The Only Race
By R. D. Flavin


12-12-2014


Our choices...

     Gosh, there's been a lot of violence in the street of late! Occupy Wall Street didn't work, so some folks are going for protesting against police brutality. I'm all for peaceful demonstrations, but the burning cars and looting of stores seems like there's something else going on. There's really no such thing as the 'black' race or the 'white' race, in fact the only race is the 'human' race. Yeah, I'm going to toe the line on this one!

     It's a tragic shame what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as the horrific NYPD chokehold death, but such behavior happens nearly every night in cities like Chicago and Philly. Is it power-seeking, prejudice, or just everyone is 'bad' to some degree, but some have badges? I mean, really, SOME towns burst into violence if their sports team wins an event. Lots of rage around...


An example of the "Black Bloc" tactics.

     This past Monday, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a feature ominously titled “Violent protesters don't care about Brown, Garner” by Chip Johnson. The piece dealt with the “Black Bloc” tactic of everyone dressing in black and making it difficult to identify any single individual. Mentioned in the feature are the Iraq War protests of 2003, the Oscar Grant demonstrations in 2009, Occupy Oakland in 2011, and now the black bloc-ers are rioting in Berkeley. Such 'masking' techniques are nothing new and certainly not confined to America. Some trace its origins to Germany in the late '70s and early '80s, but the tactics have spread nearly worldwide and are mostly used at protest events, but sometimes just for publicity. I never could understand anarchy...

     In an earlier column (#138 1-14-00 “The Color of Life”), I wrote:

     Our consensual distinctions of "color" is based on the shared dynamics of the human eye and brain and their ability to distinguish various reflections of light and assign "color" to these reflections. "Light," as the degrees (or wavelengths) of the visible spectrum of electromagnetic energy, bounces off of a specific object, passes through the eye, and based upon the reflectivity of the object, the brain matches a perception of "color" to a particular wavelength of "light." It's illusory, of course, as brains of non-humans perceive color differently than we do. I'm reminded that my mother preferred black and white television to color, saying "...It looks more realistic." Indeed, the world may well consist of subtle shades of gray. "Color," as such, could be regarded as a modern, agreed upon development. But, even though "color" itself is "all in our heads," objects do possess different degrees of reflectivity and we may as well continue to use the accepted terms of color distinction, as gray1, gray2, ...through gray136d, could be a drag when ordering socks online.

     Inasmuch as separating "colors" is a function of communicative convenience, many biologists today are arguing that "race," as applied to humans, is a term arising from socio-cultural vocabularies and is not scientific. It simply doesn't exist in humans. Skin color (as determined by varying amounts of melanin) and physical characteristics (usually facial--nose, lips, eyelids) are the primary criteria used to separate one group of humans from others by non-scientists. Such differences are, of course, readily apparent and distinguishable, but are not genetically significant enough to qualify splitting humans into sub-species or "races." Though we still can't say for sure exactly how many hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of years it takes for an adaptive group of humans to change skin color and physical characteristics, we can say with surety that the process exists and may not take as long as we suspect. When someone plays the "race card," it's a game of words and has nothing to do with science.

     A unique skeleton was accidentally discovered by a couple of students in the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington. Most often dated to between 7000 to 6900 BCE, the remains of the “Kennewick Man” just happened to be on land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who took possession and prohibited a re-burial by various Columbia River Basin Amer-Indian tribes or any scientific studies by archaeologists and others. It's been suggested Kennewick Man had wandered down from the north and had a diet which included lots of seals.


A reconstruction of what Kennewick Man may have looked like.

     Douglas Owsley, a physical anthropologist with the Smithsonian Institution, commented recently (after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the bones in 2002): “He's certainly of Asian origin. His roots are going to be East Asian maritime hunter-gatherers dependent on seals. To get isotope values like you see in him, you at least have to get into coastal central Alaska or even more to the west. His facial features tie him strongly, in terms of the shape of the skull, with East Asian groups like the Ainu of ancient Japan, or Polynesians (Worrall 2014).”

     The several significant migrations from East Asia, perhaps Japan, and most definitely by the Polynesians to the south may have begun as early as 35,000 BCE, intensified around 15,000 BCE, and finished with the Inuit around the first century BCE to CE. While the Norse were exploring the Atlantic to the north, the Polynesians were still going strong in the south. 1492 is famous because Columbus's letter announcing the “New World” was printed quickly and distributed all over Europe in just a few years. Yeah, that's when the weirdness really started and which continues to this day (with the Keystone pipe running across sacred land). I guess it's been freaky and violent in these parts for a long time...

     The Spanish were the first to really mess things up and as their descendants have become our Latinos and Hispanics (East vs West coast slang), as the United States tries to pretend we're not all immigrants. You too, my First Nation friends! Wasn't the original horse tiny in ancient America, crossed to Asia, got big in Central Asia, and returned home with a vengeance in the sixteenth century? History is a stew that we're still stirring. I forget where I read that under the Nixon administration the government tried to determine how many Spanish speakers were here, (ostensibly to teach more Spanish classes in junior and high schools), and got their own 'box' to check like the blacks, whites, and Asians. It's important to have your own box to check... Though it can also be a bit of a bummer, as I've recently had to start checking the 'Near Elderly' boxes for those between 55 and 60-62 (I'm 56,though soon to be 57). I'm not a fan of this new box...


His Holiness Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I.

     Immigration is not simply an American hot potato, as almost all countries (excluding Iceland) have issues with immigration. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of the Phanar Bartholomew I (aka Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople) recently met His Holiness Pope Francis in Turkey, where it is said that an invitation to rejoin the Roman Catholic Church was extended. With immigration issues across the Mediterranean and Southern Europe, the two discussed solutions, but spiritual has recently had a rough time effecting the secular. At least in the Christian world, as everyone else seems to be in open war against their neighbor. Pope Francis continues to concentrate on immigration concerns as he did at the European Union meeting at Strasbourg a couple of weeks ago. The Holy Father can chide them, but he can't take away their toys...

     Zoologists tell us some animals have no concept of either fear or risky behavior which may result in death. Whether dumb or blessed, it's not for me to say. I could add it would be easy to conclude Homo sapiens sapiens are the hairless and intelligent 'animals', but that would be wrong and incomplete. Humans, of all 'color' believe themselves superior to the animals in the 'wild'. Our tendency toward violence would negate any such conclusion. We're animals who wear shoes and can launch rockets... Every shaved animal I've ever seen, while looking extremely uncomfortable, has had a pale skin. I'd guess our ancestors, the hominid hairy bunch, were likewise pale beneath their hair. When Homo's started to lose their body hair, with some migrating out of Africa, and pigmentation due to environmental conditions took over, THEN we developed some noticeable differences. Some of those differences were because of skin color, while many more blamed a problem with another's religion, political party, or whether ketchup is a condiment or a 'vegetable'. We're all human and it's time to grow up...

     I believe in 'good' and hope 'evil' will lose eventually. That's as close to a religious comment I'm going to make... Skin color, nationalism, and all the other puny and petty complaints, seek to stave off the only logical and truthful consequence: the only race is all of us so-called humans not hurting the species or further damaging Mom Terra. Grow up, take a moment, then let's all get back to the main job of saving ourselves and the planet.

Bibliography:

Worrall, Simon. 2014. “Locked Away for Years, Skeleton's Secrets Rewrite Prehistory of North America.” National Geographic (published online 12-7-2014, accessed 12-9-2014). See: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/12/141207-kennewick-man-bones-archaeology-ancient-ngbooktalk/

Unsure about the finish line,
Rick

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