Friday, May 16, 2008

the genetics of race

When I was in high school, I got into a debate at school. I said that if different races were separated long enough to evolve different skin colors, then other things could have evolved differently too. For example, blacks are stereotypically thought of as good athletes. Asians are thought of as good at math. I know this is really oversimplifying it, but it's certainly possible that over time, blacks developed a "strong muscle" gene (or set of genes) or maybe a "hand-eye coordination gene" and Asians developed a "math" gene (or set of genes). I'm not saying that's what happened... it's just what is possible.

I was watching a TV show (I think it was Without a Trace) and although I'm sure nobody really picked up on it, there was this one part that I think really made this statement. In this episode, there was this white kid who disappeared, partly because he was having an identity crisis. His mother was white and the father who raised him with his mother was white, and the kid looked white, but his father was black, and he just found that out. In one of the flashback scenes, they show the kid when he really young, and he's talking to his adopted father, saying that he doesn't "feel right". I'm not getting the words completely right, but he basically says that he feels different from his father and all the other (white) kids - they don't like the same things, act the same way, or even look the same. And after the flashback, the father says about his adopted son, "he always knew" (that he was different).

Now at first glance, this doesn't seem to mean much. But actually, what's it's saying is that even though there was no difference in skin color for this kid, there were other characteristics - facial or other body features, personality, attitudes, etc. - that made him feel different. And then he finds out he's half-black. The point is that this one scene in the show is suggesting that there may be other differences to race than skin color (whether genetic or otherwise). It's interesting to me that this was brought up, albeit in a very subtle way, on TV, while in reality, it's something that society as a whole isn't really ready to talk about yet.

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