Royce Shook

6 months ago · 2 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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 I saw this the other day on Facebook and thought It interesting.

If you could fit the entire population of the world into a village consisting of 100 people, maintaining the proportions of all the people living on Earth, that village would consist of

· 57 Asians

· 21 Europeans

· 14 Americans (North, Central and South)

· 8 Africans

This is a very simple illustration used by the author of this Facebook post to point out how we are different. So, does this mean anything of value? I am not sure. What does it mean that there are 14 Americans (North Central and South)? Does that signify something of importance? I am an American, but I am Caucasian American, my niece is also American, but she is Chinese American. I know there are other Asians who live in North America, are they counted in the 57 Asians or are they counted in the 14 Americans? What about the 21 Europeans do any of them live in America, Asia, or Africa?

To me, the comparisons made above are not valid. It would have been better to perhaps divide us up by ethnic group and that was done in the early 2000s according to the Washington Post story published in 2013.

The problem is that the idea of ethnicity can change over time; the authors of the study note that this happened in Somalia, where the same people started self-identifying differently after war broke out.

Ethnicity is a social construct and that means that when we look at ethnicity people in different countries might have different bars for what constitutes a distinct ethnicity. Finally, as the study notes, "It would be wrong to interpret our ethnicity variable as reflecting racial characteristics alone." Ethnicity might partially coincide with race, but they're not the same thing.

When five economists and social scientists set out to measure ethnic diversity for a landmark 2002 paper for the Harvard Institute of Economic Research, they started by comparing data from an array of different sources: national censuses, Encyclopedia Britannica, the CIA, Minority Rights Group International and a 1998 study called "Ethnic Groups Worldwide." They looked for consistency and inconsistency in the reports to determine what data set would be most reliable and complete. Because data sources such as censuses or surveys are self-reported – in other words, people are classified how they ask to be classified – the ethnic group data reflects how people see themselves, not how they're categorized by outsiders. Those results measured 650 ethnic groups in 190 countries.

That is a lot of groups and so it does not fit easily into a simple story. The story goes on to talk about which countries were the most and least ethnically diverse, but closes with the following:

Here's the money quote on the potential political implications of ethnicity:

In general, it does not matter for our purposes whether ethnic differences reflect physical attributes of groups (skin colour, facial features) or long-lasting social conventions (language, marriage within the group, cultural norms) or simple social definition (self-identification, identification by outsiders). When people persistently identify with a particular group, they form potential interest groups that can be manipulated by political leaders, who often choose to mobilize some coalition of ethnic groups (“us”) to the exclusion of others (“them”). Politicians also sometimes can mobilize support by singling out some groups for persecution, where hatred of the minority group is complementary to some policy the politician wishes to pursue.

Some perhaps would like to divide us by race, the problem is that the early research on race, which talked about 5 or 6 different races was wrong. There is only one race. If someone talks about different races, they are using information that is not accurate and false.  The research I have seen suggests that racial categories as socially constructed, that is, race is not intrinsic to human beings but rather an identity created, often by socially dominant groups, to establish meaning in a social context. Different cultures define different racial groups, often focused on the largest groups of social relevance, and these definitions can change over time. As humans, we love to put people into categories but putting people into categories of race or ethnicity does not work to help people come together, it does help to tear us apart. The best course of action is to treat each of us as unique individuals.


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Royce Shook

6 months ago #5

Thank you Jerry I was aware of that fact, but if you could send a link to the show that would be great.

Jerry Fletcher

6 months ago #4

Royce, On TV last night there was a short video talking about DNA differentiation between the peoples of the earth. Regardless of all the ways we try to segregate "races" one simple fact prevails: Each and every one of us is descended from a single female from Africa. It is proven by the mitochondrial DNA we all carry. And so it goes.

Comment deleted C

6 months ago #3

Well said one of the best articles I have read on this subject.

Pascal Derrien

6 months ago #2

That's thought provoking now this does not take migration in consideration and a few other parameters as John mentioned

John Rylance

6 months ago #1

An interesting piece, which shows the numerous ways we can be classified. In terms of race few can claim be truly of a singular situation specific area, and no other, rarely if ever moving from an area they and their ancestors have in lived for thousands of years. Like the Inuits, Aboriginals, Maoris, said to be autochthonous, an adjective used to describle indigenous people,who have inhabited a place from the earliest times

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