Rational people can just look at people of different ancestries and see that there is something to what we call “race.” We notice that others look different based on where their ancestors came from and we classify people into different races on the basis of their physical appearance. Anti-biological racial realists may point to the fact that there is more variation within races than between them (Lewontin, 1972; Rosenberg et al, 2002; Witherspoon et al, 2007; Hunley, Cabana, and Long, 2016; Hardimon, 2017). While this is true, this does not mean that race is “just a social construct” (a phrase used to deflate the meaning of “race”); it is both a social construct and a biological reality.
The definition of race is simple—a group of populations which genetically transmit heritable characteristics which correspond to that group’s geographic ancestry who also belong to a biological line of descent which was initiated by a geographically isolated and reproductively isolated founding populations (Hardimon, 2017). Note how this definition says nothing about differences in allele frequencies between populations between populations—because, for these purposes, they’re irrelevant for the argument being made. The fact of the matter is, the reality of race hinges on two things: (1) the heritable differences between population groups which were geographically/reproductively isolated and (2) our ability to discern these population groups by their phenotype.
A great book on the history of race, its meaning and how the term was used over the ages is Race: The Reality of Human Differences by Sarich and Miele (2004). For the purposes of this piece, the first two chapters are the most important, since they touch on aspects of race that I have in the past—mainly the fact that we only need phenotype to discern one’s race. People from Europe look phenotypically different from people from Africa who look phenotypically different from people from Asia etc. These differences between these groups are evidence that race exists—these racial differences in phenotype are due, in part, to the climate they evolved in while geographically and reproductively isolated (two conditions for racehood).
Sarich and Miele (2004: 29) write:
Vince [Sarich; one of the authors of the book] naively asked for the legal definition of “race” and was told there wasn’t one.
As we began working on this book, we discussed the issue of the legal definition of “race” … He informed us that there is still no legal definition of “race”; nor, as far as we know, does it appear that the legal system feels the need for one. Thus, it appears that the most adversarial part of our complex society, the legal system, not only continues to accept the existence of “race” but also relies on the ability of the average individual to sort people into races. Our legal system treats “racial identification” as self-evident …
The courts have come to accept the commonsense definition of race, and it is this commonsense view that, as we show, best conforms to reality. A look at two recent (2000) cases is illustrative. In both Rice v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs and in Hank v. Rochester School District, neither side raised any questions about the existence of human races or the ability of the average citizen to make valid judgements as to who belongs to which race (even if the racial categories are euphemistically termed “peoples” or “populations”). No special expertise was assumed or granted in defining or recognizing race other than the everyday commonsense usage, as given in the Oxford English Dictionary, that a race is “a group of persons connected by common descent” or “a tribe, nation, or people, regarded as common stock.” The courts and the contending parties, in effect, accepted the existence of race and the ability of the ordinary person to distinguish between races based on a set of physical features.
In Rice v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Rice challenged the state of Hawaii since they did not allow him to vote—on the basis that he was not a native Hawaiian, and that the electoral system of Hawaii is for the benefit of Hawaiians and Hawaiians only. Everyone agreed that Rice was a Hawaiian citizen—but he did not have Hawaiian ancestry, so he could not be recognized as “Hawaiian” under state law. However, the SCOTUS overturned the ruling (that Rice should not be allowed to vote on the basis of not having Hawaiian ancestry) 7-2, citing the 15th amendment: “The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Sarich and Miele (2004: 31) write “The 15th amendment is explicit—race means what the average person thinks it means—and the majority of the Supreme Court read it that way.” (Also see Hong, 2008 for an overview of the case.)
On the other hand, in Haak v. Rochester School District, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a white fourth-grade student named Jessica Haak could transfer from her current district to another district (full of whites) since the transfer program was initiated with the idea of lessening the racial isolation of the adjoining districts. Jessica’s mother cited the 14th amendement, and a district court ruled in their favor but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision. “A “minority pupil” was defined as “a pupil who is of Black or Hispanic origin or is a member of another minority group that historically has been the subject of discrimination” (Sarich and Miele, 2004: 31).
The critical points here are that in both Rice and Haak, neither side raised any questions about the existence of human races or the ability of the average citizen to make valid judgements as to who belongs to which race. No special expertise was assumed or granted in defining or recognizing race other than the everyday usage of the term. In Rice, the court, in effect, took judicial notice of the commonsense definition of race. In Haak, the court accepted physical appearance as a valid means by which the average citizen can recognize races and distinguish among them.
In short, the courts accepted the existence of race, even if the legislature was afraid to use the offending word.
Despite the fact that Sarich and Miele (2004) claim that there is no legal definition of race, Cornell Law School has one definition stating that “the term “racial group” means a set of individuals whose identity as such is distinctive in terms of physical characteristics or biological descent.” While the Law Dictionary, citing the 15th amendment writes that race is “A tribe, people, or nation, belonging or supposed to belong to the same stock or lineage. “Race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Const U. S., Am. XV.” (Also see Hoffman, 2004 who argues that “race” should not be used in the legal system.)
Notice how Sarich and Miele’s (2004) description of “race” and what “race” is almost—word-for-word—like Spencer’s Blumenbachian partitions (Spencer, 2014). Americans defer to the US Census Bureau on matters of race; the US Census Bureau defers to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) who speak of sets of populations; these sets of populations correspond to geographic clusters who have distinct phenotypes based on their geographic ancestry, which the average American can discern; therefore race exists. Spencer states that when Americans refer to “race” that Americans refer to both a social construct and a biological reality—that is, Americans socially construct race (think of how Hardimon’s minimalist concept of race is related to the concept of socialrace) but these social constructs do have biological underpinnings which can be discerned in two ways: (1) just observation of phenotypes and (2) looking into the genomes of genetically related individuals who make up these population groups.
Even the ancients distinguished races and sorted them on the basis of hair color/type, skin color, physiognomy etc. “[The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Indians, and Chinese] sorted [broad racial groups] based upon the same set of characteristics—skin color, hair form, and head shape” while “it is evident that they relied upon a set of observable features (skin color and form, body build, facial features) quite similar to those used in the commonsense notion of race and the racial classifications of nineteenth-century anthropology to sort the many diverse groups they encountered into a smaller number of categories” (Sarcih and Miele, 2004: 42).
It is very clear that, ever since antiquity at the very least, we have been classifying racial groups on the basis of phenotype—and, come to find out, this is one of the best ways to sort people—and you don’t even need to look at genetic differences between groups. Phenotype is clearly enough to delineate racial groupings, you don’t need genes to delineate race. We only need to recognize that (1) people look different on the basis of where they (or their ancestors) came from; (2) observe that these physical differences between people who come from different places are between real and existing groups; (3) people have common ancestry with others; (4) people derive from distinct geographic locations; so (5) we can infer that race exists.
Race is very clearly a reality—both biologically and socially. At least three sound arguments exist for the existence of race (Sarich and Miele, 2004; Spencer, 2014; Hardimon, 2017; see Hardimon’s and Spencer’s arguments at length). Even those in antiquity delineated races on the basis of physical features—exactly what has been argued by Spencer and Hardimon. Race is physically real—people look different from each other individually, ethnically, and racially.
Biological racial realism is true, and if biological racial realism is true then race exists.
(1) If groups of people look different from each other depending on where their ancestors evolved, then race exists.
(2) Groups of people look different from each other depending on where their ancestors evolved.
(3) Therefore, race exists since people look different depending on where their ancestors evolved.