Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

23 and BS

If you are unfortunate enough to watch television, you have no doubt seen ads for a company that will analyze your DNA and tell you where your ancestors come from.

A sample ad consists of a woman saying, "I used to think I was Hispanic. But when I got my results back, I discovered that I'm everything! I have ancestors from all over the world." A pie chart displays behind her showing percentages of ancestry from various places. "Now I know I'm not Hispanic after all. When they ask my ethnicity, I check 'other'."

Whoa. Talk about people unclear on the concept. She is the very paradigm of Hispanic, which means people who come from the Spanish speaking countries of the Americas. The current population of Latin America consists of the descendants of indigenous Americans, Spanish settlers, imported African slaves in some places, Africans who escaped from slavery, and lesser numbers of settlers from all over the world. The George Washington of Chile was named Bernardo O'Higgins. Italians, Germans and Jews went to Argentina in large numbers, especially around the time of WWII. A key concept in Mexican nationalism is "la raza," the "new race" that emerged from the mingling of peoples. The point is they all wound up speaking Spanish and adopting the nationalities and cultures of the places where they found themselves.

Of course some people in Latin America have a narrower set of ancestors -- some are entirely indigenous, others European -- but mixed ancestry is pretty much the norm.

Equally bizarre, although perhaps less obviously so, is the guy (I might have this exactly backwards but it doesn't matter) who says "We always thought we were Italian. We ate spaghetti and sang Santa Lucia. But it turns out I'm German!" Now he's wearing leiderhosen and drinking Lowenbrau. Listen up, this is not complicated. Over the course of history, people sometimes moved from Germany to Italy. Once they did so, they started speaking Italian and eating spaghetti, and maybe changed their name from Braun to Bruno. After a couple of generations they forgot all about Germany. Then some of their descendants moved to the U.S. and considered themselves Italian-Americans. Which they were.

This company is selling a bizarre, fraudulent and frankly dangerous racialized concept of ethno-national identity. Our ethnic identity is not encoded in our genes, it is a product of our history -- the cultural milieu in which we grew up. And to believe otherwise is to buy into the scientifically bogus concept of race which has caused global catastrophe. So getting this DNA analysis may satisfy your idle curiosity, but beyond that, it doesn't mean anything at all.


Anonymous said...

This is all so confusing.

Sometimes it's "race matters" when it's time to dole out the university acceptance slots, federal hiring and also those screaming "RACISM!" at every event they disagree with...and then other times it's "race doesn't matter, it's just a social construct" and meaningless.

How 'bout that Rachel Dolezal? Does her race matter?

She certainly doesn't think so but the NAACP disagrees. They canned her upon learning that she had two white parents. She says she identifies as Black but most blacks disown her from their race.

Maybe you could make up a new political identity group called Trans-Racial! Ya' know if you feel Mexican, then you're a Mexican...or black...or anything else!

Cervantes said...

Race is a social construction but that doesn't equal "meaningless." Social facts are still facts. And one social fact is that people get racially classified in part according to their skin tone. People who have sufficiently dark skin don't have the ability to be white.

However, "Hispanic" is not a racial category in any sense, it's an ethnic category. You can be Hispanic regardless of your ancestry or appearance. But if you didn't grow up in Mexico or in a Mexican family, it wouldn't make any sense to call yourself Mexican - unless you moved there and lived there long enough to assimilate into the culture and feel that you had Mexican identity.

This isn't so hard now, is it?

Anonymous said...

The problem is none of this is objective, but is left up to the individual to determine his/her race or ethnicity. There are plenty who would disagree with you that Hispanic is not a race. La Raza comes to mind.

Elizabeth Warren says she's Native American. Are you buying it? And would that be a race or an ethnicity? Depends on who you ask.

All of this is very complicated, and I think that's by design, to be able to use race when it suits your political needs and to distance from it when it doesn't.

It's kinda like the new rules that are made up as needed to excuse bad behavior in protected and favored identity groups. A good example is the new rule that a person in a protected group can call Ol' Whitey a "White Kracker Mutha*uca" and it's not racist at all because the new rule is his group would have to have the power to oppress other groups. Well, anyone can clearly see that this is designed to only apply to Whites.

Bottom line is it's pretty much a crock, a device used to gain advantage. Rappers and Black panthers and, yes, even ESPN announcers can attack other groups with impunity.

For that reason, I quit caring a long, long time ago and when people scream "racism", it's like the boy who cried "Wold" one too many times.

I just try to treat everyone well, but I don't buy into the bullshit.

Hey, but thanks for the discussion.