Friday, December 2, 2011

Let's Play the "Race Science" Mythbusters Game: Which of These Theories is Most Compelling and Why?

[There is a poll up on the sidebar. Do cast your vote, if so inclined.]

I would love to watch Adam and Jamie work through some of these scenarios on Mythbusters. Me thinks the ratings would be through the roof.

The Andrew Sullivan vs. Ta-Nehisi Coates race-science-intelligence debate has found its truce. The fight over the Bell Curve was good sport because an effort to resuscitate the Bell Curve's corpse by Sullivan (and others), brought all of the eugenics, polite white supremacists, race scientists out of the woodwork. As witnessed here and elsewhere, we are no closer to ending the debate over the relationship between such a spurious concept as "race," and an even more nebulous one known as "intelligence."

To boot: all parties involved seem even farther apart on the assumption that I.Q. tests measure human brain capacity, and are at all predictive of outcomes that cannot be captured by class, income, wealth, or SES, more broadly defined. Yet, and in all, the fracas was good fun.

In the interest of transparency, I will confess a love of stereotypes. They are great heuristics. To borrow Walter Lippman's genius insight, stereotypes are neat and convenient ways of making sense of a world through the narrow lens of mediated experiences. I also revel in how researchers try to make empirical claims in support of stereotypes, that either 1) overreach in an effort to support "commonsense" understandings of the world or that 2) use the language of "rigor" and "positivism" to advance piss poor b.s. that hides behind math, overly dense language, and questionable modeling.

In the 21st century, the con of the race scientist hustlers has remained the same; the game ain't changed much over the centuries. The race science hustle remains great fun for those who see the slight of hand at work, and are confident enough to call it out.

"Bell Curve (Redux)" (what I am calling this most recent turn back to eugenics and phrenology-lite), is a chance to work through some other stereotypes about race and science.

And I can never resist a teachable moment.

The race science hustle's dirtiest secret is that different groups of people, many of who are either otherwise marginalized, or suffer under power, are invested in these true lies. For example, there are East and South Asians who embrace the model minority myth, as it does political work in racially triangulating between them and African Americans, and in turn bringing them closer to the status of a buffer race which earns the near-privileges of whiteness. Undoubtedly, there are stereotypes about African Americans, that many members of the tribe are deeply invested in perpetuating and reproducing.

To point: what follows are some commonly held beliefs about the relationship(s) between race and biology that are "supported" by "scientific findings." Which of these claims do you think are most compelling? Notice, I did not say "accurate" or "correct." Some lies have a momentum all of their own; we often have our own personal reasons for believing them.

You can share here: it is a safe space where no judgement will be passed.

1. The Middle Passage was a hellish process that was Darwinian in its killing. The strong survived. The weak died. Those millions of Africans who made it out of the bowels of the slavers were more likely to have a predisposition for retaining salt. In turn, surviving the Middle Passage naturally selected for this population, as they were less likely to die of dehydration in route. As a result, centuries later, New World blacks, and their descendants, are predisposed to high blood pressure.

2. They have a higher ratio of fast twitch muscles than whites. Their belly buttons are higher than whites. They were bred for large legs and powerful buttocks. They gain muscle mass faster than whites. In total, blacks have all of the physical traits necessary to dominate sprinting and other sports (but apparently not swimming, who would have figured?). Apparently, life is anything but fair.

3. Where was human subjects review for these experiments?

According to researchers, red headed Caucasians have the highest pain tolerance of all racial groups. Blacks are somewhere in the middle--but are particularly prone to back pain and injury from heat. Asians are the most vulnerable and responsive to pain. But, doctors have to be careful with prescribing pain killers to Negroes and Hispanics because we all know they may get addicted to them. And why do the blacks complain so much about being in pain? I thought they were made of stronger stuff than that!

Who would have thought that redheads would be natural warriors? And one must wonder, what would Bartolome De Las Casas, defender of the Indians, had done if he had access to such research in the 16th century?

4. My ding a ling. Black men are supposed to have large penises. Many brothers embrace this bestial reduction of their own personhood to the level of sperm delivery system and Sycamore tree: the myth of the black rapist recast as the legend of the penile liberator.

Perhaps, this is the negro version of the Model Minority Myth? Or a type of intervention against power, an inversion of hierarchical relationships, a subaltern infrapolitics of the pipe laying, wombshifter, Long Dong Silver, Sean Michaels, Mandingo, sex as a weapon, radical autonomy?

Doctors have done the research. The BBC offers stories which reinforce a belief that some racial groups are less endowed than others. Size queens of both genders are on the hunt for the biggest penis they can find. Rasputin smiles from the grave. Size matters: those brothers (and others) who are hung, at times describe their gift as one that is a blessing and a curse.

Is there no more pitiable a black man than he who does not measure up? Could it be that here, in some ways, and a few measures, that the soft-bigotry of low expectations may actually be an advantage?

Master Yoda tells us that size matters not. Brothers know that he is lying.


Tanya said...

And yet, I wait patiently for the groundbreaking comprehensive study of Antisocial Personality Disorder in the white male beginning with his subjugation of the white woman in Europe and finally his violent invasion and occupation of neighboring white and most brown countries. Our history books don't seem to spell it out bluntly enough.

*this is me not holding my breath*

Oh Crap said...

Yeah Tanya. I concur. Personally, I'm not a big believer in the "heritability" of much of anything. But I do notice it never occurs to the white males so completely invested in proving Black inferiority, to set out on studies of their own legendary, LETHAL pathologies.