Is racism genetic?

The recent dust up with The Master Race got me to thinking about why racism exists. I am sure for many people, the standard answers fit: can’t have a sense of self w/o having someone to be superior to, need someone to blame for real/perceieved problems, etc, but I started to wonder about why seemingly rational and fairly intelegent people would believe the garbage that many supremesists spout, stuff that is demonstrateably and proveably untrue. This is the theory that I came up with while making spaghetti sauce from scratch for dinner. I am not an anthropologist, or a genetisist, doubtless people who are will show up and tell me the whole thing is an oregano influenced crock, but here goes.

It occured to me that as primative man and primative society evolved, the propensity to band toigether would have been a valuable survival trait. A group of people are better equiped to survive than an individual, thus societies developed along the classic lines: Family, village, tribe, etc…, thus giving a group of people who could depend on each other to produce food, weather disasters, assist each other and so on. One of the most useful advantages this gave, it seems to me, is the ability to resist “them”- a different family/village/tribe that also wants access to resources and the like.

Now, given that society tends to evolve much faster than genetics, it seems to me that in the relatively short timeframe where human society has evolved from tribes to superpowers ( 3-4000 years, generally speaking ), genetics hasn’t had a chance to do much. In many parts of the world, “Tribe” is STILL the dominant identifier for any given individual.

So, in a modern, industrialized society, what does an individual have to identify with? “Family” is still there as the base group, but “village” is gone, for the most part, and the closest analagous group to “Tribe” is the extremely inaccurate and mostly illusitory “Race”.

My hypothesis, such as it is, is that humans may be hardwired to band together, and “race” is, for many people, the easiest common identifier above “family” but below “nation-state”, a classification that is fairly meaningless when you’re competing against other people who also are part of that nation-state, and because it is meaningless in this situation, many people revert to race as their self identifier, thus having an “us” to stand together against the “them”.

So, what do you think? Do I have something, or am I full of hooey?

Tribalism is probably genetic, and if racism is considered an extension of tribalism.

Oops, part of that post got cut off.

…then racism probably is genetically influenced, at least the basic tendency toward it.

It sounds reasonable, but it’s certainly no excuse for racists.

I believe that it is Nurture far more than Nature.

IIRC what one finds “beautiful” seems to be genetically inclined. However racism is not the same as finding ones own race beautiful. Those folks over at SF don’t want to just marry or breed in their own race (perhaps genetic) but they want other races destroyed, or abandoned. They simply don’t want to deal with those of other races. There is no genetic reason this should be true.

Genetically we will seek out mates who are healthy, can reproduce, and are aesthetically pleasing. I don’t see how this would equate fervent racism, or separatism.

Society by nature is fluid construction. 3-4 k years is nothing at all. I am not sure that I would say tribe, in the technical anthropological sense, is the dominant identifier in the world any more. Very few ‘tribal’ groups are actualy lineage groups, ex-isolated communities. However, family/lineage/fictive kinship relationship does remain dominant, I think.

I am not sure that I would say the most analagous group is race, but for historical and cultural reasons specific to European-based socio-cultural developments, it is a dominant plug in.

Well, again outside the Western world, by which I mean the English settlement colonies and Europe, race is hardly a concept that is dominant. It is important not to navel gaze on this.

That being said, your starting hypothesis seems good, we are clearly hard wired to form bands. How that hard wiring expresses, however, is another mantter. Certainly the highly noticeable phenotypes provide an easy way to do so, and probably latch onto some hard wired sight based recognition schema.
All that being said, it’s an essentially non-rational mechanism.

I would rather call racism an extension of ‘fear of the unknown’.
The reaction to fear is certainly a genetic trait or, if you prefer, a human instinct.
Humans tend to be agressive towards that what they fear, they want the (potential) threat eliminated.

I fall pretty heavily on the nature side of this one

We as humans try to downplay the role of our instincts as animals; we think we’re so smart and logical, hah!

Among our many survival instincts is the ability to generalize. It’s what keeps us from eating similar looking poisonous plants, etc.
I think that’s why prejudice exists. If it looks like anything that’s been dangerous in the past, it’s cause for suspicion, and we have to organize as much information as we have about it quickly, and be ready to react; hence stereotypes.

Combined with the cognitive structures necessary to generalize and apply such generalizations are our emotions. We innately seek comfort. We innately seek to avoid anxiety, fear, etc. which is why we create routines for ourselves. Thus, seeking a tribe similar to ourselves is genetic, or innate; a matter of comfort seeking.

Quite frankly, I don’t even believe that there is cause for much debate for nature vs nurture, because “nurture” is among our strongest of biological drives.

Hooey is a really funny word

I just came over from Stormfront and this thread naturally caught my attention.

In my opinion, there are 2 kinds of racism.

Instinctive racism is the natural urge to be with one’s own kind. This is what allows new species to form- groups within a species will breed within their own groups until eventually the groups have become different species.

Learned racism is the conscious acknowledgment of racial differences in brain size, brain structure, and hormonal levels, which result in behavioral differences.

Latro says that racism is like fear of the unknown. Ultrafilter says that there is no excuse for racists. Light strand says that I want to kill all nonwhites. Apparently you guys think that it is evil or irrational to acknowledge racial differences. I look forward to discussing this with you.

Fenris11, I had to take a second look when I saw your post - we have a very active regular here named Fenris - and I thought he’d changed his screen name!

Welcome to the SDMB!

Oh and regarding this:

Got a cite for those claims? Like a legitimate peer reviewed scientific journal?

So do I. As long as you and yoour friends follow the rules–no namecalling in GD, no sock puppets, no copying whole text for other Web sites-- and can provide cites for your beleifs, I look forward to talking with you.

And, no, nobody here says that it is evil or irrational to acknowledge raical differences, but there is insufficient evidence to claim that differences among races denotes superiority or inferiority. Moreover, a growing body of evidence suggests that race as a biological concept is outmoded.

Uh…no. That’s not how speciation works. Besides which, a biological race is still of the same “kind” as all the other races within a species. What you have described is, at best, “species-ism”.

Uh…no. First off, I think you’d be hard-pressed to actually point to legitimate findings wherein “racial differences in brain size, brain structure” can even be found. Second, acknowledging the differences which do exist between ethnic groups is not racism. Applying a judgment about a person’s worth based on those differences is.

Since it’s my thread, I also want to welcome Fenris11 to the debate. As long as you debate, as other people have stated, welcome! I really have nothing to add except to echo the request for cites from peer reviewed scientific journals, and perhaps ask for clarification of how “racial differences in brain size, brain structure, and hormonal levels, which result in behavioral differences.”, assuming you can provide acceptable proof that they even exist, would lead one “race” to be superior to another, and assuming you can do that as well, what makes you so sure the “white race” is at the top?

I firmly agree, Weirddave, that it is natural for humans to associate themselves into groups of escalating hierarchy. I’m a member of this family, I’m a resident of this city, I’m a participant in this activity, I’m a citizen of this country, and so on.

But note the third possibility: People band together in all sorts of groups that have nothing to do with biology. They can take these associations very, very seriously, sometimes shockingly so if you take an objective view of that association. I’ve mentioned this before, but have you ever considered sitting in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium outfitted in Red Sox garb? Does it make any rational sense at all that hundreds of people would want to physically assault someone merely for his loyalty to a different sports franchise?

Anyway, I do think you’re on to something here, but it’s perhaps both more complicated and more superficial, if that’s possible, than you’re making it out to be. Maybe a better choice of terminology in the thread title would be “is racism hardwired in human behavior” rather than “genetic.”

Fenris11, I welcome your participation in this discussion. The preferred outcome, of course, is that you eventually acknowledge that “racial differences in brain size, brain structure, and hormonal levels” basically don’t exist, according to the best available biology. Simply stated, genetic variation within a race (however defined) is greater than genetic difference between races. Somebody on this board has collected all of the best debates about the biological basis of race into a single reference page, but I don’t have the link handy. It’s highly recommended reading, if you’re willing to approach it honestly.

Oh, and re this:

Dude, you make spaghetti in a crock? I just use a saucepan. Turns out better that way. :stuck_out_tongue:

I suspect your onto something but people can overcome their genetics by education and using their head.

Previous to the modern world people didn’t move around or mix with people of different races but now they do and realise everyone is the same so they can use that to shoot down racist arguments.

Remember the berlin olympics when the ‘master race’ lost to an american athlete ?

Why didn’t the germans say ‘hang on, this racism theory is rubbish’

The truth is that the smart people are taking over because you need brains to get ahead in this world, no matter what your race.

See the high iq person buy a big house and have lots of children while the low iq one has fewer children ?

I think prejudice is hard-wired behavior. That is, generalizing based on limited first-hand experience or information based on second-hand experience.

If someone wearing a Casper the Friendly Ghost mask constantly pounds you in the face whenever you see them, it’s completely natural for you to get frightened whenever you see Casper the Friend Ghost or another person dressed up like such. Just like it’s natural for a lizard to avoid eating orange-and-black butterflies because of a bad experience with Monarchs. If animals second-guessed their prejudices, they would put themselves in danger.

However, people are different than animals in that they are bit more flexible and unpredictable in their behavior. It’s rare indeed for humans categorized together based on loose criteria (like race) to behave the same way all the time. For instance, it’s irrational to clutch your purse when you’re in the company of a black male because only a small percentage of black males commit crime–you’re more likely to be in the company of an office worker than a professional criminal. It may be natural to feel fear if you’ve never had a positive interaction with a black male or you’ve been raised to fear them, but after having many normal experiences with them, you should be habituated and the number of prejudiced-influenced reactions should decrease. This is what happens to animals who are habituated to previously “scary” stimuli. Unfortunately, humans don’t always behave like this because we tend to remember negative experiences more than the positive ones. And we can rationalize our fears (for instance, by citing the disproportionately higher crime rate among blacks, or by believing black males just look scary and therefore deserve to be feared) to justify prejudice.

So I guess you could say racism is genetic to the extent that prejudice is. The latter is essential for the development of the former. But racism also depends heavily on the social environment (nuture). For instance, if you have always been taught that your “race” is inferior, I doubt seriously that you will believe anything else.

the fact that people tend to group themselves together isn’t a support (necessarily) for the concept of racism, since, as has been pointed out, we (humans) tend to group ourselves into multiple categories, not all of which (especially in a large fluid group such as the US - vs. say a small hard to reach island), have to do with physical characterisitics.

various groups that I tend to link up with include people who share political beliefs, people who share hobbies, people who share intellectual background, family members, people who work in similar occupations, etc.

In only one of those categories (family) is physical background a specific requirement, however, with the inclusion of in-laws, the physical commonality tends to get watered down.

Take a look at the DVD of the ogiginal Planet of the Apes. It was noticed that when everyone was in there makeup, those that were Chips, stuck with the chimps, those that were gorilla’s stuck with the gorillas…etc… This all happened unconsiously. (E: The actors were not told to do this.)

I think it is natural (genetic?) to be with those that are outwardly familiar with ourselves. I see no problems with humans doing this.

(But it is still wrong to hate another group of people because )they look outwardly different.

Argh!!! Preview…not submit!!! (Not having a good day so far…)

I think there need to be a definition of racism. Assuming you mean racism as: the belief that one race is superior to another, I have a really hard time understanding how it could be genetic.

Racism as a belief system is most certainly a learned behavior.

but this isn’t racism per se. A herding instinct does not equate with racism. Horses and cows in the same pasture will group with their own species, but that doesn’t mean that if they approach each other’s herds then there will be hoofticuffs.

Humans are social animals and as such also sort themselves according to all kind of criterion, we sort by genger, by intellect, by economic status, by shared history, etc. This "herding’ is not necessarily a racial divide.

If you observe small children in mixed-race setting (this is anecdotal) they don’t seem to sort by race, but by gender.

Being aware that race (by social definition) exists does not equate to racism by any stretch of the imagination. Another anecdote: A guy (Bill) once came to my office to see me. I wasn’t in, but another employee (Matt) was there and took the message. I had no idea who this person was, so I asked Matt to describe him. Matt went through all kinds of ridiculous explanations, until I finally asked him to point Bill out next time he saw him. When Matt finally pointed him out, I asked him “Matt why didn’t you just tell me he was the black guy?” (there aren’t that many here). Apparently Matt thought that would be racist. For crying out loud! Racism isn’t recognizing that there is a difference between the color of one’s skin! I would expect if I went to someone officeI would be described as the “short red-headed, white girl”. Why would I give two hoots about that?

So racism, as defined above, is a belief system and therefore not genetic.