Monday, November 26, 2007

So "what is" Tiger Woods anyway? (and should we care?)

Gene Expression discusses race and appearance, pointing to people disagreeing about whether Tiger Woods looks "Black" or "Asian." Not only is there a good discussion of the involved genetic dynamics, but the larger question of "why do we still focus on race?" is touched on.

Being of mixed descent myself, my appearance and behavior has confounded many people who have tried to "pin me down" as a certain race or ethnicity, much to my amusement (some have been wildly off) - I grew up always being asked the question, "So what are you?" And I wonder now, does it serve any purpose beyond satisfying curiosity to try to ascertain a person's race when so many other factors, like culture and nationality, contribute to a person's identity and perspective when interacting in the world? Many have speculated on the future of race, that we will lose the need for such distinctions because more people will claim mixed heritage (as shown by the 2000 U.S. Census) and will grow up with a cosmopolitan appreciation of all cultures, making attempts to reify race and ethnicity superfluous and inaccurate.

Speaking as someone who eats everything from sushi, kimchee and curry to gyros, crawdad boil, and stroganoff, I have to agree.

Addendum: Beyond aesthetic considerations, attempts to classify race and ethnicity can have very real economic impacts.

1 comment:

Razib said...

Many have speculated on the future of race, that we will lose the need for such distinctions because more people will claim mixed heritage (as shown by the 2000 U.S. Census) and will grow up with a cosmopolitan appreciation of all cultures, making attempts to reify race and ethnicity superfluous and inaccurate.

not that i'm skeptical of this. latin america is a 'natural experiment' which contradicts there, is a strong aesthetic preference for "good" features (read: white). sampling variance means that though the average may be an admixed appearance (the most common type), many people will continue to look like they are white, amerindian, black, etc. the different experience of eurasians and black-white biracials in the USA suggests to me that the not all mixed people are created alike....

(people of eurasian heritage, such as the tilly sisters or kristen kruek are often cast as white, that would never happen with a biracial woman such as halle berry)