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Muddling through race

BY BEAU ELLIOT | APRIL 13, 2010 7:30 AM

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Being a relatively reasonable person (I mean, I even have good friends who are Yankee fans), I do not think Republicans are a separate race.

As a matter of fact, I’m with Chuck D and the American Heritage Dictionary in believing there are no separate races among human beings and that the concept of “race” is a social construct. I think that at least some scientists agree with us.

I know, I know; many people of all different skin colors and eye colors and hair colors disagree. What about sickle-cell anemia? some of them ask, apparently because being especially susceptible to this particular disease, as African Americans are, marks you as a different race.

Um, OK. But it turns out that Greeks (those actually from Greece, not those in sororities and fraternities) are also susceptible to sickle-cell anemia. So, under that line of thinking, Greeks and African Americans are the same race.

You can see how things get a bit muddled.

If you really want to see muddled close up, you only have to compare your genes with those of any other human being; they will be 99.9 percent the same.

Or, if muddled is your sort of thing, you could, as Bill Bryson does in his book A Short History of Nearly Everything, do the arithmetic on the number of your ancestors. You know, two parents who each had two parents who each had — well, you get the idea.

Bryson points out that at roughly the time of Shakespeare, you have 16,384 ancestors, which, you have to admit, is quite an impressive number (no, I did not check his arithmetic — he’s from Des Moines; they have good schools there). If, as Bryson does, you go back 25 generations, your ancestors number 33,554,432. Which makes 16,384 seem rather puny and would make for a rather awkward family reunion, were that possible.

Bryson takes the arithmetic back to Roman times; the number of your ancestors?

1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (a number I don’t even begin to know how to pronounce) — which, as he writes, “is several thousand times the total number of people who have ever lived.”

That, you have to admit, is rather muddled.

What’s going on here? you ask. Me, too. Bryson’s answer is that most of us are, at least distantly, related. Which makes the whole idea of “race,” well, pick your adjective. It’s a free country. Mostly.
So I don’t think Republicans are a separate race. But I do wonder about them sometimes.

I mean, there was a “tourist attraction” 12 or so years ago, perhaps in Virginia, though I don’t remember exactly, featuring an antebellum plantation that had all the accoutrements of such a facility. You know, cotton fields, various animals, plantation owner, wife, children, mint juleps, slaves.

One thing the promoters couldn’t figure out: No African Americans wanted to portray the slaves.

Gee, I can’t figure that out, either.

It’s that sort of acuity I think of when I wonder what drove Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s thinking (to use a charitable description) when he recently declared April to be Confederate History Month.

With one just tiny oversight: You couldn’t find the slightest mention of slavery anywhere in his declaration. (After an outcry, he later apologized.)

Now, McDonnell wasn’t the first Republican governor in Virginia to push Confederate History Month; former Gov. George Allen also declared such a month to, as the New York Times reported, celebrate “a four-year struggle for independence, sovereign rights, and local government control.”

Once again, no mention of slavery. Which the Confederacy was fighting to maintain.

And, just to demonstrate that Virginia has no monopoly on “Huh?,” Georgia Republican Rep. Hank Johnson recently opined that sending more Marines to the island of Guam would make it “so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize.”

Yeah, I know. I wish we could say Republicans are some sort of separate race, too.

But it gets so muddled.


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