Human Evolution, Cultural Evolution and the Concept of Race.

So this little diddy came to my mind while having a discussion with a friend of mine. He’s a smart guy (uh-oh…qualification coming up…) but he has a fairly stereotypical view on race. That’s not to say he’s explicitly racist. I don’t really think of him as the type to harbor exclusive racial prejudice, but I do think his views on race are shaped by the culture in which he was raised. I also know that he appreciated my challenging his views and explaining what was maybe not so accurate. I also know that he took my views into consideration. I also know that he wouldn’t be upset that I am writing this based on that discussion.

Lastly, I know he would be very happy to know that I was doing so while listening exclusively to Iron Maiden.

all in all, he’s a good dude.

So like any good wielder of multisyllabic words, I’m going to let you know what I mean by those that I’m gonna use that I feel are specific. That’s not to say you’re stupid. You might be and you might not. Regardless, everyone has their ideas of what words mean that may have an application that is too broad, too general or just way off the mark. So some terms in this blabbering should be made explicit. I do that. It pisses some people off. Operational definitions. Consensus!

Also, the word multisyllabic gets the squiggly red line, and suggests the word “syllabication.” Sure, that’s way more common.

At the start of it all is evolution. “The change in inherited characteristics of biological populations over successive generations.”

Basically there is a population of whatever animal, with whatever genetic variation. The environment does environmental things and the things that can survive those environmental things get to live. Those that are less adaptable die off.

Essentially, pared down, evolution is a response to stimulus. More on that later.

In case you’re of the “ZOMG BUT EVOLUTION IS JUST A THEORY!!!!!!!!!!!!” persuasion, I’ll define theory for you, too. In the context of science (what we’re talking here), a theory is an explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is generated in response to a shit ton of testing. I see something, wonder why, think of some ideas (these are hypotheses). If a hypothesis pans out, I write about it. Then other people that think my ideas are cool for some reason test them. If they cannot FALSIFY them, they start looking pretty good. That is to say, when these things fail to be proven wrong.

Eventually, with enough support and backed by enough factual data, a hypothesis becomes a theory. The theory of evolution by natural selection is a theory because it has only been supported by all evidence ever found regarding it, and it would also unravel pretty quickly in the face of contradictory but irrefutable evidence.

Basically a theory is an explanation supported by facts.

Next up is natural selection. This refers to the success and failure of individuals and species based on environmental factors. Weather, plants, animals, food, whatever it is, something needs to be adapted to cope with it. If you cannot handle your environment you die. That’s all natural selection is. Nature passively “selects” creatures that can handle its bullshit. No creature “gets” anything. But some creatures can handle dealing with stuff. Everything else dies and you’re left with what can handle its environment. It’s almost obnoxiously simple. Handle-live. Don’t handle-die.

Now for culture. Everybody knows what that is, but it’s pretty friggin’ weird. And unless you study it specifically it’s difficult to realize how pervasive it actually is. Culture can be summated as the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time and transmitted intergenerationally.

I’m not gonna philosophize, that can be expanded upon, pared down or argued with. I’ll shut up if you will. Its everything. You understand these squiggly markings because of culture. You understand that the strange adornment on my nose, in front of my eyes and wrapped around my ears helps me to see. You understand that the metallic shiny look on a buncha my teeth is because I ate a lot more sugar when I was younger.

Music, language, text, baseball, religion, Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the shape of my bathroom faucet are all manifestations of culture in some way. Whether stylistic or mythological, it’s all culture.

Next is race. That’s a big one. And it’s the point of this post and probably my springboard from definitions into rant. Again, you probably know what race is. If, like me, you have a certain skin color, you can see people with a different skin tone and identify their race. I’m white; but I’m also Italian, Irish, Ukranian and Polish. 100 years ago my Irish ancestors would have been treated considerably different from my Italian were they in the United States together.

Similarly, “black” is considered a race, but go to Rwanda in the early 1990’s and you’ll see two “black” races not exactly getting along. The majority Hutus weren’t so keen with the minority Tutsis because of increasing economic disparity. Europeans had shown up a while back. The Tutsis were traditionally pastoralists; the Hutus agriculturalists. One of the “arguments” regarding what happened in Rwanda was that the already somewhat distinct groups were made more distinct by colonists showing up and thinking that the taller Tutsis with their domesticated animals must be smarter.

The colonists then gave them better treatment and educational access. The Hutu majority wasn’t so hot on this, because they were kinda getting the shit end of the stick.

So they killed them. About a million of them. With clubs and machetes. Over the course of 90 days. These were neighbors and friends, coworkers and daily faces.

There was a historical difference in ethnic background that they were more or less merely “aware” of. Give one an advantage and you have an outgroup. Give it time and make it unfair enough and what happened in Rwanda is a possibility. There were two distinct races (three counting the Twa, but they’re an extreme minority and not really involved). Two distinct races to them. Hutu and Tutsi.

Clearly I’m not giving this thorough treatment; but you probably get the point.

In America they would just be “black,” or “African American.”

See where I’m going with this? Race is culturally defined, regionally defined, personally defined. I identify more with Irish than any of my other three dominant ancestries. Why? Probably because of my surname. But whichever I identify as, or whether I were full Irish, Italian, Polish or Ukrainian…the Hutus or Tutsis would probably just say I was “white.”

So there’s more to race than just culture and arbitrary crankiness regarding people whose skin tone is slightly different than yours. Despite being dismissed in either 1911 or 1912 as a cultural construct rather than biological distinction by anthropologist Franz Boas…race is still regarded as biologically relevant by a lot of people.

So lets get a little into biology.

Let’s stipulate that people are animals. We do alla that animal stuff and in pretty much the same ways. So sure, we’re animals.

So we must be subject to natural selection. So what is it about us that makes us so different, anyway?

Well. Primates for one have an interesting set of selection pressures driving them. We are primates. Primates in general have to grasp at branches and whatnot. So they need good manual dexterity. Some of them brachiate (swing through trees). Some of them sneak up on and grab bugs. Some of them tie knots. Some of them hunt with tools. Manual dexterity and depth perception in every case.  Use your hands better, you don’t miss the branch, you don’t miss the meal, you can make some kinda sheltery crap. It’s a better time for you and all your friends.

They also need to know the differences in trees. Or in plants. Or in fruits. Or in leaves. Or in seeds.

All of this stuff is how things like binocular and color vision evolved.

None of this seems like it matters but this is where we came from and I’m just setting the stage for how similar things are.

At some point we started walking upright more and more. You can see my post entitled “Some Thoughts on why We Stood Up,” or you can just read the rest of this paragraph. Basically, we had reason to. Carrying food, manipulating objects as tools or just to get them out of the way. Perhaps heat dispersion by minimizing surface area. Perhaps seeing over high grasses. Whatever it was, there were ample reasons why something that stood upright would have gained some kind of an edge.

Which we did. And we did so in Africa. Quite a while ago…

Our genus (the Homo in Homo sapiens) starts popping up in the fossil record around 2 million years ago. That’s a while. There is (and should be) some considerable debate regarding that. (I am a part of that debate!…and I really should be working on that instead….). Basically…we found some skulls and called them something. Now it’s time to start paying more attention to the body type–these 2mya critters may have superficially resembled us in their skulls, but the rest of their body may suggest they moved around differently.

For the purposes of this post–whatever.

Either way, at around 200,000 years ago, we start seeing anatomically modern humans (AMH) popping up in the sediments. That’s a while. We have been around…the tool-making, language-using, terraforming and world traveling apes that we are…for about 200,000 years. Wow.

We weren’t a global population at the time. And this is critical. We may look a lot different when you look at yourself and someone who has a dramatically different skin color. Or who has differently shaped eyes. Or who has a distinctly different brow ridge. Or who is like 4 feet taller than you.

But genetically, we are very similar. We are less genetically distinct as a SPECIES than individual groups of chimps are. In central Africa. But…chimps look so much similar, right? Probably not to other chimps. And they don’t to Jane Goodall, either. Here, if you don’t believe me, read this:

http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2012/120302.html

So how can that be? Well, their pressures are fairly static. Meaning that they live in an environment that has persisted in the same way for a long time. Sure there is drastically different weather from season to season. There are plenty of climatic upheavals. But for the most part…they can figure it out. They’re really good at what they do and they’ve had a good sized population for some time. They share an ancestor with us (no, we did NOT evolve FROM them. Nobody who wasn’t an idiot ever said that. Trust me.). And that ancestor is, by current measures, situated 5-7 million years ago.

It wasn’t a chimp. It wasn’t a human. It was probably a bit closer on the spectrum to chimps. Because chimps stayed in similar environments.

Who knows what happened with our ancestors (it happened in a period called the Miocene. From 23mya to 5mya). Toward the end, maybe the bands of critters that would branch off and become our ancestors were in regions that were experiencing some climatic shifts and they were just separated from those that would become the ancestors of chimpanzees.

Either way, branch off we did.

So chimps have this diversity because things have remained less-changed for them for a longer amount of time.

We branched off and became in a lot of ways more exposed.

As we wandered out of the forests and onto the savanna, we became more vulnerable. No trees to run up into to get away. Less immediate shelter. We were pretty adept at walking bipedally. Probably because we had to start making shelters for ourselves. We didn’t necessarily get to eat food where we found it, because we were often exposed to predators. So we had to carry it somewhere. Meaning more pressure on walking bipedally.

As we survived better by being clever and outsmarting would-be predators, weaker individuals survived better…cognition got the pressure and took pressure of physical strength. We got slower because we could track predators and maybe know a bit more what they were up to. We got weaker because we evaded them and didn’t need strength as much. Eventually we had weapons (we had tools by 3.2mya, although some stuff on this isn’t yet published). We could scavenge and eventually make fire.

Once we made fire, food kept longer. We had more reliable access to better quality food with less pathogens. We had better health, probably started living a little longer on average and eventually also lost our need for some of the symbiotic bacteria that helped us cope with digesting raw meat.

Smarter means more neural tissue. Neural tissue is metabolically expensive to create, and slow to develop. So we have longer developmental periods. We are more vulnerable as juveniles for a longer period of time. Meaning there is more pressure on cleverness to protect and provide for our young.

But our environment was still intense. Scare a chimp and it can run up a tree. Threaten a chimp  and it can bite through your spine. Life was hard for our ancestors. Not necessarily harder than for a chimp, but it was hard in new ways.

New ways means novel adaptations. And a lot of us died. For a lot of reasons, many of which I can’t get into here and many of which we are uncertain about anyway.

Climate, predation, need for shelter, lack of food and just general trial-and-error. All of this helped cull our numbers. It killed off those who could not cope.

It also inevitably killed off a lot of the genetic variation in our species. I mean, think about it. You look at that person who I told you to imagine…who is physically so unlike you that you don’t know how you can be so supposedly genetically similar. Put that person, with yourself in a group of, say, 50,000 people.

And kill 49,000 of you. Of that 1,000, who remains? You? That person? Chances are the variation you see in that remaining group is not going to be representative of the variation the 50,000 people showed.

This happened naturally. What remained was considerably streamlined.

Chimps haven’t needed to change as much. It wasn’t broke and they didn’t need to fix it. As much or as often.

Read this for a good explanation, if you’d like: http://news.discovery.com/human/genetics/human-diversity-bottlenecks.htm

We did. We paid a heavy price. Came out with enormous brains that can do everything from sharpening a stick to inventing language to making a building that floats around in outer space and living there for months at a time.

We created our own way of dealing with things. Eventually, instead of dying, we coped. We built different shelters from the wind and rain. We started wearing skins and making fire to deal with the cold. We started calling to one another in unique ways that started relating directly to objects in our environment rather than just conveying “run” or “food.”

As we could directly communicate CONCEPTS, meaning abstract ideas of things that were not yet in front of us…we began building human culture. That trial an error that killed us off in the past? Well…don’t climb that barren tree to hide from the thunder because Joe got fried to death. Past innovations and failures became cumulative. We began to stand on the shoulders of those that came before us.

And we found our stasis there. As we evolved in small bands, we developed tools and language and culture within those small bands. We were anatomically modern earlier. We were cognitively modern earlier. But we became “humans,” with all of our capacity for ingenuity and diversity and culture. All of our weird ways of seeing things…ever see a name carved into a tree when you were hiking and think about the people who did that? See their names and maybe know something about where they were from. See the year and know how long ago.

That happened a very long time ago in the African savanna.

Here is where it gets a bit into my opinion. My opinion has a little bit of weight because I have spent a lot of time studying this and formulating opinions. This bit can be skewed and taken into different directions but I don’t care. I want to read more direct research into this and delve more into it later, but here is where I’m going to start.

I think that within these small bands are where our cultural universals began to develop. The things that separate our societies from primates in ways other than just “how” we are doing it. By that I mean…we seek shelter. So do primates. We will build a shelter, they’ll use something in their environment to cover themselves. Whatever.

What’s different here is not so much the extent of our shelters–it’s that we will imbue meaning into it. The placement of doorways, the construction surrounding them, the materials used. The colors of pigments used or the plants they were derived from. All of that has, or can have, so much meaning beyond that it’s just a structure. And you also have to be in the know.

So we started coming up with both the question and answer to “why.”

What I’m going on about is that in these small bands of people, we became cohesive in ways that still resonate today.

We think certain things when we see certain cultures. We think things when we see certain architecture. We think certain things when we see certain outfits or arrangements thereof. We think certain things when we hear certain tones of voice. Or when we hear an accent that doesn’t sound like our own. Actually, many people (at least in America) don’t even think they have an accent. They think everyone else does.

This all started way back when. On the African savanna.

So what this means to me is that the aspects of other cultures that remind us of our own are not really all that arbitrary. Sure, there are going to be some things that we come up with independently. But things like language, hand gestures, facial expressions, jewelry, religion. They may be different, but we can recognize what they are, even if we don’t intuitively know the details. This is evidence of our shared ancestry.

But we went our separate ways years ago. Tens of thousands of them in some cases. But in the scheme of things, that’s not so much.

And in the context of us being this weird group of critters that kind of created this artificial environment around ourselves…we’ve greatly slowed or even removed ourselves from the natural selection pressures of the past. We separated  a while back. We headed out of Africa. This was actually several waves of migrants moving into and out of the continent but for this post that doesn’t matter.

Some of us left Africa. Some of us stayed. Sure, some of us subsequently went back and left and whatever. But what matters is that we went on to populate the world.

We were a band of however many. Growing in numbers. Splitting off into different groups. Becoming separated by geography. By space. Eventually by time. Generations passed and groups who settled in an area thought it was pretty great. As the generations passed, there was no written record of the band the ancestors split from.

There were tales. Myths of way back when. Different groups of others. Maybe they got along with you, maybe they didn’t. All faded back into antiquity. From when everything was created. Some people stayed in Africa and hung out in different regions. Some people made it to Asia. Some people made it to Europe. Hell, people made it to goddamn Australia. The Americas. The friggin’ Polynesian islands…

Each group in each area has some traits that are pretty specific to their group–but not unique. As I mentioned earlier..there are gradients of variation in each area. If you lined up a representative of each skin tone or height or stockiness that represents each race…it would be a continuum. It wouldn’t be a stark change from one to the next unless you intentionally made it look that way. “White” doesn’t just change to “black.” White skin darkens gradually in populations more exposed to sunlight. Just how it is.

Eventually though, we beat that.

We blunted the effects of nature so much so that those selection pressures didn’t kill us off as easily. That means that those adaptations, while pretty neat, no longer conferred the same advantage in the environment. I mean…they DO. In hunter gatherer populations, kinda removed from things as we know it from our soft beds and computers…yeah…those things can matter. But even those populations are less cut off.

There is and has been interbreeding. There is less genetic drift.

We are a global population now. Genetic drift has all but stopped. Genetic drift, by the way, is the separation of genotypes by essentially just not interbreeding. Stay away from a population long enough and things just change. bunches of generations later you’ve got some different looking groups of the same species. As soon as there’s gene transfer (SEX!!!!!), all that stops. The genes are once again mixing.

Anyway.

What I’m getting at is that, biologically…we aren’t very different. I said that a while ago. I started that entire tangent in talking about how we aren’t different, and then I talked about how regional groups of chimps are more genetically diverse than people from opposite sides of the earth.

And all that crap you just read explains why. In an elementary and oversimplified sense. But I think you get it.

So…what does that have to do with us, right now?

Well…we still look different. When you have a bunch of people living in an area for a while, and a bunch more people show up from a different area and want to be incorporated, that’s all well and good.

But it’s gonna split the pie a few more ways. And that creates some animosity.

Especially in a country like America. We enjoy a pretty friggin’ high standard of living. And with that comes cost. It costs a lot to lay in this queen sized bed, in a silk shirt, typing on a computer with touch screen. I’m in New Bedford. I drove here to see my girlfriend. She’s out with some friends and will be back in a little while. So I’m sitting here working on some writings I’ve been meaning to get done since before we met.

Before that I stopped at a little cafe place and had a burrito. Made a call on my iPhone.

Living here is expensive. I have a car loan and a mortgage. Two credit card bills. And all the other crap that comes with driving and having a house.

I have a good friend in Ethiopia. Know what he makes per month?

$100.

It’s not a very good wage. But it’s something he can live on. I told him that I spend more than that per month just to get to work.

He rents a room. For $40 per month. He’s not used to climate controlled buildings. He’s not used to having access to everything ever as soon as he wants it. I’m not really well off by any stretch of the imagination. But as a country, we are spoiled as fuck. Really though I’m ok with that.

So you have this other group come in, and they don’t need your quality of life. Their every day is in some cases not anything close to what you’d be comfortable with. There’s nothing wrong with that…but it means that they don’t need to make the kind of money you make. Because they don’t need the kinds of comforts you need. And it’s ok that you need those comforts because…well..it’s the precedent set by your culture and the life we all know here.

That means they’re willing to work for less. And that’s a point of contention. Jobs are undercut by people willing to work for a hell of a lot less because their standard of living doesn’t involve queen sized beds, new cars and touch screen laptops (and this computer was only $300…or three months salary over in Addis Ababa).

And these people often seem different. They have these goofy other cultures and they just don’t seem to assimilate. Even after they have kids…the kids don’t quite fit. Why not?

Well. Contextualize that.

An immigrant population comes over. Maybe they know some English. Maybe it’s broken. Maybe they’re refugees. Who knows. But they retain characteristics of the culture from whence they came.

Actually. I’m in New Bedford. This is like…Portuguese land. I heard a segment on NPR last month. About the aging Portuguese population. The people who came over from Portugal way back when. And their kids. They’ve all aged. Their friends and immediate family are all getting on in years. They’re increasingly alone.

They’re losing their English because they never really interact with anyone. And they speak mostly Portuguese. But when they came here, they came with their culture. They carved out a small microcosm…few blocks, maybe a three story apartment building for a family. Or just New Bedford, haha.

But they took their culture with them. The holidays, the traditional foods, the customary greetings and just the general social norms. They assimilated to American culture as best as they could, but they retained home. They kept their identity because it is important to them.

But Portugal isn’t static. Cultures evolve. They change regularly. New slangs, new foods, new ways of celebrating. New customs pop up, endure, some fizzle out. Whatever.

So in a sense, there is more traditionally Portuguese culture in New Bedford than there is in Portugal.

Immigrant cultures are slow to change for that exact reason. That’s why we have so many cultural festivals in the United States.

And the farther removed from Western culture a group is…the stranger it is to us.

And this brings me aaaalllll the way back to that conversation I had with my friend, now months ago.

Take a family, or even just an individual. From a tribe in, I dunno…anywhere in Africa. They have their tribal customs. Tribal beliefs and superstitions. They have just as much ingrained xenophobia as anyone else.

And plop em in Providence, Rhode Island.

Those customs are going to stick, because they want to feel like home is with them.

But then look back at the Eurocentric view of the world we have here in America. Western culture is the pinnacle of things. We have all these fancy shoes and backlit screens.

And really…they’re fucking cool.

But we developed a need for them and then filled it. There are cultures that just never had the need. And who cares?

The Dassanech have skirmishes over farming territory. They follow the rainy seasons around and graze their cattle on the best land they can find. Sometimes there’s a conflict of interest. People often get killed over it.

It may be writ small, but it’s no different from our own border conflicts or wars over whatever interest we may or may not have in an area. Writing off subcultures within our society as lesser because they come from a background different than ours becomes a lot less reasonable in light of the fact that all of their behaviors are exhibited by us.

How do I know that? How do I know that these are cool people. That you can hang out with and eat with without fear of getting your head shrunken? Because I lived for over a month with the Dassenach in northern Kenya. I regularly saw and interacted with Maasai, El Molo, Turkana and Samburu.

And I don’t mean people whose grandparents were tribal. I mean people who only see motor vehicles when the missionaries and scientists show up. The same exact groups I just mentioned having their skirmishes over grazing land.

And they’re awesome.

They know how to use the techno gizmos we showed up with. They could turn on my camera and knew what it was. The kids stole the photographers’ liquor on fourth of July when they left it unattended. These people aren’t any less adept at anything than we are. They just haven’t seen it yet.

Similarly…try hunting with a dikdik stick. You will fail miserably and be laughed into shame by an 8 year old kid who can get it on his first shot.

So what if they look a little bit different? So what if they have a thick accent? To them, you have the accent. To them, you look different. The only difference is, you’re at home. 40 generations or whatever of your family has lived here. You’re surrounded by people with the same world view.

And it goes deep. Race has permeated this culture in ways that cycle and dilute somewhat through generations. But in black and specifically African American populations, it’s particularly pernicious.

I often hear (or see on facebook) people talking about black people as if they’re intrinsically different. A lot of it is political spin. But, often times blacks are concentrated in impoverished areas. And the “common sense” view is that these areas are impoverished because of the lazy not white people who take advantage of everything. (I use the term black here, in lieu of African American, as an umbrella term…because not all black people come from Africa, and not all Africans identify as African American. But they’re still essentially treated the same. So I’m going with black)

Well. Lets contextualize this, too. And once I’m done with that, I think I’ll have made my point and can then go back to looking at pictures of cats.

Look at the kids first. The upcoming generation. In my neighborhood, they’re running around playing basketball and football. The boys act tough, the girls tease the boys and the boys run away They run around, fall in the street and get hurt. They laugh and get into fights sometimes. It’s essentially the same.

But there’s an elementary school on my street. I think I’ve mentioned it in other posts. My street doesn’t get plowed in the winter. Not until well after the more affluent areas of the city are cleared out. It’s neglected. And obviously so. Often times the weather has warmed and frozen and we’ve had more snow before plows come. So it’s snow on slush on ice.

And there’s a school there. A school that these children go to.

I’ve seen buses get stuck in the snow and just be stuck. 200 feet from the school. They’re stuck there until people come out of the surrounding houses to shovel them out.

That kind of thing didn’t happen to me growing up and I bet there’s a damn good chance that it didn’t happen to you, either.

These kids aren’t stupid. They see the privilege around them. They are within biking distance of the mall and can see who can afford the nicer stuff. They can bike to the nicer schools and see the tennis courts. They notice that difference. They may shrug it off because they’re kids and they’re resilient, but that’s going to stick.

Let’s move to their parents. I guess in a sense these would be my generation, but most of the parents in my neighborhood are of my parents’ generation. So their parents. They grew up during segregation. They were forced to attend different schools. Use different bathrooms. “Mixed marriages” were still a thing back then. And by “back then” I mean people born in the late 50’s and 60’s. This wasn’t long ago.

The kids are surrounded by privilege that they can’t access. But they cannot see the barrier that prevents it.

Their parents grew up with that barrier strikingly in place.

Their grandparents. The ones that fought in World War II. Probably the only war I agree with. They came home from that war as second class heroes. But they weren’t granted mortgages.

They weren’t explicitly prevented from buying them, but it was anticipated that allowing blacks to move into a white area would depreciate the property values and cause collapse in the areas. Prejudice was deep, and it may have been the case just because the white people in the area would have been uncomfortable and left.

But regardless…that the official word was that blacks would depreciate an area created a self-fulfilling prophecy. And to avoid that, blacks weren’t granted mortgages.

Urban renewal actually resulted in the demolition of areas long established with black populations in favor of prefabricated homes. Housing projects went up to create new housing for the displaced populations.

They also weren’t allowed to vote until 1965 with the passing of the Voting Rights act…when their children were well on their way to the parents they are today. There was limited suffrage in some areas before the civil war for emancipated slaves…but it was far from across the board.

The great grandparents of these kids were often not permitted education. The late 19th and early 20th century was a period of vehement hatred towards a population forcibly and often begrudgingly allowed into a society that had no place for them.

The great great grandparents of these kids. This is Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass’ generation. Some born slaves. Some born free. Some born slaves but with slavery having ended before they were old enough to really remember it clearly.

Booker T. Washington helped build schools…as in the physical construction of them. He taught students to manufacture the bricks that would become his Tuskegee institute. Frederick Douglass, among other things, would become a supporter of the woman’s suffrage movement in the United States, seeing the correlations between the plight of women and the plight of blacks in America.

Still. I say great great grandparents. But my grandmother was born in 1922. The emancipation was in 1863. My grandmother. Who lives about an hour from where I’m sitting right now. You can call her up if you’d like.

She is alive now. And she is old enough to have known people who were born slaves.

So these kids are surrounded by apparently inaccessible privilege. And they don’t know why.

Their parents received an impoverished education.

Their grandparents were not permitted to vote and were also often forcibly relocated to substandard housing.

Their great grandparents were not permitted an education and were not readily accepted into a society who just recently viewed them as cattle.

Their great great grandparents WERE CATTLE in the eyes of the United States of America.

When talking about reparations for slavery, you need to think in context. It’s not a matter of cutting a check. I am honestly unsure of what would be the right course of action.

I see things improving. Even my brief and poor synopsis of things you can see an improvement.

But you can also (I hope…) understand why things just aren’t the same. I grew up in a house that wasn’t all that well off. But also wasn’t so bad. I had food. I had some video games. I had clothes and a good education.

That wasn’t the case for a lot of black kids. Still isn’t. These are not the kids of lawyers and doctors. These are the kids of people who were often forcibly relocated into districts that were intentionally neglected. There is resentment there. It’s not a matter of stupidity. It’s not a matter of people with closer connections to a tribal past being inherently less adept at assimilating to “modern” society and technology. It’s a matter of access to privilege, and to some extent, rejection of the material culture of those that they see with the privilege. They see it oppressing them, and they reject it.

I live in a predominantly black neighborhood. I think a close second is Dominican. A cop once asked me if I had had any problems. He said “because you’re a minority in this area.”

I wanted to tell him I wasn’t. I may be fewer in number, but I will never be a minority. I have had access to things that I’ve taken for granted that these kids may never get to have just by virtue of where and to whom I was born. And that’s just the way things are.

They’re improving, slowly. But the ties to cultures. The ties to ancestry and the ties to home. They remain. They run deep. Because this place hasn’t yet become home to a very many of the people who live here.

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About Pedal Powered Anthropology

I have a degree in anthropology from Rhode Island College. My focus was in biological anthropology but I also have a broad interest in cultural anthropology, archaeology and linguistic anthropology. This blog is intended to be for the development of my own positions and ideas, mostly regarding paleoanthropology and paleontology in general, with a heaping helping of evolution on top...but also includes bits about a lot of different aspects of culture, primarily race, gender, privilege, the environment and my own personal relationship with anxiety.

Posted on 11/07/2014, in Cultural Anthropology, General Science, Paleoanthropology, Social Justice Babblings. and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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