National Geographic calls itself to task for its racist past


I dunno- I look at how people act and file then into ‘asshole/not an asshole/demi-god/schmot guy’ accordingly. I try my damnedest to reserve judgement until I see how people act, unless they’ve telegraphed their intentions to me or their reputation precedes them.

While I do nominally claim that I know where my personal biases are, I’m always willing to go into a situation with an open mind.


Thank you @ficuswhisperer . That is a cool story.



Genetics is about kin groups, not races. For example, there are lots of different groups of dark skinned people in Africa who are only distantly related to each other genetically - there’s more genetic differentiation in Africa than in the rest of the world, because humans first evolved there and have been there much longer.

When people claim to have identified someone’s race by their genetics, what they are really saying is that they have identified one of a person’s kin groups and the current members of that kin group are currently categorized as white or black or asian or whatever. But another kin group with the same skin color, and considered to be the same race, could have a very different genetic makeup. Since skin color is not based on just one gene, but on a number of different interacting genes, two people can have the same skin color but not the same genes responsible for that skin color.

Intelligence, too, is partly heritable and also seems to be generated by interactions between many genes, not just one gene. So, like skin color, two people can have the same level of intelligence but different sets of genes which are responsible. It is possible that some kin groups have different ranges of the genetic portion of intelligence than others, it’s something that hasn’t really been studied, but like all genetic traits, the genetic combinations which contribute to intelligence can’t be mapped to races. Because kin groups don’t map to races - they are seriously different from racial categories.

There are no genetic characteristics which are present in every member of one “race” and not present in any member of any other race. Even the genetic mutations which lead to pale skin vary, and they are relatively recent, and not as varied as the interactions which can create dark skin. There is no one skin color mutation that is carried by everyone who is usually classified as “white” and by no one who is in some other racial category. The same is true for “black” and “asian” people.

There is no biological basis to race.

Another difficulty for your assertion is that the definitions of “race” varies from country to country, and varies over time. They are fluid definitions, constantly changing. In the U.S., for example, people from Ireland and from Italy were not considered “white” for most of the period between 1830 and 1920.

If you pay attention to actual facts, you can no longer cling to the whole structure of race. It’s a made-up thing, and does not accurately describe reality.


Continuing with the “yes, and…” theme that categorises some of this thread:

Just because a thing is a human invention does not mean that it can be ignored or casually rejected. Human mental constructs (not just race; see also nationalism, capitalism, etc.) have very real effects in the material world.

The problem with the “colourblind” or “try not to think in terms of race” approach is that it severely impairs our ability to analyse and deal with these material effects. In particular, the rejection of the validity of Black identity catastrophically damages the ability of Black people to organise in their own defence.


I don’t agree with your premise that we have to stay within the structure of racial thinking. Yes, pretending that racial categories don’t exist (color blind) is a dead-end strategy. Racial thinking is all around us. But we do have to start using the other categories people live in - professions, personalities, ways of thinking etc. rather than racial categories. That’s the only way to strangle racism and make it wither away.

Is your racial category the only category you fit into? Or do you have a profession, an ideology, a way of relating to other people, a cultural group, some other basic part of your identity that is also a category you fit into? Why not use another category as a primary category to describe yourself, rather than your racial category, except in those rare instances where a racial category is actually meaningful - like in discussions of race?

And “Black Identity” is an American subcultural phenomenon which maps more accurately to “African American Identity”, because “African American” is a cultural and historical term, not a racial term. In either case it describes people with a specific history, a specific set of obstacles they have had to deal with and overcome, a specific group of heroes and villains. Because we live in a racist society, it has been useful to call it Black Identity, but it’s actually cultural, not racial. Very few people who talk about “Black Identity” are talking about the experience of black people in Kenya, or Mozambique, or India, or France, or Egypt - they are talking about a specifically American cultural experience, and they exclude foreigners from it.

So rejecting racial terminology does NOT in any way reject the reality that is currently referred to as Black Identity - but the name will probably change to African American Identity or something else as we get away from using racial terms and move towards cultural and historical terms.

And as we move away from thinking in racial categories, we will also move away from the racial barriers which have held people apart. If we succeed in getting out of this structure of race we have lived in for several hundred years, in another hundred years the country will look very different.


I think that a part of the issue here may be that we’re focused on two different things: you on racism, me on white supremacy.

Racism, in this framing, is personal and cognitive. It’s a psychological phenomenon, a habit of thought.

To me, that sort of racism is not the key issue. Yes, it’s obnoxious; yes, it is often harmful; yes, it helps to feed white supremacy. But unless it is allied with power, it is mostly trivial.

It’s also, to a significant degree, unavoidable. Humans appear to have biologically evolved a degree of instinctive clannishness; we will always tend to be a bit more comfortable around the people who are most familiar to us.

That’s a tendency that is worth resisting, and we are able to do so to a certain degree. Further developing that ability is a worthwhile thing.

But, to me, it isn’t the key problem.

Racism does not become truly toxic until it is allied with power and dominance. And, in this world, that means white supremacy. Which is why I’ve been arguing upthread that the key issues here are the currently existing power relationships that maintain the economic and military dominance of the white West.

When Black activists are talking about racism, they are usually referring to white supremacy.

Yes, Black identity was originally an American thing. It arose as a consequence of the cultural genocide that accompanied slavery.

The reason why Black Americans don’t identify (like Irish- or Polish-Americans) as Senegalese-Americans or whatever is that they mostly don’t know where their ancestors came from.

But if you have a poke at the American Black left, you’ll find that they tend to have a strongly internationalist perspective on things. Look at the later work of Kwame Ture or James Baldwin; listen to what the Black Panthers had to say about global liberation struggles. They remember Lumumba and Sankara.

Going the other way…the US is the most prolific and talented producer of propaganda in history. American culture dominates the planet, and reaches almost every corner. Kids in Africa knew who Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan were, and you’ll find Black Lives Matter shirts across the globe.

The Black left in the USA, UK, France, etc are all connected to the Panafricanist movement. For example:

(long video, but the first minute or two should get the point across)

Black identity began as a specifically American thing, but it has gone beyond that now.


BTW: these support your argument more than mine [1], but I thought you might find them interesting.

[1] On the surface, when viewed out of context. Baldwin is deep.




I was feeling particularly charitable when I replied “maybe there’s more to know here”.

I think you confused my quoting
Manolis Dermitzakis
Manolis Kellis.


You’re right. I got the wrong Manolis. So, Dermitzakis is repeating the same nonsense as other academics. Really, “Asian”, “black”, “white”, “Indian”, “Korean”, “Yoruban”, “Ethiopian”, etc. are just figments of everyone’s imagination? You can’t look at a two groups of white people and guess which are Slavs and which are non-Slavs, or two groups of African people and guess which are East African and which are West African? Do we typically confuse someone from Mexico with someone from Asia? There aren’t hard boundaries but give me someone’s genotype and I can make educated guesses about their appearance. That doesn’t make me racist, and it’s not going to stem racism to distort plain facts.


If that were true, it would be bad news for those ethnic-minority actors who are called on to fill “generic brown” roles. Take Cliff Curtis, who is Maori, but who has also played any number of Latin Americans, a fair few Arabs, a character that I’m guessing is Ashkenazi (Jewish forename, Eastern European surname), and Jesus.


Oh come on, don’t you realize that all Japanese people look alike? Same same with those Koreans, can’t hardly even tell them apart!



Can you guess what the following have in common?

An Indian …

A South American …

A Pole …


And an Afghan.



That’s because genotypes reveal people’s kin groups, and people like you have assigned racial categories to different kin groups.

BUT - take all the kin groups which have been assigned to any one racial type, and you cannot find even one genetic marker which is ONLY present in members of that racial category and NOT present in people of any other racial category. This is true even for “white” people, since there’s more than one way to produce pale skin genetically. The most common mutation is not the only way. And some people with pale skin are not considered “white” in many racial schemes. If genetics underlay racial categories, there would be clear genetic distinctions between racial categories, and there are not. The best racialists can do is come up with statistical probabilities of the prevalence of particular genetic markers within their racial categories, and that is because genes don’t map clearly to race.

You are working backwards from kin groups to racial categories, and you don’t need the racial categories at all. The kin groups are sufficient, the racial stuff is inaccurate and superfluous.


That’s because genotypes reveal people’s kin groups, and people like you have assigned racial categories to different kin groups

A kin group is a group of people related by blood or marriage. If we’re talking about really large groups and only related by blood, not marriage, maybe, but I’m not assigning a race to, say, different villages. In any case, you’re making my point for me: have you ever noticed that people related by blood look alike, meaning more alike than people less related by blood? What do we mean by “alike”? Mostly facial characteristics, as well as body type. Guess what - there has been selective pressure for fathers to recognize their offspring, hence the ability to scrutinize facial characteristics.

You’re negating something I haven’t claimed. I don’t claim that there are absolute boundaries. Just do an image search for “hapmap cluster” and it’s clear that there are distinct genetic groups that, by complete coincidence, correspond to geographical origin. Here is an article that makes the link explicit. See figure 1:


A kin group is also a large group of people sharing fairly recent ancestry. People of Bantu descent, for example, can be regarded as kin group, people of English descent can be considered as a kin group, Western Europeans can be considered as a kin group - any group for which you can trace a very large percentage of shared inheritance can be treated as a kin group, although clearly members of large kin groups share fewer characteristics across the group than the members of the smaller kin groups which make up the larger ones.

All genetics is able to trace is ancestry and shared ancestry. And “related by blood” is a phrase that’s a relic of the days before genetic information was discovered - blood isn’t the mechanism of inheritance that it was once thought to be.

There’s no genetic basis for race. And that’s just a fact. Many have tried, but no one has been able to shoehorn genetics successfully into racial categories. The best that can be done is to statistically define more incidence of particular genetic traits in one race than another - but that is smoke and mirrors pretending to be sciency.

There is no need for the racial category in that case, of course, you can just talk about the population which has a particular genetic trait, and ignore whatever racial category the individual members of that group fall into.
Trying to break a group with a shared genetic trait apart by race actively degrades the usefulness of the genetic information. Race is not biology, race is ideology.

Why cling to racial categories? They serve no purpose except social division. There are lots of more specific categories that actually do describe people pretty well - but those don’t map to racial categories at all.


Why cling to national categories? Or gendered ones? Or baseball teams?

They too sow social division, but as with race, that hasn’t become their only purpose.


The only purpose of race is to create divisions between people. It really has no other valid function, although people often try to use race in other ways, as if it was a real thing. In Medicine, for example, people make race-based claims about who is or isn’t susceptible to a particular disease - but it’s not race that matters there, it’s the specific genetic conditions that set up susceptibility, and those don’t map to race except in a not-very-accurate statistical way. Race sets up huge artificial categories and claims that they are real. They don’t have any biological or cultural basis, though.

Trying to bring about equality between the racial categories is a noble aim, but we all know that separate but equal is a false hope, it never happens. We can only get out of this mess by switching to more accurate and less toxic categories - and there are thousands of them we can use.


Good luck with that. We should stop having wars too, but merely saying so won’t make it happen.


Of course. Just saying anything doesn’t make it happen.