Another controversial book?

Sissinhurst, Fall 1997

Sissinhurst, Fall 1997

Monday we ate at a Japanese Restaurant, within walking distance of our house. It’s taken me years to interest David in Asian food, so this was a major accomplishment.  And, while I ordered my favorite vegetable tempura, he ordered the Salmon Sushi tray, which surprised us both. I’d show you photos but we ate it all up.

In the past year, I’ve learned to make several Asian dishes whose prototypes originate in India (Chicken Masala), Thailand (Pad Thai) and Japan (various stir fry). And I make them following a recipes I obtained from Diabetes sources.

I originally learned how to cook Asian dishes because my first husband was a Marine with two tours of duty in Japan, one aboard a troop ship. He grew to love the people and the foods he found in the places he visited.  I think he found a warm reception because he was the most non-racist Southerner I ever met. He was mixed-race himself, and the bone structure of his face was very similar to that of many Okinawans.

I was thinking about this lately, because I have been reading several books that describe genetic flows among the world’s populations: Britain Begins by Barry Cunliff; Origins of the British by Stephen Oppenheimer; Red, The Story of Red Hair; by Jacky Corliss Harvey; and most recently A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas Wade.

Of course, being mostly if not 100 percent northern European, I am interested in genes from the tribes that once inhabited that area. Thus I devour anything I can find on this subject.  Well, not anything.  I read a variety of sources, however.  For example, Wade, who was a New York Times Science Writer for many years, has been writing some not politically correct books lately.

Basically, Wade asks, why can’t scientists discuss race as a factor in human behavior? Good question.  For one thing, he doesn’t agree that race is a social construct. He says leftist and Marxists, following in the footsteps of Franz Boas, the American anthropologist, took up this notion of race as a social construct in response to the horrible ideology of the Social Darwinists.

Even so, he suggests, one ideology doesn’t justify another.  And neither is science. Wade provides a good summary of genetic research that is discovering all kinds of connections between race (based on self-identification) and various alleles such as lactose tolerance.

He suggests that one-size fits all approach to medical research or any other research doesn’t work, as scientists have learned in recent years with regard to studies that exclusively focused on white males.  For years, white men were the test group for most research. Things began to change in the 1970s, when scientists included various long-term panels for women in the study of heart disease and other ailments.

Today most medical studies include information about whites, blacks, people of Asian extraction and Hispanic Origin.  However, perhaps the categories are too crude?  Wade thinks ethnicity is the key, if not race.  He says repeatedly that biology is only part of the story, cultural differences such as diet are also important. But biology is to some extent destiny.

Of course there is more to this controversial book which reviewers tend to give one or five stars.  Read it and judge for yourself.  I did, every single word.

18 thoughts on “Another controversial book?

  1. Interesting. Since researchers in the various disciplines studying human evolution believe the genus Homo originated in Africa, could all of us in the U.S. designate ourselves as African-American?.

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    • Good point. Wade describes how our ancient ancestors migrated ‘out of Africa’ where humans first evolved. Owing to mutations and genetic drift, divisions of the original OofA source grew apart. Today we, like dogs and wolves, are different from our ancestors and our ‘cousins.’

      BTW, if you follow science you know they are making new discoveries in Africa every year. Seems there were more human lines than previously believed. Our homo line survived. The other lines, like Neanderthals, mostly died out? However, Europeans have some Neanderthal genes. And no, they were not brutes or cavemen. They were human, like us.

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  2. Both of us and most of our children-in-laws are a totally mixed bag — fairly common in the American West I think. For whatever reason, we eat almost no beef (now — wasn’t always that way); are learning to cook and enjoy vegetarian dishes; and love Japanese Food, especially sushi.

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    • Truth is most ethnic groups in the U.S. are some mixture of European. Even ‘Mexicans’ are mixed race, with large does of European, Asian, Amerindian, and African. Ditto other Latin American groups.

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  3. The melding of different ethnicities is always interesting and I find it nowhere near as dull as the couples who only stick to their “own kind”.

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    • The cultural ethnic groups were mixed eons and eons ago.

      Wade is writing about MtDNA and Y chromosome differences. For example, I am a mixture of ancestors, but my MtDNA comes from my Mom. Thus my lineage goes back through my mom’s mom. Only moms pass on MtDNA. Dads pass on the Y chromosome to sons only.

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  4. Makes perfect sense to me, but more and more of us are “mixed breeds” these days, at least in this country, so the genetic backgrounds may lose their significance. Anyway, I learned to love Japanese food from my son. Go figure.

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    • This is true, especially in the U.S., and a major difference between the west and other parts of the globe, such as the Mideast where tribes still flourish.

      However, there are groups of people everywhere in the U. S. who keep themselves to themselves and have very low rates of out marriage or exogamy. Assimilation doesn’t work the way it once did. Even regions differ.

      The rates of out marriage in the South have been much lower than in some parts of the north. Until recently, most migrants within the U.S. to the south have been older and beyond childbearing years. In recent decades, Vietnamese (probably because they speak French) moved to Louisiana along with many others from Southeast Asia. For example, many Indian Americans have also migrated to southern states…why you find two southern states with Indian American governors.

      While I was working at the Census Bureau, I looked at exogamy among groups and found Asian descent individuals were out marrying at faster rates than other groups.

      One by one ethnic groups in the north are disappearing. The Italians were the last of the older immigrant groups to integrate and they intermarried at high rates with the Irish-descent folks when they did. In recent years many of the older groups like Sicilians have been replaced by newer immigrant groups.

      All this change has happened in my life time. Recall ‘Westside Story’ takes place in the 1950s. Until the 1950s, military personnel did not bring many Japanese wives home (Sayonara).

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  5. I have to smile because some 40 years ago, my mother kept telling us that we should marry an Asian person since our intestines were a little different. She said, “You think everything is fine now, but when you get older your spouse will still want to eat meat and you will want fish.” Well… we sort of just rolled our eyes at her. Now… it’s pretty much coming to pass. Art and I eat almost the same thing. My brother and his wife have different tastes. She is Irish-American and yes, prefers meat. My brother (though he likes fish and more Asian foods) has different tastes from his wife. It’s not anything physical, I’m sure. It’s cultural and how we’ve been raised. My mother just smiles now anyway.

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    • Two thoughts…1. Always listen to your mother, 2. Fish is better for everyone. We try to eat fish at least twice a week.

      I have difficulty digesting beef, and drink much milk. Perhaps my people, the Funnelbeaker people were supposed to milk cows and not eat them. There are tribes in Africa that keep cows. And don’t eat them.

      Besides, the planet would be much better off if everyone ate less beef. Persuading David of this is difficult, however.

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  6. In the early 1970s, I lived in New York City where there was or is a large population of Jews. Do you consider them a race or an ethnicity? Most Jews I talked to said ethnicity.

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    • It doesn’t matter what I think, however, I consider them an ethnic group, especially the Ashkenazim.

      Wade differentiates among the Jews and says Ashkenazim are definitely a genetic group with similiar genetic make-up, mostly because they resisted ‘out-marriage’ for centuries. When they did out-marry (exogamy) they married Europeans, mostly German. Before WWII, the Ashkenazim made up 90 percent of the world’s Jews.

      (Years ago I dated a man whose mother was Jewish and father Irish. He was raised Catholic, but the family lived in the Bronx in a Jewish neighborhood).

      Other groups of Jews are:

      2/ Sephardim (origins in Spain or Iberia although many of these Jews migrated to the Netherlands in the fifteenth century, and later to London and New York during the sixteenth century), and

      3/ Mizrahim (Syria, Georgia, Mideast, Africa).

      All three groups have a common genetic ancestor from Judea (Israel).

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