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Memories of the 28th Century

Othering, Cultural Appropriation, and "Racism"

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This morning someone told me that some government form he was filling out asked for “race”. I thought we had finished with that some time ago. There are no races of humans beyond the human race. There are vile people who seek throw division into human activity by falsely claiming that there are races of humans. Those people are racists.

Race is a clear and well defined characteristic of some species of plants and animals, see links below. There are other sources that equate race and subspecies, but in either case there is no difference, unless there are subspecies of a given species. There are no subspecies of humans at this time; although it is possible that there were some in the past. Many authorities consider both Heidelberg man and Neanderthals to have been subspecies. I have not seen taxonomic details of Denisovans, but they probably are in similar categories.

Neanderthals certainly were not of a different species, because they had offspring with the so-called modern humans as can be seen from the Neanderthal DNA that remains in present day humans, and the same is true of Denisovans. But both groups were separated from the so-called modern humans geographically, and did not sexually engage with them for extended periods of time.

Today, any geographically separation is of little or no consequence, because transportation is easier. Eskimos can visit central Africa and have sexual relations with the locals, and African pygmies can travel to Lapland and have sexual liaisons with Lapps, and in both case there is a decent chance of offspring, so they are of the same species. It is still unlikely tat Inuit people will travel to Africa in great numbers looking for sexual partners, because they start being bothered by heat at about sixty degrees.

I think that adequately destroys the idea that there may be several races of humans, so we can move onto the matter of some people using "race" as a phony concept to set some people against other people. That is what Black Lives Matter the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations seek to do. It's the old-fashioned "divide and conquer" tactic. Who is using it varies from place to place, and it appears that some people actually believe that by dividing people they are making their group stronger. Well, maybe they are for a while, but overall the probably are being used by people who are trying to control them.

The movement for "diversity" is a wide spread attempt to get people to consider the differences among people at the expense of ignoring the similarities. Diversity seeks to divide people into smaller groups that can be dealt with more readily. (I am starting to feel like a conspiracy theory type.) There isn't a single central leadership group that is pushing diversity and its racism; there are many small groups that are trying to give people greater self-confidence by providing a group with which some people can identify. Looking at it one small group at a time gives the impression that it a fine way to develop confidence and identity, but putting everything together shows that as divisiveness. Instead of diversity training, people should get commonality training to show them that they are like other groups and minor differences in appearance and culture are of no consequence. Diversity is one of the many methods for “othering” people; that is making them “them”, potential enemies, etc.

Another form of “othering” is to claim that one’s culture is unique and untouchable by others; the recent brouhaha about J. K. Rowling and American Indian cultural appropriation is an excellent example. Another example is what difference that Jews have kept around themselves. Jews have not suffered from other people trying to steal their culture, because that culture is not especially pleasant or desirable to others. Christianity quickly dropped Jewish customs as the religion spread, even though Christianity seems to need many pieces of Jewish history and culture to operate.

As a general matter, cultural matters are the common property of all humans, because customs and such are frequently dropped by one culture, even though the identity of that culture had seemed to be tied to a particular custom or belief. One such item that comes to mind was the custom in some South Pacific cultures (and a few other places) for the men and women to live in separate common houses. All the men in the Men’s house and all the women in the women’s house, and there were many other customs, see linked article. The sex related customs defined how the cultures operated, but those customs have changed. From what I understand, the customs were largely changed as results of contact with other cultures. I don’t know whether the changes were for the better. The records, songs, etc. that related to the earlier customs exist, but there is no wide movement to return to those activities. The days when American sailors would be tackled by young women in Polynesia have gone, oh well. Missionaries who tried to break down the differences between cultures were among the most influential in doing that.

Whether we are talking about alleged race, borrowing of magic for works of fiction, al la Rowling, or changing sexual mores, cultures are changing or being used in different ways. There is nothing fundamentally permanent about culture. Cultures are just adaptations to the local conditions, and are subject to change if someone comes up with a different way to do things, or if people move. I just thought of an interesting example from historical Anthropological and my personal experience. I am partly of Polish ancestry, and the Poles were for a very long time a nomadic tribe called Sarmatians; they were close allies of the Scythians. Sarmatians often lived in the saddle, and Polish cavalry has retained some of that great experience in riding, even though the Sarmatian nation disappeared about 1500 years ago. The culture essentially died, except for a few facets of it. So it is with cultures, they are molded to fit necessity.

People who believe in skin color races of humans are just separating themselves from others. People like J. K. Rowling use cultural items as starting points for what she uses in fiction. Poles continue to ride well, even they haven’t been horse barbarians for a millennium. Sexual mores and social organization changed among Pacific islanders. Life is change. What else would you expect?