Saturday, October 20, 2007

Race and Biology

I have been meaning to write a reaction to the patently racist comments that James Watson made when he described himself to be "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa (because) all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really."

In effect, this Nobel prize-winning scientist brought relevance, again, to the preposterous nonsense that race is a scientific category.

James Watson is, however, not your run of the mill racist. He won the Nobel Prize for his work that led to the 'discovery' of DNA.

So when Watson speaks the world listens. And those who want to believe that race is proved in biology are quick to raise his credentials as support for the seriousness of their argument.

But we have been here before. In fact, it is more accurate to say that we never really moved beyond the grounding assumptions that race is a biological category. This being the case even when new research and theorizations impute racial identity to be found along currents of civilization, culture, class, socio-history, and even politics.

What often happens in new theorizations is that the grounding assumptions of biology merely migrate and redeploy to contextualize the concept of race in standing assumptions of biological/binary differences, like the Other and Otherness.

Race as defined by the contemporary emphasis on racialization, for example, is hardly distant from an essentialized view of difference even when the biology thesis is set aside.

Racialization assumes that one can tell the differences between races by preferencing a socio-historical process that deconstructs biology. But what it mostly ends up doing is reconstructing race in socio-biological terms.

So, we end up with theories that deny the biology assertion, and at the same time replicate the biological assumptions that still drive the category of race. This outcome is not too distinct from the evolutionary sociobiology assertion of scientists like Pulitzer Prize author Edward Osborne Wilson who wrote "Sociobiology: The New Synthesis" in 1975.

Sociobiologists and biological determinists, like Watson, agree that human behaviour can be determined through science. The US government is even funding research that attempts to ascertain the genetic make-up of homosexuals.

Still, I am not saying that the better way to deal with race is to simply remove it because it does not exist. That is a version of the denialist argument. And it is simplistic despite its popularity in tomes that seek to specify the "where to from here" projects.

Race is not biological but its reality can be found in structure and power. It won't just disappear because race is tied to the manner in which modernization, industry, the nation-state, and capital, function.

Watson is part of the power construct that needs to see race as a matter of genetic competition and prowess. It is the field of rationality, described by Hegel in absolute racist terms, that brings this "commonsense" to Watson.

He knows the science and can't deny the disconnect between science and race. But like Gobineau, he is sceptical about notions of equality among the races. His science is, therefore, set aside as he casts an eye formed in racism to explain the devastation that Africans have endured since slavery and colonialism.

In so doing, Watson like most white people, distances himself from the burden of owning the fact that Europe and its allies inside Africa, and outside, are mostly responsible for its devastation and underdevelopment.

It is easier to blame the victim. To blame the African, Blacks, the African American, the Indian, the Aboriginal, the Moari, and the Others who have endured the viciousness of whiteness.

And even as we think about the implications of those who would want us to see race as biology, there is hardly anyone looking for a genetic explanation for slavery, colonialism, apartheid, and genocide.

Instead, it is assumed that whiteness is a kind of supreme purity. It hunts and gathers in terms that evoke not thievery, but 'discovery'. It brutalizes those whom it dominates and turns the tables not seeking redemption, but rather integration and muliticulturalism.

And all the while these terms tell us more about the enduring and rearranging power of whiteness than it tells us about its decline.

Take, for example, the racist biological determinism that Nike used to develop a shoe for Indians. Nike researchers looked at the feet of 200 Indians, then decided that there was such a thing as an Indian foot.

The supporters of this shoe are quick to point out that Nike is seeking to help Indians. They don't see the biological reductionism that is assumed when Indians are collectivized by the appearance of their feet.

We have not, therefore, strayed too far from the assumptions of biology that drive race. Phrenology is reimposed in IQ testing and market research that develop old theories in new ways.

And that is how we end up with a sick Indian foot and a superior white brain.

I am, therefore, not shocked by Watson's claims. It is good to know that he has been repudiated and suspended by the very Academy and structure that created him and employed him.

I don't expect that he and the theory he now claims to abhor, will disappear. We are, afterall, locked in a battle about power and privilege. In these contexts, race is still an inevitable part of life anywhere, because it is the ruthless pursuit of power and privilege that has brought the structure of racism to be built on our Otherized bodies.

Thank you Mojalefa Murphy for your comments on Watson. Mojalefe writes at Africa Files.

Also, please see a noteworthy reaction piece written by Andru.

This post will also appear at Indigenist Intelligence Review.


Ridwan Laher


nunya said...


I was happy to find out that one of the races in my family explains the ridiculously high arch and wide foot. Do you know how hard it is to get a job when you can't wear anything but Birkenstocks?

Go shopping for shoes in MY size dude, they're butt ugly, or they cut off the circulation in my feet, or they're crappily made for little boys that will outgrow them so quickly that it doesn't matter that they are CRAP.

Bring them "Indian foot" Nikes my way, ok?

As for Watson, he'll be dead soon, & it looks like people just aren't buying what he's selling anymore.

:) Peace

Ridwan said...

You are funny Nunya.

Watson is only one salesperson of many ... folks have been buying his nonsense since the late 1500s.

And the sale is not over. New salespeople are trained everyday in the academy.

As for big feet, I guess white people who need a bigger shoe should consider looking to see whether they are Indian too.

Ohhhhh man, I can see my boy Eugene's vein about ready to pop.

Over to you Eugene ... I am about done.

Peace and dat,

Shus li said...


Like Nunya, I think Watson will be dead soon (jeez, look at his face...yikes!). Consequently, he has nothing to lose by pushing the racist card now.

Thanks for this well-thought-out post, Ridwan. I don't know how you do it; visit friends, eat spaghetti, visit more friends, then write something like this. You can disprove Watson's comments single-handedly!!


nunya said...

I've seen the pictures in the family photo album. Indian, Native American, whatever. My great great grandfather used to get his butt in a sling with his German descended wife for trying to help the Indians on the rez. Guess he wasn't all that interested in helping out at the ranch. (Shhhhhh, don't tell anybody there's an Indian in the woodpile...:) )

This is a nice looking shoe, maybe I can get some at the casino discount stores, eh?

I don't have BIG feet, I have WEIRD feet. Hard to fit feet, even when I was skinny.

I think they're barking up the wrong tree when it comes to diabetes, though, that's all that damn corn syrup that they put in everything now. That's the food industry trying to blame something, anything else, for selling us poison instead of food.


nunya said...

ps, they say three witdth sizes wider than the average foot. You ever try to find a shoe in a EEE width? I have. It's a bitch. I had a shoe salesman tell me he had a BOX in the back that might fit me. Damn that white skin, I turned beet red.

nunya said...

Oh yeah, Watson and Crick are thieves---


Ridwan said...

Hello Shusli:

It was indeed a pleasure to be inspired at your table my sista.

Thank you for your kind words about the post.

I expect that Watson and the determinists will describe the argument as proof of my defective racial gene.

Are we now at a place where all larger feet will be profiled ... ?

Will there be a new kind of Dawes Roll with foot prints as proof of membership in the five "civilized tribes"?

It is simply mad. Even Watson was smart enough to tender his comments to abstract measurements like "IQ" tests, etc.

What is to become of Indians with small feet?

Will this new research lead to the 'discovery' of a lost tribe of Indians: The Small Feet Tribe?

The BIA needs to rule on this. Maybe declare the small feet Indians to be white.

Geez. Did I tell you of my first faculty meeting in SAfrica where a white woman asked me to teach her to make roti?

I thought huh??

And then I remembered. All Indians of the 'east' know how to make roti and curry.

I felt ashamed. A man who betrayed my genetics.

I don't even like roti.

Peace sista. Have a great and blessed Sunday!


Ridwan said...

Nunya thanks for reminding me about Rosalind Franklin.

There was a great PBS documentary that probed what the Wikepedia post describes:"Watson and Crick then indirectly obtained a prepublication version of Franklin's DNA X-ray diffraction data (possibly without her knowledge), and a prepublication manuscript by Pauling and Corey, giving them critical insights into the DNA structure."

This led to their "model".

Franklin died young and her work was obscured by Watson and Francis Crick.

Wow. DNA 'pioneer', Nobel Prize winner, and racist ...

This explains a lot then ... he makes these unscientific statements 'cause he really does not understand what he 'stole' ... ummm 'discovered' ...!

Thanks for looking in Nunya.


nunya said...

No you're funny, dude :)

MMMMMM, curry, even makes tofu edible (Thai). :)

Should I be embarrassed that I can't make frybread?

Or that I can't drink like my Irish ancestors?


Fucking labels.

Ridwan said...

Ohhh Nunya ... you and Shusli will be ont he same page about the poison they call sugar/corn syrup and the food fed to the masses.

Eating clean and healthy is expensive when one can pony up to the counter at McDiabetes and get a whole lot of empty colories for a hand full of change.

And, as the capitalist like to point out, there has never been a war between countries that have a McDonalds.

An unintended 'progress' ... and who would of thought.

McDonalds = obesity and diabetes which is = to peace.

So do you want fries with your military development? Countries may need it to stave off war with the empire.




nunya said...


But.. but... Joan Kroc built the nicest swimming pool for the brown people in the brown neighborhood in San Diego...nnnn they never did have no decent swimmin' pool in their neighborhoood...

hmmm, betcha they's floatin' real good with all that McMarketing that helps make em McFat, huh?


I'm so cynical.

nunya said...

Aint it purty?

Umm, and yeah, MOST military bases have a MickyD's on em.

Ridwan said...

And they have one planned for Atlanta too. To be completed in 2008.

For a second when I read your post I thought crocs? The butt-ugly shoe?

I know Erica hates crocs.

But you are obviously pointing to that other cKroc of ...!

Cynical is OK, even good, well OK is not good, if cynical needs to be good to be OK ...

ahhhhh hell, awnry works for now.


Mike Searches said...

Hey Ridwan-

I dig your comment about no one searching out a genetic reason whites in general have to subdue everything and everybody around them. One of the many things that fuck me up about that is the fact that all of these people do/have done these things claiming to be Christian...However, being raised by the people I was raised by and seeing the idiocy of the church in the United States, it is not surprising. After all, the people who came close to ending my life for me on August 26, 2000 were/are white protestant christians who freely use the word ni**ger at me, (notice no "a"), still threaten to kill me if they get a chance, and sent my son, Jakob Israel,(the boy with me in class) Nazi memorabilia toys for his third Christmas...and these fuckwads go to church every sunday(this is why I stopped. That and the realization that God really doesn't hate us as much as we're taught in church...)...Regarding the genetics of white stupidity, maybe it is not genetic at all, but a deep-seated inferiority complex that drives them to try dominate all...just a's my birthday today, so I'm going to smoke an insane amount of bud today, (my harvest came in!) and crack open some strong libations! Peace,
I also like the comment u made regarding McDonald's...people wonder why obesity and diabetes is so rampant. Did you realize in the US children as young as five are developing heart disease and diabetes? Did you also know that there is a direct link between a persons diet and depression, and exercise (OH NO!!!) is more effective than Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and other head drugs...As Bill Maher put it, "Ask your doctor if geting off your ass is right for you!!")

Ridwan said...

Hey Mike. Happy Birthday to you. I wish you happiness as you journey on ... I noticed the young man you brought to class.

He is a very good looking young man and I am sorry that I did not say Hello to him.

I like it when students bring their kids or family to class.

A few years ago a middle-aged man brought his mother to class ... she was in her 80s.

I told her we were going to be talking about controversial stuff.

She looked at me and said "my whole life has been about controversy, I have seen it all."

Amazing lady.

This term I also have the pleasure of having a retired doctor in my "Racism" class. He is amazing and brings great depth to the discussions.

And he is not shy to tell folks, I'm 88!

88 man ... life is no doubt a long journey of learning ... so be happy this day of your birth ... remember your mama and enjoy yourself.

Peace brother,

nunya said...


awwnry's good, why ya think I keep comin' back to see what you're up to?


and, ummm, I think Crocs aren't wide enough for me tootsies

Ridwan said...

Ok hold up Nunya ... so there I was trying to learn about the Maori greeting "Kia-Ora" when I read that there is an orange drink from oz that appropriates the name.

So I read on to find that Coca-Cola sells the brand in Britain.


I shake my head but notice that they sell a Diet Coke Plus??

Diet Coke Plus Vitamins! Or Diet Coke Plus Antioxidant!

Huh ... so now you can have the Big Crap at McImperial, fries laden with beef fat (except in India now), and a Diet Coke Plus!

Oh hell ... this is amazing to me ... and I am guilty of guzzling diet soda ... but this is an insidious creep.

Is this in the US or still being approved by the FDA?

They should put a label on it that reads NutrasweetCancerAgents included.

Is the sun up in SDiego by the way ??? Just wanted to know since we are in the midst of the 9 month pee fest that is Portland ;0)

I need a drink of water ... oh yeah Coke sells water called Dasani ... they got me covered!


nunya said...

LOL. wait gimmee a minute, I'm still laughing...

Ok. The fires are bad in San Diego and LA right now. I can hardly breathe and my eyes are burning. The ash is everywhere.

You live in Portland and you drink Diet Coke? What are you doing? You can't even drink the water here unless it's triple filtered AND run through an ultraviolet light. It's almost...welllll...ya ever get concrete dust in your mouth? San Diego water mmmm, yummy.

Hope you got dense bones dude if you're gonna keep drinking diet coke:

"Besides dehydration, there are other risks involved with drinking large amounts of any caffeinated beverage, including ulcers, headaches and possible decreases in bone density. Long-term consumption can lead to difficulty sleeping, headaches, nervousness and higher levels of stomach acid."

Yeah, I'm a hypocrite, I smoke. The fires just ain't providin' the nicotine, ya know?

Ridwan said...

I want to lie and say I have kicked the diet soda habit but you are too smart for that :0)

I have cut down considerably though .. true!

Well OK, I started liking Diet Pepsi better.

Now in Portland I am drinking coffee like no tomorrow.

In SAfrica we still get TAB. Remember TAB? I will admit to even liking that ...

I know I know. My friend Mooi told me about the bone density thing, and last week there was a show on PBS about cancer and nutrasweet.

Oh hell ... does blogging count as a vice too? 'Cause I am hooked.

Two or so months ago I was in San Diego for a week b4 crossing to TJ and south.

I still have pictures I wanted to post from SD. My closing memory was sitting outside the airport instead of inside ... I had a two hour wait.

I did so just feeling the sun ... I saw others doing it too ... and later I saw several of them on the place back to Portland.

Mmmmm ... I used to smoke ... was hard to give that up in the early 90s.

My bones are starting to ache ... now ... but thanks for the information anyway :0)

Be good.


Anonymous said...

I can make fry bread better than what I had at a pow wow in August. You have to use real lard, and i'm mentioning because were talking about naughty food. The history of fry bread in an important one, this bread is so symbolic of the struggle of native americans on reservations who had to do with what the white colonial-bastards left them with, which was pure white flour raped of all its nutrients. However this bread is an important food, you can make several kinds, and I serve it with Wojape pudding :) I discovered the best fry bread lard is at the latino imports store in Beaverton by TJ Max. Use the right stuff and you have grease to be proud of :)Actually it won't be greasy at all if you fry it right.

I have not had mcdonalds in over 10 years, its too dam nasty. I made an exception once for a salad and didnt use their perservative filled dressing, which is stupid since i'll eat fry bread and drink beer.

Ridwan said...

Frybread is struggle food for sure. Thanks for pointing that out Dione.

I had some at a recent Pow Pow in Portland.

Gotta love it. Malay folks in the army camps during WWII in SAfrica made Vetkoek (literally fat cake) out of similar ingredients.

It is still a big thing in Malay SAfrican traditional cooking.

Me moms calls it "poor people food" and that is what it is ... along with bunny chow (a half a loaf of bread hollowed out and curry and atchar put inside.

I cracked up in SAfrica when a 'shebeen' opened up and served bunny chow to white folks ... they eat it with a knife and fork.

Be well and have a restful night.


Anonymous said...

I'm picturing Al Bundy eating Franz sandwich bread with shmutz on it, and using a plastic knife and fork- funny immage.

and.... I SO remember Tab. I'd go over to my grandparents house (fathers side) and thats what there was to drink for the kids. I think its still around, and now i'm reminded of Jolt cola. I remember cracking up reading the label " all the sugar and twice the caffine" gota love that, and the fry bread. Tasty stuff, even if its poor people food. Some of the best creations have been inspired by that, and we can remind ourselves that Lobster used to be poor peoples food, a long long time ago- merchant marines I think.
:) Dione

Eugene said...

I haven't read your whole post nor your whole conversation. So here is some scientific questioning.

1) Who wrote the tests?

2) What is the basis of those tests?

3) What are the conditions for Blacks under the horrific genocide and occupation from colonialist racist arrogant pieces of shit?

4) What kind of education do the horrific and genocidal occupiers offer black folks in Africa?

5) Colonialism and genocide have psychological effects on humans, as well as the oppression that continues from these things even if the brutal physical effect is felt. How is that measured in these tests?

7) Let's see these fucking tests.

I could go on, but I have other reading to do this morning.

Ridwan said...

Hey Brother ... my posts of recent tend toward wordiness.

You raise good questions. Unfortunately most who agree with his observations would assume that IQ testing tell us about intelligence.

If even we do not believe, the system does.

So these tests are used for admission and scholorship decisions, for example.

But what strikes me most about this case is his view of Africa and the connection to his view of African Americans.

Both are backward even though he would want to believe different ... " but the tests tell us differently."

It is the construction of the 'objective' white world and his place therein that he is measuring.

And his measurement is unscientific even in the terms he would want to suggest.

Unfortunately, and despite much of the conversation often heard that seeks to bebunk this thesis, the 'world' works from these assumptions.

Darfur is an excellent example of racializing and making barbaric a war that is more tied to western interference than it is explained by spurious claims of genocide.

Be well brother and thanks for the visit.