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American Renaissance Vol.14 No.6

RACE DENIAL
THE POWER OF A DELUSION
Michael Rienzi

‘Science’ in the service of politics.


Race: The Power of an Illusion, Produced by California Newsreel and the Independent Television Service, Larry Adelman, Executive Producer. Funding from the Ford Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Diversity Fund. 2003. Running time: 56 minutes per episode. Three episode set, $295, individual episodes, $195.

On April 24, PBS aired the first of a three-part television series called “Race — The Power of an Illusion,” produced by a lefty outfit called California Newsreel, whose website says it specializes in “educational videos on African American life and history, race relations and diversity training, African cinema, Media and Society, labor studies, campus life, and much more.” The first episode, called “The Difference Between Us” purported to demonstrate that race is an “illusion” concocted to justify repression of “people of color” by nasty white-skinned people.

This is, of course, the kind of programming liberals love. The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “one of the most provocative, and potentially most important television shows of this or any other season.” Black columnist Clarence Page reveled in the indictment the series brings against whites.

The first installment assembled a number of prominent race-denying “experts:” Richard Lewontin, a long-time critic of the biological race concept, and Joseph Graves, who wrote the race-denying book The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium. The late Stephen Jay Gould, notorious for his economy with the truth, was also featured. All the experts were deniers; not a single scientist who recognizes the concept of race was interviewed, or participated in producing the program.

What arguments do these experts make? First, they harp on the fact that there is no single gene or (small) set of genes unique to any racial group. They suggest that two members of the same race may differ from each other more at a specific gene locus than they do from someone of a different race. In other words, at some small part of their genomes, a person can appear more similar to some people of other races than to some people of his own race. This is true, but meaningless.

This argument implies that if, for any particular genes or traits, two family members are less like each other than to a complete stranger, then “family does not exist, and family is an illusion.” Let us imagine two full brothers: Joe and Ted. Joe has brown eyes, brown hair and has blood group O. Ted has blond hair, blue eyes, and blood group B. Hans, who is a complete stranger to Joe and Ted, also happens to have blond hair, blue eyes, and blood group B, just like Ted. If we look at only these traits, Ted is more closely related to Hans than to his brother Joe. Does this, then, invalidate the concept of family?

It is, in fact, true that among the tens of thousands of genes, it is possible to find some number of gene loci at which a white person may appear more similar to an Asian or African than to certain other whites. This does not invalidate the concept of race any more than the example of Ted, Joe, and Hans invalidates the concept of family kinship.

An important argument in favor of race — and, of course, absent from the program — is that when enough genes are considered, race becomes unmistakably real. As readers of AR are aware (see issues of Aug. 2000, March 1997), both the work of Luigi Cavalli-Sforza, as well as that of Masatoshi Nei and Arun Roychoudhury, show consistent genetic differences between human populations. When these genetic differences are represented graphically, the resulting population groups are virtually identical to the major racial groups established by physical anthropology.

In other words, the idea that a race must be characterized by specific genes found only in that race and never in another race is a straw man put up by experts, so they can knock it down and make politically-motivated claims. These experts seem to be well aware of popular misconceptions, and appear deliberately to take advantage of them. The layman might well think different races must differ greatly in genetic structure, that there must be genes unique to each race, that races must differ “90 percent genetically,” etc. Experts then come along and point out that this is not so, and then try to use this surprise to convince people race is an illusion. Real scientists understand that racial differences are a result of many patterns of differences in gene frequencies, as well as specific differences in forms of various genes that code for racially-relevant physical traits.

What is probably the central event of this television program is a DNA test given to a group of students of different races. First, the students are introduced and made to say that they expect to be genetically more similar to other students of the same race. For example, a black student named Jamil says: “I think I have the most differences with Kiril [who is white] and the most similarities with Gorgeous. She’s African-American, I’m African-American. I mean, like black.” The white student Noah says he thinks he will be most similar to fellow whites like Kiril. The students also compare skin color to set the stage for the results.

The program’s producers are shrewdly manipulating the students, setting them up for the “surprise” when the results do not turn out as they (or naive members of the audience) expect. The punch-line is that Jamil finds out he is more similar to the white Kiril than to the black Gorgeous, and the Asian Jackie is similar to someone from the Balkans. Noah, who is white, has DNA sequences similar to a sample from the Balkans, from Iceland, and from Africa. The narrator intones: “Genetic data can subvert racial assumptions about racial ancestry.”

The key to this test — and what can only be seen as mendacity on the part of its producers — is that it was done with mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA can be useful for population studies, but is completely useless for determining race at the individual level, or for comparing the racial ancestry of one individual to another.

This special kind of DNA is found in small organelles, called mitochondria, in the protoplasm of the cell, and is inherited exclusively from the mother. Mitochondrial DNA is involved in the organization and structure only of mitochondria, not of the rest of the body. You inherit all your mitochondrial DNA from your mother, but only 50 percent of your autosomal nuclear DNA, the DNA that codes for the rest of the human body, including racially-relevant traits. However, your mother got all her mitochondrial DNA from her mother — your maternal grandmother — while your grandmother’s contribution to your overall genome is only 25 percent.

With each preceding generation, the autosomal genetic input from your mitochondrial DNA precursor is halved. Your matrilineal ancestor of only five generations back contributed all your mitochondrial DNA but only 1/32 of your total genes. Go back ten generations, and it is 1/1024, a vanishingly small number, which would have virtually no effect on overall racial character. It is obvious, therefore, that mitochondrial DNA markers tell you almost nothing about the overall racial ancestry of any individual.

Someone who appears to be a 100 percent “pure” Negro could have an “Anglo-Saxon” mitochondrial marker and vice versa. The fact that Jamil is more similar to Kiril than to Gorgeous in mitochondrial DNA tells us that perhaps many generations back, one of his maternal ancestors was white. An estimated nine to 15 percent of American blacks have Caucasian mitochondrial DNA, meaning that this percentage have at least one white maternal ancestor. That is all it would take for Jamil’s mitochondrial DNA to be more similar to that of whites than to that of blacks who have no white maternal ancestors. Maybe the person from the Balkans who had mitochondrial DNA similar to the Asian Jackie had a maternal ancestor who was from Central/East Asia — possibly a Turk or Avar or Hun or Mongol or Bulgar, etc.

All mitochondrial DNA can tell any individual is the possible place of origin of one out of thousands of ancestors. It is impossible to determine race this way, and for the “experts” to imply that this test somehow invalidates the concept of race is outright deception. A test using autosomal DNA would have given very different results.

Mitochondrial DNA is certainly “genetic material,” but it is not what most people are thinking of when they think of “genes” or genetic identity. In fact, the mitochondria are so “genetically degenerate,” they cannot depend entirely on their own DNA but get help from aotosomal DNA, which codes some of their proteins. A population geneticist, for example, would laugh at the idea of trying to identify someone from mitochondrial DNA. It is difficult not to conclude that the “experts” on this program wanted a racially ambiguous result and chose a methodology that would produce it.

This reliance on mitochondrial DNA is particularly disturbing, given that an autosomal DNA “race test” is readily available from DNA Print Genomics, Inc. (The company calls it a test of “biogeographical ancestry.”) The latest version of the test, (see http:/www.ancestry bydna.com) uses autosomal DNA markers and determines the proportion of ancestry that is Indo-European (Caucasian), African (sub-Saharan African; i.e., Negro), Native American (Amerindian), or East Asian (Mongolid/Oriental/Pacific Islander).

Individual case studies are featured on the company’s website. The company’s CEO, Tony Frudakis is mostly of European descent, but has one great-grandparent described as an “almost pure Cherokee.” Dr. Frudakis maps out as having 11 percent American Indian ancestry (very close to the 12.5 percent expected from his great grand-parent); he is also 85 percent Indo-European and four percent African. His Mexican wife mapped out as 76 percent Native American, 13 percent African, and 11 percent Indo-European, an unsurprising mix for a Mexican. Neither Frudakis nor his wife showed any East Asian/Pacific islander ancestry.

The key to this test — and what can only be seen as mendacity on the part of its producers — is that it was done with mitochondrial DNA.

It is hard to reconcile data of this kind with the idea that race is an illusion. With the right genetic information race can be determined unmistakably, as well as proportions of any individual’s racial mix. The “experts” put up by PBS tried to fool the audience with mitochondrial DNA, while a publicly-available test would easily have distinguished between Jamil and Gorgeous on the one hand, and Noah and Kiril on the other, and would have put Jackie in a separate, Asian, category.

The “experts” on this program also make the usual statements that there is so little genetic variation between human populations it has no significance. Dr. Lewontin repeats his often-touted finding that there is more genetic variation within population groups than between groups, which implies not only that race is an illusion, but — like the deceptive mitochondrial DNA test — suggests a white person might be biologically closer to a black than to other whites. AR has dealt with this argument at length in several articles (March 1997, Dec. 2000) but new information underscores the futility of these race-denying arguments.

Most scientists believe humans and chimps are 98.7 percent genetically similar, though recent data suggest the difference may be slightly larger. This close similarity was highlighted in 1975 when Mary-Claire King and Allan Wilson showed that the tiny amount of genetic variation between humans and chimps was not enough to account for the physical differences between the two species. They speculated that the way genes are expressed must be more important than the amount of genetic difference.

New work (Wolfgang Enard et al. Science, 296: 340-343, 2002) has demonstrated that this view — which can be called “the regulatory hypothesis” — is correct. There is a significant difference in human-chimp gene expression patterns, especially in the brain, and it is these differences in expression that mainly account for human-chimp phenotypic differences. Genes are arranged in a hierarchy, with some genes controlling the expression of many others. Thus, a small genetic difference in one or several genes can result in large differences in expression of other genes, even if these other genes are themselves structurally identical between the groups.

Indeed, another recent paper by Dr. Enard has shown that small alterations in a single gene, FOXP2, is probably the main reason humans are capable of speech and apes are not. Small changes have enormous consequences. Even the scientists who make public race-denying statements about how “genetically identical” humans are, also make statements more privately about the genetic similarity between humans, chimps, and other mammals. The parallel to racial differences is obvious: If a less than two percent difference in human and chimp genome can produce such extraordinary physical and mental differences, the small differences between races — differences no scientist denies exist — can likewise have important results. As Dr. Enard points out in his Science paper, “The variation in gene expression between individuals within the [human] species is substantial, relative to the differences between humans and chimpanzee.”

Arguments that “invalidate” race would also invalidate family and even species.

As the late Glayde Whitney pointed out in an AR cover story in March 1997, if we calculate the total, combined genetic variation in the population of Belfast and a troop of macaque monkeys, much more than 50 percent of that variation will be found in both the macaques and the people of Belfast. That is to say, there is more genetic variation within the groups than between them. This does not mean there are not extremely important differences between the two populations or that Irishman are more similar to monkeys than they are to each other — which is exactly the kind of nonsense the Lewontin argument implies about race.

If the “more variation within than between” argument invalidates race, why not species, too? Thus, there is more genetic variation within populations of humans, chimps, and even mice than there is between humans, chimps, and mice. Would Prof. Lewontin argue for equal rights for chimps? Why not? Is there not less genetic variation between chimps and humans than within each group? Can we not say that there are only “superficial” differences between humans and chimps — just as racial differences are superficial?

Another argument the television experts make is that we are all mongrels (but if there are no races, what is the mix that produces mongrels?) This argument fails in two ways. First, the various stocks that have gone into producing many of today’s ethnic groups were relatively similar to begin with, so it hardly makes sense to call the present populations “mongrels.” How different, for example, were the Anglo-Saxons from the Celts? Second, mixtures of related stocks can stabilize over time, and form a new, unique, and separate ethnic group, race, or breed. Thus, even if today’s races are the result of ancient mixtures those mixtures are distinct and extremely stable.

The experts on this program consistently claim that race is “only skin-deep,” and that there is no concordance between “superficial” racial traits and other characteristics such as intelligence and athletic ability. They claim these traits are independently inherited without regard to race.

This deliberately disregards decades of careful research. Many consistent group differences have been found in intelligence, behavior, brain size, resistance to disease, twinning rates, speed of maturation, etc. Prof. Arthur Jensen has gathered irrefutable proof of racial differences in average intelligence. In Race, Evolution and Behavior Prof. Philippe Rushton has not only documented the large number of other racial differences but shown how they fit the varying reproduction strategies followed by different racial groups. Even the most anti-racist medical doctors recognize that transplant donors and recipients often have to be matched not just for race but for close ethnicity within race, because inter-racial transplants often fail.

The “experts” claim there hasn’t been enough time for humans to evolve significant differences with different levels of intelligence, for example. This is an odd argument because physical differences have evolved. The “experts” somehow believe there has been enough time for the striking differences between a Nigerian and a Swede to evolve, but not enough for differences in intelligence.

PBS tries to use sports to invalidate race, arguing that in the 1930s, Jewish teams dominated American basketball. The program thus implies that black preeminence in basketball today is somehow a historical accident with no biological implications. Of course, in the 1930s basketball was largely a white, urban sport, and Jewish players were not competing against the likes of Michael Jordan or Wilt Chamberlain. How would even the best-trained Jews fare against blacks on an NBA court in the year 2003? Does anyone expect Israel to win a gold medal in basketball in the next Olympics?

Nor is it fair to ignore the dominance of people of West African descent in sprinting, and the dominance of East Africans in longer races. And do we expect black African nations to win gold medals in Olympic swimming? There are plenty of rivers and lakes in Africa in which blacks could become expert swimmers if they had natural ability. As John Entine has shown in his book Taboo (reviewed in Feb. 2000), there are well-established physiological racial differences that explain why certain populations excel in certain events.

Another argument from the experts’ bag of tricks is that there is “continuous variation” in human differences. Thus, they claim that if you travel from “the tropics to Norway” you will see a gradual change in skin color and you would not be able to say where the dark and light races become differentiated. This argument is nonsense at two levels. Logically it implies that mixtures or hybrids invalidate the concept of more pure forms. These “experts” would have to argue that because we have a mixture that produces the color orange, red and yellow are really “illusions,” and that since there are “mutts” this proves dog breeds do not exist.

Second, the argument is not factually correct. Moving from the tropics to Norway, there are a number of sharp, albeit imperfect, divisions in both genetic structure and phenotype that result from geographical barriers. The greatest division is that separating the very dark Negroes south of the Sahara from the predominantly Caucasian, lighter-skinned Berbers and Arabs of North Africa (there is also a mulatto presence that resulted from early mixture). The Mediterranean is another barrier, separating North Africans to the south from the genetically and phenotypically distinct European populations in Southern Europe. And of course there are genetic and phenotypic gradients within Europe itself.

The PBS experts present a consistently one-sided point of view that fits perfectly with the underlying ideology of the program, the flavor of which is clear from the following quotations:

“To keep America’s mongrels at bay, eugenicists proposed a series of restrictive measures unthinkable today. Yet they were adopted within and outside of America. Taken to their extreme, they fueled one of the century’s greatest horrors.”

“The Nazi propaganda machine pointed out that their eugenic policies were entirely consistent with and in fact derived from ideas of American race scientists.”

One person on the program says: “I’m white. Would I trade my skin color? ... um ... I probably wouldn’t trade my skin color. It’s something that I’ve taken for granted. It’s also a privilege, I guess.”

And, finally, the central message: “Race is a human invention. We created it, we have used it in ways that have been in many, many respects quite negative and quite harmful. And we can think ourselves out of it. We made it, we can unmake it.”

Here we have it: Race is not a biological fact but a wicked human invention that must be abolished. Race-denying scientists, fueled by ideological fervor, are trying to distort reality and “unmake race,” just as the Lysenkoists of Stalin’s Soviet Union tried to unmake the laws of genetics. The danger is that laymen are fooled by these arguments and by rigged “experiments” designed to give misleading results. This is not science, but hard-core propaganda, and it is important to understand the anti-European, anti-Western bias that fuels it.AR

Michael Rienzi is the pen name of a biologist working in the Northeast.

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