenous peoples, culture and ethnicity are what you’re referring to. I’ll respect the different cultures. If someone doesn’t fit the physical profile but still has migrated from China and identities with it culturally and has been accepted as Chinese, would you not consider them Chinese?

Grayseff said:
In all honesty it seems like the only way in which race is not useful to you is that as a white person living in America your cultural identity no longer matches your genetic identity. I'm not saying that's a problem, most expatriate white countries come to a point where "NZ European/White American" is more useful than "1/16 Scottish, 1/4 Irish, 1/12 English, 13/147 gypsy on my father's mother's great-great-aunt's side."

Again, this fully isn't a problem, it just genuinely seems like every time I mention any facet of race that isn't directly related to white expatriate Americans you say "Of course, that's just a fact."
I’m culturally disconnected from my origins but culture and race are different things. Race is still just a framework.
  
So distinct genetic traits applies to non-Chinese indigenous peoples -- established. Do Europeans have indigenous rights in Europe? Similarly, are other ethnic categories like African American allowed to be judged on genetics?
  
I wouldn’t say that genetics alone gives us much information to base judgements about an entire people.

I would say people indigenous to specific regions of Europe have more of a right to their lands such as the Irish, they should be able to remain fully independent of the UK. I doubt Scotts would want to break off now. In Europe people are more thoroughly mixed than in Indo-China. European countries do (more or less) still belong to their indigenous peoples but I don’t think you’d find a lot of practicing pagan tribal communities that have remained tribal from their roots before the western Roman Empire.
  
Ireland has been fully independent from the UK for some time, Ulster has been protestant Scots for longer than the 13 colonies have existed, but that's another thread. Europe is less mixed than you're assuming, but I follow your point.

Genetics is not an overriding characteristic, you'll notice I never claimed race was any sort of be-all-end-all, what I'm claiming is that it's short sighted at best to make the kind of blanket statements about race's worthlessness like your first few posts and several after have. I'm trying to pin down precisely what you're saying.

We both agree that: The isolation that creates unique cultures also creates more prevalent genetic differences, that this is called race and that it is useful in grouping people into at least indigenous and non-indigenous groups. Only you seem to flit between "it has no utility" and "it does." Lastly, you seem to be implying that because personal interactions shouldn't be governed by perceptions of race that group interactions also shouldn't; which I find myopic.
  
E7 said:
An indigenous people are the first native to inhabit a certain geographical area.
E7 said:
I don’t think you’d find a lot of practicing pagan tribal communities that have remained tribal from their roots before the western Roman Empire.
You're moving the goalposts. First you said indigenous people were the first native people in a geographic area. But when that geographic area changed to Europe, you introduced extra criteria about lifestyle and religion. Indigenous Europeans may no longer be tribal and pagan, but they're the genetic descendants of the ones that were. Does this mean Amerindians aren't indigenous if they're Christian and not living tribally? Your criteria for "indigenous" seems to change depending on which region is being discussed.

Also, the Western Roman Empire didn't cover all of Europe. So if your criteria for indigenous European is exclusion from the Western Roman Empire, then that leaves indigenous Scots and Irish which you mentioned, but also Germans, Danes, Norwegians, Icelanders, Swedes, Finns, Russians, Poles, Dutch, etc . . . I'm not sure why the Western Roman Empire is even relevant. If being part of an Empire means you stop being indigenous, then that applies to Amerindians too.
  
Grayseff said:
Ireland has been fully independent from the UK for some time, Ulster has been protestant Scots for longer than the 13 colonies have existed, but that's another thread. Europe is less mixed than you're assuming, but I follow your point.
Is Ireland fully independent? What about Northern Ireland and Belfast?

Grayseff said:
Genetics is not an overriding characteristic, you'll notice I never claimed race was any sort of be-all-end-all, what I'm claiming is that it's short sighted at best to make the kind of blanket statements about race's worthlessness like your first few posts and several after have. I'm trying to pin down precisely what you're saying.
There's plenty of terms that are as vague and ambiguous as to have no real value in conversation because they're based on antediluvian concepts. If you read the study I've been citing, you'll see that the academic consensus or 'race' is that it's not a useful way to categorize people. You're essentially making it mean what you want it to mean.

Grayseff said:
We both agree that: The isolation that creates unique cultures also creates more prevalent genetic differences, that this is called race and that it is useful in grouping people into at least indigenous and non-indigenous groups.
That's not how I define race. Race is an ambiguous framework. Being an indigenous people has a very specific definition.

Grayseff said:
Only you seem to flit between "it has no utility" and "it does." Lastly, you seem to be implying that because personal interactions shouldn't be governed by perceptions of race that group interactions also shouldn't; which I find myopic.
My whole point is that people utilize race when they shouldn't. Being indigenous has utility and value. Race in general is too vague to be useful.

Millpond said:
You're moving the goal posts. First you said indigenous people were the first native people in a geographic area. But when that geographic area changed to Europe, you introduced extra criteria that they have to be tribal and pagan. Indigenous Europeans may no longer be tribal and pagan, but they're the genetic descendants of the ones that were. Does this mean Amerindians aren't indigenous if they're Christian and not living tribally? Your criteria for "indigenous" seems to change depending on which region is being discussed.
I'm not moving the goal posts. I don't get to make up the definition of what an indigenous people is. I didn't say that Europeans no longer practicing the original tribal and pagan were not indigenous. They are indigenous and they have prime rights to occupy the region they originated in regardless of whether they keep primitive tradition or not. I was merely pointing out that because there aren't tribal communities living in Europe, I doubt many would want to live separate from it's modern infrastructure as a tribal state like the reservations in New Mexico.

Millpond said:
Also, the Western Roman Empire didn't cover all of Europe. So if your criteria for indigenous European is exclusion from the Western Roman Empire, then that leaves indigenous Scots and Irish which you mentioned, but also Germans, Danes, Norwegians, Icelanders, Swedes, Finns, Russians, Poles, Dutch, etc . . . I'm not sure why the Western Roman Empire is even relevant. If being part of an Empire means you stop being indigenous, then that applies to Amerindians too.
My criteria for being an indigenous didn't have anything to do with the Roman Empire. I was using it as a point of reference for when the tribal needs of Europeans started to come to a close as they moved into a feudal system thus leaving behind most of the sort of traditions that would require exclusive reservations.
  
Alright, I’m not going to let this slide. In what way is Northern Ireland not independent?
  
I'm genuinely just asking. I really don't know much about it but I vaguely remember being taught Ireland was once a part of Great Britain. Now, if I remember correctly, the geographical area of Northern Ireland was still a part of the UK; or at least, it wasn't a part of the country of Ireland. I haven't been able too look up stuff much because my internet is a hotspot from my phone's data plan since I'm in the process of moving again.

EDIT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNu8XDBSn10

Nevermind, I understand now. The UK is four countries: Northern Ireland, Scottland, England and Wales. There's Northern Ireland in the UK and The Republic of Ireland.
  
Forum > Touchy Subjects > American racial/ethnic categories