Gene Expression

Mixed-race but homogeneous appearance?

i-14cdadba73de32aae37593817a11c103-tiger-woods-picture-1.jpgSeveral years ago Oprah Winfrey asked Tiger Woods what he would say to people who say that when they look him they see a black man. The issue was that some African Americans objected to Woods’ contention that he was multiracial, Cablinasian, which reflected the fact that he was ancestrally 1/2 Asian, 1/4 African, 1/8 European and 1/8 Native American. Woods is also a Therevada Buddhist by religion, taking after his Thai nationality (though mixed-race) mother, so one can argue he is quite Asian culturally. I know many people who frankly disagree with Winfrey’s assessment, that is, that Woods looks “like a black man.” Some Asian Americans have stated that “from the eyes down” he looks Asian, and frankly I can see that. Tiger Woods’ hair reflects his mixed ancestry, and it is neither straight nor kinky, but curly (he cuts it short enough that this doesn’t manifest normally, but I know people who played golf with him when he was a teenager and they attest to this). Some of my friends in college who were Asian American activists quite loudly would proclaim that Tiger Woods “looks Asian” when the topic came up.

Does Tiger Woods look Asian? Does he look like a “black man”? I am posting on this because of some responses below which asked how it was that mixed-race children can so favor one race. But to start out with I need to offer that perceptions of race are as much a matter of psychology and culture as they are of genetics. I bring up Tiger Woods because black Americans and Asian Americans might have radically different viewpoints about what race he looks like, showing that where you start from shapes where you end up at.

i-76abb1ccbcde96f97f9e714a967ba84c-jason-kidd-2.jpgPart of the issue is that in the United States we accept hypodescent, which means that one drop of black blood or any hint of black features can imply that one is fully and totally black. Consider Jason Kidd, the point guard for the New Jersey Nets. He is a black man in the United States because his father is a black man (his mother is white). In fact, from the interviews and pictures I’ve seen of his father Jason Kidd is likely well below 1/2 black in ancestry, because his father looks to be mixed genetically. In the United States though people who have noticeable black ancestry are considered black. Does Jason Kidd have noticeable black ancestry? A few years ago I recall reading a story about a reporter who was in Russia where Jason Kidd was described as a white basketball player. The reporter was startled, but he had to admit that if you didn’t know Kidd’s father was African American you might not necessarily assume he was African American, especially with his hair cut short. Cultural priors matter, and in the United States we give great weight to black ancestry as determinative of one’s race. Sometimes this can get ridiculous. In Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class the author recounts a story where at his brother’s wedding a blonde white woman at his table started referring to “n*gger practices.” No one batted an eye and the author was shocked, but later it was explained that the woman was black and she had gone to Howard University. Of course, it is pretty obvious here that the woman did not look black, but her black ancestry and identification allowed her to use a word which is reserved for black people in the United States. Outside of American culture this makes less sense to people (in Latin America they have literally hundreds of racial terms which apply to every permutation of ancestry and appearance, which results in siblings being members of different races according to their looks).

Finally, there’s the issue of the priors you start out with. There are many people whose physical appearance are explicable by their background. For example, say your friend is an olive-skinned individual with somewhat curly hair and green eyes. You know that he has a black American grandparent. That explains their features, it is the black admixture! Now, say that this individual had an Arab name. Ah, that explains their features, they’re Arab! Now, say that they have a conventionally Jewish name. Ah, they have a Jewfro, it all makes sense! My point here is how you perceive someone and what they look like is contingent upon what you know about their ancestry. Perception isn’t objective, it is colored by the facts and preconceptions we bring to the table. In Me, Myself and Irene the main character explains that his sons, who obviously have black ancestry (his wife had an affair with a black dwarf), are dark-skinned because of Italian ancestry. This is a good laugh line, but there is the grain of truth that we tend to explain or rationalize the data we have with theories derived from the facts we assume. So for example if you have two siblings of mixed ancestry who favor one of their parents there is often the assertion that they look like two different races. But, I suspect that some sort of contrast affect is at work here, that though the siblings do favor one suite of features they do not truly look monoracial.

i-98ad1cfd9b1e4ae6527fe81ae21d3870-subsetsAB.jpgThat being said, what about the genetics? Why don’t offspring look like the midpoint of their parents’ phenotypes? The short answer is that genetics is not blending of phenotypes, it is the mixing of discrete information bits, genes. The smaller the number of genes that control a feature the more that sampling variance can work so that the appearance deviates from the midpoint of the parental character and “favors” one parent. The reason is that human beings overlap quite a bit in physical appearance. As a parent you contribute exactly 50% of your offspring’s genes, one copy of a gene which you carry two copies of. If the parents overlap in genes and phenotype the sampling of the genes may occur in such a way that the offspring resembles one of the parents more simply because its genes on those loci resemble the state of that parent. To give a concrete example, say that there is a gene, A, which comes in two flavors, 1 and 2. These flavors impart a physical characteristic in an additive and independent fashion, so that a parent who is heterozygous, carries both 1 and 2, is equidistant in phenotype from parents which are homozygous for 1 or 2. If an individual who is heterozygous pairs up with someone who is homozygous, then the nature of inheritance is such that on the trait coded by A there is a 50% chance that the offspring will resemble the heterozygous parent and a 50% chance that the offspring will resemble the homozygous parent. Using a one gene model the discrete character of genetic inheritance is clear, the offspring inherits from both parents but resembles only one parent. As the number of genes increases such a stark separation of outcomes is far less likely, but the general principle is still operative. Parents who overlap in genes and characteristics may produce offspring who resemble one parent far more than another because of biased sampling of the genes in equation. The image to the left illustrates the process using a Venn Diagram. In this case the parents overlap in genes and appearance, and the offspring inherits from the the genes of parent 1 which resemble the state of the genes of parent 2. Therefore naturally the offspring resembles parent 2.

i-864341ec17042f4936f7ee76b465db74-asianbutnot.jpgAbove I stated that humans overlap in appearance quite a bit. This might surprise you, and you might not believe me. But I think to some extent this perception is a quirk of human psychology, we tend to shoehorn individuals into racial types which we conceive of as very distinct, perhaps more distinct than they truly are. The fact is that human normal variation is subject to some constraints in terms of function and extant genetic variation. To the left are photographs of the Icelandic singer Bjork and a Bushman woman. Contrary to rumor Bjork is not half-Chinese or part Inuit. No doubt her ancestry is a mixture of Irish and Norse homogenized through centuries of local breeding and population bottlenecks. Nevertheless, her physical appearance suggests to people that she of Asian provenance, and she has noted that she was mocked for being Chinese as a small child, suggesting that she is an extreme end of the Icelandic range. The point though is that some northern Europeans have a vague Asian cast to their features, and this does not necessarily have to do with some distant ancestry from the eastern regions of Eurasia, rather, it is simply part of the normal range of variation. In contrast to Bjork the Bushman woman is of normal type for her group. Though African one might accept that she has an Asian cast to her features, and in fact when Bushmen in Botswana met Vietnamese workers they assumed that they were of the same race (as opposed to the Bantu speaking African agriculturalists and herders who were their neighbors). We know from analysis of neutral markers that there is no close genetic relationship between Bushmen and East Asians, rather, there are only so many ways to chop up human genetic variation to produce a modal type, and so some forms reoccur. These are extreme cases, but I think it is important to keep in mind that there is overlap in the finite suite of characters which contribute to our perception of someone’s racial identity, and that may be the source of the tendency of many children to favor once side (there is also the reality that many Eurasian children, for example, are assumed to look Asian by Europeans and look European by Asians).

Comments

  1. #1 douchebagt
    November 26, 2007

    Just wanted to say that I prefer “Oyfro” to “Jewfro”

  2. #2 Nina P
    November 26, 2007

    and in fact when Bushmen in Botswana met Vietnamese workers they assumed that they were of the same race

    Sounds like an interesting story – can you elaborate?

  3. #3 dougjnn
    November 26, 2007

    Doesn’t Cavalli-Sforza place the Bushmen closer to the common trunk of all mankind than almost any other surviving group, at least with respect to their largely non variation producing mtDNA marker genes that he uses for estimating the rough dates of racial and ethnic branching off of various human groups / ethnicities /clines / races?

  4. #4 Paul
    November 26, 2007

    and in fact when Bushmen in Botswana met Vietnamese workers they assumed that they were of the same race
    Sounds like an interesting story – can you elaborate?

    I can’t elaborate on this one, but this brings up a question I have for Razib, as he has identified himself as someone with origins from present day Bangladesh.

    I had a 2 week work assignment (I work in banking) in Dhaka a few years back, 2001 or 2002, can’t remember right now . Had some interesting conversations with the local employees, and someone mentioned that often times Bangladeshis have trouble distinguishing between Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis. Guy mentioned a story how some customers were in the bank, and an employee thought they were Bengali, but they were actually Sri Lankan. Explanation given to me was that this was due to links between land where present day Bangladesh exists and present day Sri Lanka, there was a connection due to Buddhism, and therefore some obvious resulting ‘genetict exchanges’ as well.

    Ever heard of this, or experience this yourself?

    Paul

  5. #5 dougjnn
    November 26, 2007

    If I knew nothing about Jason Kidd above other than that he plays for the NJ Nets my first guess from his pic would be that he’s North African in origin, perhaps Algerian. (Lots of French Algerian athletes after all.) Since N.Africans are in fact on average a Caucasian heavy mixture of Caucasian (Berber and Arab esp.) and some significant amounts of sub Saharan black, that guess wouldn’t be so far off racially (though very far off culturally).

    As for Tiger Woods — it’s a bit hard for me to imagine not knowing anything more about him other than that he’s a championship golfer — his racial mixture and racial self identity having been so very much a matter of public controversy and discussion.

    I just might possibly think he was South Asian (Indian) though, not sure. Though there’s something in his face that does suggest some E.Asian in the mix from somewhere (with Amerindian ancestors not being an improbable source). Of course if you’d told me his father of unspecified race served in the US military in or around Vietnam during that war, I’d guess something close to the truth immediately.

    As for the one drop rule in the US, I don’t think most people or anyway most whites (or Asians or Hispanics) to take it that far with blacks, or certainly for other mixtures, anymore. There is however some considerable tendency on the part of blacks and particularly many black leaders (as in your example of Oprah) wishing to claim as black, for the “pride of the race”, any high achieving person if they’ve got “a drop” of black blood, and of most whites to not want to publicly oppose this view.

    I probably do tend to regard someone with somewhat less than half black blood as still being black (mostly because that’s extremely likely how they self identify including culturally), but when it gets down below 1/4 or certainly 1/8, no not really. Except perhaps culturally. But I’m not going to fight them on this, and unlike 50 or more years ago when many very light skinned blacks wanted to be considered primarily white (e.g. many of “Our Kind of People”) but wouldn’t be accepted as such by the white community so it was humiliating folly to try except in unusual circumstances, now in many white quarters they would be, but due to internal black cultural pressures (and yeah affirmative action), not many want to be.

    I personally think Tiger Wood’s adamant, I’m not “really” any of my constituent races but rather mixed in my own fairly unique way, is a great step forward — particularly since his stance is now almost universally accepted (at least outside of some black circles).

  6. #6 SabrinaW
    November 26, 2007

    Wow, this is a great post! I freely admit a good part of my interest is because I am a proud American mutt (1/2 Korean, 1/4 Japanese, 1/4 Austrian Jew) and continue to confound people when they meet me (I got the Jewish last name but look very Asian). People have speculated on everything from Southeast Asian to Hawaiian to even Hispanic for my heritage, depending on how I dressed and did my hair. Perhaps different ethnicities look to different features when differentiating? For example, to a white Midwesterner, Chinese look like Japanese look like Thai, but to a Korean they look very distinct.

    Another point you touch on is also intriguing – why do we insist on classifying people by race? Is this concept becoming outdated as more mixing of genes and culture occur? Is ethnic heritage becoming a concept that is no longer useful outside a medical or personal curiosity realm?

  7. #7 A.T.
    November 26, 2007

    Most Black Americans are mixed to some degree, so we take it as an unspoken given. That’s why many of us refer to ourselves as black as opposed to African-American. Really, it makes no difference if you have a white grandparent or two when you look phenotypically black — believe me.

    Now, if Tiger said bi-racial, or mixed no one would have made a big deal about it. The issue was that Cablinasian stuff. Just my opinion, but the last thing the U.S. needs is another classification.

  8. #8 razib
    November 26, 2007

    Sounds like an interesting story – can you elaborate?

    the bushmen have a word for themselves and a word for their african neighbors. when they met vietnamese foreign workers they named them with their own appellation. that is, the perceived that they looked more like vietnamese than they did their bantu speaking neighbors.

    Doesn’t Cavalli-Sforza place the Bushmen closer to the common trunk of all mankind than almost any other surviving
    group, at least with respect to their largely non variation producing mtDNA marker genes that he uses for estimating the rough dates of racial and ethnic branching off of various human groups / ethnicities /clines / races?

    i’m having a hard time unpacking what you’re saying here. the short of it is that i believe bushmen can sometimes be thought of as the first outgroup in a cladogram. that is, they branch off first, so it is bushmen vs. africans & everyone else. then the next branch is non-bushmen africans vs. non-africans. but it depends on the locus.

    Ever heard of this, or experience this yourself?

    yes. i’m skeptical. there is some possible linguistic link between sinhalese and bengali (though the main argument is that sinhalese is closest to gujarati). i suspect the real issue is that both groups are indo-aryanized indigenes who are relatively dark-skinned and less caucasoid in appearance. though i did note with surprise that sinhalese had a noticeably higher frequency of SLC245 derived than tamils in sri lanka.

  9. #9 razib
    November 26, 2007

    Another point you touch on is also intriguing – why do we insist on classifying people by race? Is this concept becoming outdated as more mixing of genes and culture occur? Is ethnic heritage becoming a concept that is no longer useful outside a medical or personal curiosity realm?

    no, race will always be around. latin america is a good example, there is a lot of mixture, but all sorts of terms for various “looks.” race may become less about ancestry than physical appearance. genetics is discrete so there will always be people who look black or white in an admixed population of blacks and whites, even if the average is mixed in appearance (look at the dominican republic).

    Really, it makes no difference if you have a white grandparent or two when you look phenotypically black — believe me.

    actually, it does. there is plenty of social science data which suggests that there is a premium from both blacks and whites upon lighter skin and more “white” features. so on the one hand there is a public show that black=black, but there is an implicit understanding that a black actress who looks more white will be more marketable.

    Now, if Tiger said bi-racial, or mixed no one would have made a big deal about it. The issue was that Cablinasian stuff. Just my opinion, but the last thing the U.S. needs is another classification.

    that’s not how i remember. the issue was that he didn’t identify as black, full stop.

  10. #10 dougjnn
    November 26, 2007

    Razib, you unpacked it very well indeed. :)

  11. #11 dougjnn
    November 26, 2007

    SabrinaW–

    For what it’s worth, your particular admixture sounds pretty damn hot and otherwise intriguing to me!

    Of course a pic …

    oh never mind. :)

    Razib:

    that’s not how i remember. the issue was that he didn’t identify as black, full stop.

    Yuuup. Exactly so.

  12. #12 Paul
    November 26, 2007

    I think most of the issue of racial/ethnic groups ‘claiming someone as one of their own’ boils down to whether that person is ‘famous’ in a positive sense, either a ‘celebrity’ or ‘famous’ scientist, etc.

    This reminds me of an older Filipino guy at work, back in 1997. This was when Andrew Cunanan killed Gianni Versace, and it was revealed in the media that Cunanan had a Filipino father and white mother. This guy at work was adamant, “No, Cunanan is not really Filipino, he’s American!”

    I don’t think too many Asians/Thais would claim Tiger Woods as one of their “own” if Tiger was a serial killer.

  13. #13 razib
    November 26, 2007

    I think most of the issue of racial/ethnic groups ‘claiming someone as one of their own’ boils down to whether that person is ‘famous’ in a positive sense, either a ‘celebrity’ or ‘famous’ scientist, etc.

    yes. most asians are prejudiced against anyone as dark-skinned as tiger (or they perceive them as “low class”). in thailand half-white individuals are relatively prominent in the media, half-black ones not so much. probably the aesthetic bias here.

  14. #14 pconroy
    November 26, 2007

    Tiger Woods always looks Filipino to me – based on the sample of people I’ve met from there.

    Whereas, if I didn’t know Jason Kidd was from the US or his name, I might have assumed that he were Southern Slav – like Serbian – tall, wide forehead and light eyes, together with olive skin.

  15. #15 El PaleoFreak
    November 26, 2007

    Wonderful post!

  16. #16 A.T.
    November 26, 2007

    Ok Razib, I had forgotten all the hooplah surrounding Cablinasian. You were right, I think there was also some nonsense about us loosing numbers if people were to jump ship and declare admixture. Still, my senses tell me that if he would have said “mixed” as opposed to the made up one no one could argue it. He could’nt deny his mother’ contribution.

    For older people, anything+black=black, because that’s the way it’s always been. Honestly, and I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but the older generations tend to consider anyone not white black; they just had “good hair”.

    Anyway,all but one of my grandparents were multi racial, knew their non-black relatives, and were pretty light-skinned by anyone’s measure, but we were all socialized as black. If someone asks me my heritage, it makes me a little uncomfortable. It’s sort of a taboo to say I’m mixed and I might be accused of wanting to be better than black. It is a hard box to break out of.

    Oh, and thanks for the thought provoking posts! Luv ‘em!

  17. #17 dougjnn
    November 26, 2007

    Razib said–

    Woods is also a Therevada Buddhist by religion, taking after his Thai nationality (though mixed-race) mother,

    She’s what, half Thai and half Chinese?

  18. #18 Nathaniel
    November 27, 2007

    That makes sense. My heritage is mostly Irish and Native American. So people often wonder what ethnicity I am. Many Hispanic people assume I’m Hispanic (or at least they did when I still had a tan). I’ve also been confused for Arab, Italian, and Jewish. Nope, I’m just me. I classify myself as white only because I am that awkward white guy… and I’m Native American if anyone suggests I’m racially biased (but that’s an entirely different subject).

    Nice article. That’s a great way to explain it. You’re right, it has a lot to do with genetics but mostly with our own preconceived notions of race. We all have images in our heads of the stereotypical racial examples. Then we attempt to classify someone’s race by how well they conform to that stereotypical appearance.

    I once heard that race was like a scale. With Black and Asian on the ends and Caucasian in the middle. I automatically assumed that Tiger was black because in my mind he conformed to the black stereotype better. Perhaps this is because that was the biggest genetic contribution. Who knows though. Skin color has a lot to do with it. Arnold Schwarzenegger looks black if you just turn his skin brown. Now, if you’re used to seeing dark skinned Asians… then he just might look Asian to you. Otherwise he’s probably going to look black.

  19. #19 Sandgroper
    November 27, 2007

    Good post, Raz.

    To psychology and culture I would add language (which includes accent and usage), unless you include that in culture. Aural cues can cause a shift in people’s perception of the visual cues.

  20. #20 potentilla
    November 27, 2007

    I have the same reaction as El PalaeoFreak – in that photo, Tiger Woods looks Filipino to me (maybe not so much if it showed his height, or his hair). It would never have occurred to me from that photo that Jason Kidd had any ancestry other than white (and I had never heard of him before this post).

  21. #21 A.T.
    November 27, 2007

    Hmmm… It’s hard for me to see Tiger and Jason as anything other than black. I’m probably biased though.

  22. #22 jeebus
    November 27, 2007

    Quite relevant is Dave Chappelle’s “Racial Draft.”

    http://www.spikedhumor.com/articles/1380/Racial_Draft.html

  23. #23 potentilla
    November 27, 2007

    AT – just coming from a totally different frame of reference to me. I’m British – I lived in London for years, which has about 11% of the population self-identifying as black in the last census, but where someone with one black and one white parent most probably self-identifies as mixed-race. Also, the forebears of the majority of black Londoners came to the UK after the war, first from the Caribbean and more recently from many African countries. Then in Sydney, where there are lots of people of various South and South-East Asian backgrounds, and anyone black is either Australian Aboriginal or an American tourist; and I travelled a fair bit in Asia. Now in a remote bit of Scotland where there is practically no-one non-white. My eye just doesn’t expect to see someone with (say) 1/8 black ancestry.

    My point here is how you perceive someone and what they look like is contingent upon what you know about their ancestry. Perception isn’t objective, it is colored by the facts and preconceptions we bring to the table

    Yes, but the preconceptions include the sort of person one is used to seeing, in the absence of any specific facts about the ancestry of the individual concerned.

  24. #24 pconroy
    November 27, 2007

    potentilla,

    That’s funny – I grew up in racially homogeneous Ireland – and left almost 20 year ago for New York – so my frame of reference included many European types, not just Germano-British-Irish as the bulk of American Whites seem to be.

  25. #25 Saul
    November 28, 2007

    Arnold Schwarzenegger looks black if you just turn his skin brown.

    He really does. Makes you wonder about his ancestry. His family name Schwarzenegger means “black plowman” in german after all.

    There are an estimated 30 million americans with some african ancestry who pass for white. Jason Kidd could have been one of them if he had chosen that option.

  26. #26 Sandgroper
    November 28, 2007

    Nathaniel – I guess you might find this of some interest:

    http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2007/11/genetic-variation-in-native-americans.html

  27. #27 mark tummers
    November 28, 2007

    People tend to get confused on the issue of mixed races. They associated appearance with genetic constitution. That’s only very partly true. The genes that define the individual appearance of humans are not that plentiful.

    You could take a random gene from Tiger, determine which allele it represents and come to the radical conclusion that Tiger is likely to be Tasmanian.

    Take another gene, determine the allele, and surprisingly you discover Tiger is probably a viking.

    Genes are not glued to the genes that determine skin color or other genes that determine appearance.

    They are most likely from all over the place.

    Hence it is utterly pointless to discuss whether Tiger is Asian or ‘black’.

    We still live in an interbreeding population and alleles move around at will.

  28. #28 Sandgroper
    November 30, 2007

    Quiet in here, isn’t it?

    There’s something I find inexplicably endearing about this story:

    http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22847175-13762,00.html

    How many 4 year old kids sneak off to go hunting wild pigs? All mine did was come home from kindergarten with live frogs in her pockets. Well, there was the large black spider in the match box by her bed…..

  29. #29 Beth
    November 30, 2007

    There is a hip hop artist from Minneapolis called Brother Ali who is albino. When he didn’t talk about his race people assumed he was black. But he summed up the reality succinctly: “I’m albino, my family is white, but I was really raised, and taught my important life lessons, by the black community.”

    With no other knowledge about his race other than his music, people thought he was black. That says something about our expectations about musicians.

  30. #30 razib
    November 30, 2007

    beth, that’s fascinating.

  31. #31 Sandgroper
    December 1, 2007
  32. #32 zwirko
    December 1, 2007

    Maybe it’s just that particular photo of Kidd (I’ve never heard of him before) but for the life of me I am struggling to pick out anything in his features that would indicate a black ancestry. Seeing him in a basketball outfit I would likely assumed he was Serbian or Spanish. That is to say, his clothing is giving me more clues to his ancestry than his features are. Although why I assume a basketball player has to come from either of those two countries is probably just as interesting.

    Living in a boring, ex-mining town, in Scotland with a black population of roughly zero may play a large part in my inability to see what others see.

  33. #33 LongMa
    December 3, 2007

    dougjnn:

    I think the black attraction to the One-Drop (hypo-decent) rule in 2007 is more complex than what you say.

    After the early 1900’s, it was pretty uniform in America that everyone with any known black ancestry was black. Before the end of slavery in 1865, this was not universally the case, especially not in South Carolina, Ohio, Louisiana.

    Blacks did not create these laws, whites did, as a way to block competition by mulatto’s. Jim Crow and other such racial laws were not just about politics or social racial purity. It was about maximizing rent seeking behavior and un-capitalistic wealth transfer due to keeping blacks as cheap labor and noncompetitive. Mulatto’s were basically cut off at the knees. The only way to do this was for “white to be pure, or look it” and black as “anything less than pure white”. No one was worried about Asians, Indians, or Mestizos because they were not a problem in most of the country at the time, blacks had the largest minority population by far.

    over the next few generations “blacks” of any admixture worked together, because they had no choice. Many of the most prominent civil rights leaders were quite admixed, some nearly white in appearance.

    Many older blacks fear if “black” people with high admixture start separating themselves as “biracial, mulatto, etc” they will not care about “black poor urban issues” or just general black issues. Worse case scenario they will side with whites. Historically, any population with a high mixed race population (South Africa, Latin America) the pure “minority” (Indian, Black) catches hell, and the mixed people spend most of their time trying to “maximize their whiteness” as a means up generational upward mobility.

    My response is, it doesn’t matter. Many people of mixed ancestry will care about black people, because they have black family. It is more than biology it is cultural and family based identity. I would also remind older blacks that most black people didn’t march anywhere during the Civil Rights movement and quite a few older ones saw MLK and especially more radical “black power” types as trouble markers or were just scared to lose their jobs working for whites. So the fact some mixed race people will undoubtedly distance themselves from blacks in 2007 means little.

  34. #34 Joan
    December 4, 2007

    For those of you reading and writing who are yourselves asked the question, “What are you?” how does that feel and what have you come to do with the question? I’m fully Chinese but the parent of mixed race kids, and they are old enough now to be developing ideas about what people mean when they ask. I think it does matter that they are mixed Caucasian and Asian if that informs your thinking. Thanks

  35. #35 Sandgroper
    December 5, 2007

    Joan – from my daughter’s experience, if I may make a suggestion – if they are not already doing it and have the opportunity, let them ‘claim’ and take pride in both cultures as their own. It made a difference to my daughter to become accomplished in both English and Chinese language, and to study Chinese as well as Western history. It’s a lot of extra work, but it’s worth it. They don’t get confused, kids are very plastic, they just flip from one to the other, and it gives them a strong natural sense of who they are that will serve them well.

    I think it is also helpful if they have a grasp of human evolution and genetics. It’s a bit of a tall order to expect younger kids to read the genetics and paleoanthropology blogs, but it’s something you can help them with, scanning the blogs and telling them interesting stuff.

  36. #36 Pat
    December 7, 2007

    This seems like a silly discussion. People are people and are not merely defined by race. It is rather ridiculous to define someone by race because race cannot encompass the beauty that a person has. It is rather evil to define someone by race because to do so limits people and deprives them of consideration of all their qualities. If you limit people, if you use race to define them that is, by practice, discrimination.

    It is also sad and discouraging when people who have been limited because they were defined only by their race begin to use race to limit others. Sure, they can now feel superior — but they are really debasing themselves through intellectual dishonesty and fear and feelings of inadequacy. Do not build yourself up by tearing others down. Lift yourself up by using your power to pull others up. That is how you will get closer to God.

  37. #37 Pat
    December 7, 2007

    Let us also be candid about athletes and celebrities: Success and achievement and superlative characteristics are transcendental. Superstars like Tiger and O.J. and Chris Rock and Stevie Wonder and Muhammed Ali transcend race.

    They are not of ANY race.
    They are superlative humans who are attractive and admirable for their achievements. For all of us humans.

    That is why the “race” issue about O.J. was so silly. When he was taken into custody, white cops asked for his autograph and white people lined the road to encourage him in his white Bronco. Only the most depraved person of any race WANTED O.J. to be guilty of murder.

    O.J. is not “black” — he is “celebrity” — he is beyond race. He transcends race!

    That is why Nicole Kidman could embrace and praise Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela transcends race. James Brown and Ray Charles and Richard Prior and Michael Jordan and Marian Jones and Shaq and Charles Barkley and Dennis Rodman all transcend race –had fans of all races.

    You can also transcend race by thinking of the whole person and their qualities as human beings. O.J. did not let “black” people down — he let us ALL down as humans. His responsibility is a disappointment to us all. It had nothing to do with race, but everything to do with how we expect so much from superlative people, blesed with gifts not available to us all.

  38. #38 diana
    December 9, 2007

    Razib,

    To answer your question directly, Tiger Woods looks black to me because I was brought up smack in the middle of the one-drop rule America. When I first saw pics of Jason Kidd and of Derek Jeter, that “I wonder what they are” radar started ticking inside me….and I wasn’t satisfied until I learned what they “were.”

    Now, with the advent of the new category biracial, I can look at them as biracial, esp. Derek Jeter and Tiger, who do not identify as African-American. But the old conditioning hasn’t quite left me.

    Interestingly, there is another country with the one-drop rule: Australia. Anyone even of remote Aboriginal heritage is deemed indigenous. This gets even more ridiculous than the situation in the US, where thoroughly phenotypically white people can be called Aboriginal.

    Recently they’ve been popping out all over the place, pushing up the numbers of indigenous Australians to nearly 500K. Many of these people are of remote, fractional ancestry. A blond-haired blue eyed footballer whose grandfather was discovered to be part Aboriginal by accident (he accompanied his grandson to a training camp one day) is now considered “indigenous.”

    Pat – your sentiments are noble but they don’t fit in with the human race that I know, which has been around for quite some time. Sure, individuals can and do transcend race, but for the most part, I think we’ll always sort by group, as the Australian situation attests. Look at these part-Aboriginals: they are white. But they identify as Aboriginal.

  39. #39 Debra
    December 11, 2007

    Tiger Woods does not look Asian. He does not look Africa American. He does not look European or Native American either. HE FREAKING LOOKS GORGEOUS!!!!!!
    I hate how Americans always focus on race…. I mean, come on, he is just beautiful to behold!!! What’s the point of arguing about whether he looks one way or another… that’s his heritage, not who he is!!!!

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