Fear of Change Driving U.S. and European Clamor Over Immigration

New York Times journalists Amanda Taub and Max Fisher have trenchant insights about the current conflicts over immigration in the U.S. and Europe.[1]

First, they assert that these conflicts “often . . .have more do with race and ethnic identity — or with simple politics.” There is anger amongst the people,, but it “stems less from migration specifically than from a broader anxiety over social change. When people feel a sense of threat or a loss of control, they sometimes become more attached to ethnic and national identities.”

“For some people, the antipathy is explicitly racial. But for many others, the mere fact of cultural change itself can be unsettling. Immigration, unauthorized or otherwise, is just one of the changes that bring about a feeling of the loss of control. Economic dislocation, changes in social hierarchies and demographic change can all produce the same effect.”

In this context, “migrants and asylum seekers have become, for many voters, a symbol of the political establishment’s failure to protect them and their interests.”

Second, in the U.S. “most voters are growing more tolerant of immigration, but a committed minority is increasingly demanding limits on immigration in all forms. Because that minority makes the issue a top priority, it holds considerable power over policy.”

“The two-party American system means that the issue has polarized voters. Both sides see the United States’ core character as at risk of being destroyed. That feeling of existential, zero-sum conflict can make people feel that extreme action is justified to prevent victory for the other side, undermining democratic norms.”

Conclusion

A prior post emphasized this blogger’s opinion that the U.S. needs more immigration to provide (a) skilled and unskilled workers for the American economy, (b) younger people to counterbalance an aging population, (c) financial contributions for the social welfare needs of increasing numbers of retirees and (d) help to rescue small towns from collapse. At the same time, the post said it should be easy to understand why many people fear the  accompanying demographic changes.[2]

Taub and Fisher rightly emphasize why this fear of immigration by many Americans makes them put a top priority on limiting immigration

This current controversy over immigration makes me recall that in American history the once dominant northern European, Protestant population feared new immigrants from southern Europe (Italians and Greeks, for example), Roman Catholic immigrants from Ireland and others from Eastern Europe (Poland, for example) and from Asia. Now for most Americans the descendants of these newer immigrant groups have been subsumed into the “white” category of the population along with the elimination of the disparaging epithets previously used for such people.

Yet the American Anthropological Association has concluded that race is not a scientific concept. As the Association declared in a 1998 statement:[3]

  • It “has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within “racial” groups than between them. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species. . . . [Thus,] any attempt to establish lines of division among biological populations [is] both arbitrary and subjective.”

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[1]  Taub & Fisher, In U.S. and Europe, Migration Conflict Points to Deeper Political Problems, N.Y. Times (June 29, 2018).

[2] More Immigrants Needed in U.S., dwkcommentaries.com (June 23, 2018); White Anxiety and Fearing Immigration, dwkcommentaries.com (June 25, 2018).

[3] Anthropologists’ Opinion That Race Is Not a Scientific Concept, dwkcommentaries.com (June 7, 2016); Anthropologists’ Statement Regarding the Historical and Cultural Background to the Concept of Race, dwkcommentaries.com (June 8, 2016); Highlights of American Anthropological Association’s exhibit on Race, dwkcommentaries.com (June 27,  2016).

Highlights of American Anthropological Association’s Exhibit on Race

As a previous posts explained, I recently visited an exhibit about race that was organized by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and discovered its 1998 Statement on Race, which has scientific and historical/cultural components.

The exhibit also had informational panels. Here are some that talked about the subjects addressed by the AAA statement.

“Race is a recent human invention. It is only a few hundred years old. . . . Although not scientific, the idea of race proposed that there were significant differences among people that allowed them to be grouped into a limited number of categories or races. Yet, are we so different? All humans share a common ancestry and, because each of us represents a unique combination of ancestral traits, all humans exhibit biological differences.”

“From the beginning, the idea of race was tied to power and hierarchy among people, with one group being viewed as superior and others as inferior.”

“Genetic variation refers to the natural differences in DNA sequences found in a population. These differences exist because tiny, random changes are always occurring in DNA and accumulate over time. Almost all of these differences are ‘silent’ and don’t affect us in any way. But some are at the root of each person’s unique appearance—they might make us taller or shorter or cause some of us to have brown eyes and some of us blue.”

“The more isolated a population, the more it is affected by three evolutionary processes responsible for much of human variation.” First, Mutations. These are “randomly occurring changes in the genetic code,” are “the source of all genetic variations. Geographically separated populations may experience different mutations.” Second, “Random Genetic Sampling.” “Because each generation inherits a random sample of the genes of the previous generation, some alleles (different forms of the same gene) may become more or less common in a population just by chance.” Third, Natural Selection. “Traits that increase the chance of survival in a certain environment are more likely to be passed on to the next generation. Different traits provide an advantage in different environments.”

“People have lived in Africa far longer than anywhere else—scientists estimate between 150,000 to 200,000 years. This time has allowed the population in Africa to accumulate more of the small mutations, or genetic changes, that make up our genetic variation.”

“Because only a small part of the African population moved beyond Africa to begin colonizing the world, only part of Africa’s genetic variation moved with them. For this reason, most genetic variation found in people living outside Africa is a subset of that found among Africans, and more variety remains with Africa even today. [Yet] nearly all the genetic variation in Europe and Asia is found in Africa, too.”

“At the bottom of your skin’s outer layer are cells called melanocytes that produce a brown pigment called melanin, [which] screens the deeper layers of your skin from the Sun’s UV radiation.”

“If your skin is darker, some of your ancestors likely came from more tropical climates. If your skin is lighter, some of your ancestors probably came from places that did not receive much sunlight.”

[An anthropologist has contended] “that different skin colors evolved to balance [everyone’s] need for both folate [folic acid, which is vital to the healthy development of fetuses] and vitamin D [which allows us to absorb calcium and deposit it in our bones] depending on the regions where people lived. Darker skin blocks more folate-destroying UVR [radiation]. Lighter skin lets people absorb more UVR and make more vitamin D. The skin color in any population is a balance between the need to protect folate and the need to produce enough vitamin D.”

[Therefore,] “geography–not race—explains skin-color variation.”

 

Exploring Sub-Saharan African History

 I am currently taking a brief course, “Sub-Saharan African History to Colonialism,” to learn about such history “from many angles: anthropological, historical, geographic, cultural, and religious. From human origins through the populating of the continent, the great civilizations, the slave trades, to the beginning of European domination.” Offered by the University of Minnesota’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), the course’s instructor is Tom O’Toole, Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology of Minnesota’s St. Cloud State University.

Why does this Euro-American septuagenarian take this course? Foremost, I know virtually nothing about this history and want to know more. I also realize that I have various direct and indirect connections with Africa.

The most immediate precipitating cause is reading the discussion of the names of African and African-American intellectuals and historical figures that were discovered at Howard University by African-American author Ta-Nehisi Coates and recounted in his book “Between the World and Me” and my realizing that I did not know virtually any of these people. This book also has prompted me to research and investigate my own notions of race, including my recent posts about statements from the American Anthropological Association about race’s non-scientific basis and historical and cultural background. Further posts about notions of race are forthcoming.

I learned more about one of these figures of African history this spring when my 10th-grade grandson wrote a History Day paper on Mansa Musa, who was a 14th century Emperor or King of Mali. Moreover, one of my sons knows more about this history from his having studied African history and Swahili at the University of Minnesota and from spending a semester in Kenya with a program of the National Outdoor Leadership School and then a week on his own living with a Maasai tribesman in that country.

Coates also legitimately castigates the U.S. history of slavery and its lasting impacts on our country. This has underscored my interest in the importation of slaves from Africa to the Western Hemisphere. This was part of Lawrence Hill’s fascinating novel “The Book of Negroes” (“Someone Knows My Name”), about which I have written. Moreover, I have visited Matanzas, Cuba and Salvador, Brazil, which were major ports of importation of African slaves to work on sugar plantations in those countries.

I have a number of friends from West Africa (Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana) and visited Cameroon on a mission trip from Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. There I learned about the country’s having been a German colony (Kamerun) in the 19th century and then having French and British administration under League of Nations mandates after Germany was stripped of its African colonies by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles ending World War I. Forty-plus years later Cameroon became an independent country with the joinder of the Francophone and Anglophone territories. Yet life today in the country is still affected by the language and cultural differences from the French and British governance and less so by the previous 30-plus years of German rule.

I also have visited Namibia, Botswana and South Africa focused primarily on observing their magnificent wildlife and nature, but also the prison on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other African National Congress leaders were imprisoned during the years of apartheid. In addition, I had the opportunity to see and hear Mandela speak at a 2003 celebration of the centennial of the Rhodes Scholarships held at Westminster Hall in London and to see him escorted through the Hall’s audience, only 10 feet from me and my wife, by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

The visit to South Africa also included stopping at Cecil Rhodes’ Cottage and Museum at Mulzenberg overlooking False Bay and the Indian Ocean at the southwest corner of the country. (My interest in Cecil Rhodes, the Founder of the Scholarships, and his 19th century involvement in South Africa and Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) stems from being a Rhodes Scholar who was “up” at Oxford, 1961-1963, and from my gratitude for being a beneficiary of his largess.)

While co-teaching international human rights law at the University of Minnesota Law School, I learned about the International Criminal Court, whose initial cases all came from Africa, thereby prompting some resistance from African leaders who thought this was anti-African discrimination. (I have written many blog posts about the ICC.) Previously I had been a pro bono lawyer for two Somali men’s successful applications for asylum in the U.S.

Other indirect connections are provided by three Grinnell College classmates. One became a professor of African history. Another served in Africa with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, where he met his English wife serving in a similar British program and where they both frequently return to participate in a project of preparing and distributing audio textbooks for blind students. The third classmate, also in the Peace Corps, served in Mali, where he was involved in smallpox eradication. In addition, one of my Grinnell roommates from Chicago now lives in South Africa.

All of these direct and indirect connections with Africa provided additional motivation to learn more about its history. In a subsequent post I will attempt to summarize the key points of this brief exploration of African history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthropologists’ Statement Regarding the Historical and Conceptual Background to the Concept of Race  

In 1998 the American Anthropological Association (AAA) adopted an important statement on race that represented “generally the contemporary thinking and scholarly positions of a majority of anthropologists.” [1]

The AAA statement contains a scientific component, which was covered in a prior post. Now we quote the statement’s discussion of the historical and conceptual components of race.

“Historical research has shown that the idea of ‘race’ has always carried more meanings than mere physical differences; indeed, physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them. Today scholars in many fields argue that ‘race’ as it is understood in the [U.S.] was a social mechanism invented during the 18th century to refer to those populations brought together in colonial America: the English and other European settlers, the conquered Indian peoples, and those peoples of Africa brought in to provide slave labor.”

“From its inception, this modern concept of ‘race’ was modeled after an ancient theorem of the Great Chain of Being, which posited natural categories on a hierarchy established by God or nature. Thus ‘race’ was a mode of classification linked specifically to peoples in the colonial situation. It subsumed a growing ideology of inequality devised to rationalize European attitudes and treatment of the conquered and enslaved peoples. Proponents of slavery in particular during the 19th century used ‘race’ to justify the retention of slavery. The ideology magnified the differences among Europeans, Africans, and Indians, established a rigid hierarchy of socially exclusive categories underscored and bolstered unequal rank and status differences, and provided the rationalization that the inequality was natural or God-given. The different physical traits of African-Americans and Indians became markers or symbols of their status differences.”

“As they were constructing US society, leaders among European-Americans fabricated the cultural/behavioral characteristics associated with each ‘race,’ linking superior traits with Europeans and negative and inferior ones to blacks and Indians. Numerous arbitrary and fictitious beliefs about the different peoples were institutionalized and deeply embedded in American thought.”

“Early in the 19th century the growing fields of science began to reflect the public consciousness about human differences. Differences among the ‘racial’ categories were projected to their greatest extreme when the argument was posed that Africans, Indians, and Europeans were separate species, with Africans the least human and closer taxonomically to apes.”

“Ultimately ‘race’ as an ideology about human differences was subsequently spread to other areas of the world. It became a strategy for dividing, ranking, and controlling colonized people used by colonial powers everywhere. But it was not limited to the colonial situation. In the latter part of the 19th century it was employed by Europeans to rank one another and to justify social, economic, and political inequalities among their peoples. During World War II, the Nazis under Adolf Hitler enjoined the expanded ideology of ‘race’ and ‘racial’ differences and took them to a logical end: the extermination of 11 million people of ‘inferior races’ (e.g., Jews, Gypsies, Africans, homosexuals, and so forth) and other unspeakable brutalities of the Holocaust.”

“’Race’ thus evolved as a worldview, a body of prejudgments that distorts our ideas about human differences and group behavior. Racial beliefs constitute myths about the diversity in the human species and about the abilities and behavior of people homogenized into ‘racial’ categories. The myths fused behavior and physical features together in the public mind, impeding our comprehension of both biological variations and cultural behavior, implying that both are genetically determined. Racial myths bear no relationship to the reality of human capabilities or behavior. Scientists today find that reliance on such folk beliefs about human differences in research has led to countless errors.”

“At the end of the 20th century, we now understand that human cultural behavior is learned, conditioned into infants beginning at birth, and always subject to modification. No human is born with a built-in culture or language. Our temperaments, dispositions, and personalities, regardless of genetic propensities, are developed within sets of meanings and values that we call ‘culture.’ Studies of infant and early childhood learning and behavior attest to the reality of our cultures in forming who we are.”

“It is a basic tenet of anthropological knowledge that all normal human beings have the capacity to learn any cultural behavior. The American experience with immigrants from hundreds of different language and cultural backgrounds who have acquired some version of American culture traits and behavior is the clearest evidence of this fact. Moreover, people of all physical variations have learned different cultural behaviors and continue to do so as modern transportation moves millions of immigrants around the world.”

“How people have been accepted and treated within the context of a given society or culture has a direct impact on how they perform in that society. The ‘racial’ worldview was invented to assign some groups to perpetual low status, while others were permitted access to privilege, power, and wealth. The tragedy in the [U.S.] has been that the policies and practices stemming from this worldview succeeded all too well in constructing unequal populations among Europeans, Native Americans, and peoples of African descent. Given what we know about the capacity of normal humans to achieve and function within any culture, we conclude that present-day inequalities between so-called ‘racial’ groups are not consequences of their biological inheritance but products of historical and contemporary social, economic, educational, and political circumstances.

Conclusion

 As indicated in a prior post, controversial comments about “white” people in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” have prompted me to read and think about the notion of the “white” race and to concur in his conclusion that there is no such race.

This AAA statement about the historical and conceptual components of this subject along with its discussion of the scientific component are two reasons for my concurrence. I discovered this statement at an exhibit about race that was organized by the AAA with funding from the National Science and Ford Foundations and that was on display at the Science Museum of Minnesota [2] Other reasons for my concurrence will be discussed in future posts.

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[1] Am. Anthro. Ass’n, AAA Statement on Race (May 17, 1998).

 [2] The race exhibit has been, and will be, on display at other museums across the U.S., and its website has lots of very useful information on the subject. I urge everyone to see it.

Anthropologists’ Opinion That Race Is Not a Scientific Concept

In 1998 the American Anthropological Association (AAA) adopted an important statement on race that represented “generally the contemporary thinking and scholarly positions of a majority of anthropologists.” [1]

The AAA statement contains a scientific component, which will be quoted in this post. The other component—historical and conceptual—will be discussed in a subsequent post.

“In the United States both scholars and the general public have been conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions within the human species based on visible physical differences. With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within “racial” groups than between them. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species.”

“Physical variations in any given trait tend to occur gradually rather than abruptly over geographic areas. And because physical traits are inherited independently of one another, knowing the range of one trait does not predict the presence of others. For example, skin color varies largely from light in the temperate areas in the north to dark in the tropical areas in the south; its intensity is not related to nose shape or hair texture. Dark skin may be associated with frizzy or kinky hair or curly or wavy or straight hair, all of which are found among different indigenous peoples in tropical regions. These facts render any attempt to establish lines of division among biological populations both arbitrary and subjective.”

Conclusion

 As indicated in a prior post, controversial comments about “white” people in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” have prompted me to read and think about the notion of the “white” race and to concur in his conclusion that there is no such race.

This AAA statement about the scientific component of this subject is one reason for my concurrence. I discovered this statement at an exhibit about race that was organized by the AAA with funding from the National Science and Ford Foundations and that was on display at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The exhibit also covered some of the historical background to the concept of race that will be discussed in a subsequent post.[2]

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[1] Am. Anthro. Ass’n, AAA Statement on Race (May 17, 1998).

 [2] The race exhibit has been, and will be, on display at other museums across the U.S., and its website has lots of very useful information on the subject. I urge everyone to see it.