Race (with Agustín Fuentes, Ph.D.)
Get ready to rethink everything you know about race. With the help of anthropologist Agustín Fuentes, this episode debunks the idea that race exists within our biology. We’re unraveling racist stereotypes, explaining why race is nothing like dog breeds, delving into the devastating effects of race in health and medicine, and explaining why your 23andMe results aren’t what you think. This episode isn’t just about debunking misconceptions – it’s about highlighting our shared humanity.
Pick up Agustín’s book Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature.
Citations and further reading:
- Classification – Race Deconstructed. UNC Libraries. (2023). Unc.edu.
- RACE – The Power of an Illusion. Go Deeper | PBS. (2023). Pbs.org.
- Raj Bhopal. (2007). The beautiful skull and Blumenbach’s errors: the birth of the scientific concept of race.
- How one scientist seeks to untangle the evolution of human hair. (2022, September 29). Science News.
- Norton, H. L., Quillen, E. E., Bigham, A. W., Pearson, L. N., & Dunsworth, H. M. (2019). Human races are not like dog breeds: refuting a racist analogy. Evolution: Education and Outreach.
- Jarry, J. (2023, May 15). Are You There, Race? It’s Me, DNA. McGill University Office for Science and Society.
- Sickle cell disease and pregnancy. (2013). Marchofdimes.org.
- Flávio Danni Fuchs. (2011). Why Do Black Americans Have Higher Prevalence of Hypertension?
- Harmon, A. (2018) Why White Supremacists Are Chugging Milk (and Why Geneticists Are Alarmed). The New York Times.
- Ingram, C., Mulcare, C. A., Yuval Itan, Thomas, M. G., & Swallow, D. M. (2008). Lactose digestion and the evolutionary genetics of lactase persistence. Human Genetics.
- Brooks, K. Filtering Bias Out of Kidney Testing – Penn Medicine. (2021).
- Vox. (2019). What DNA ancestry tests can — and can’t — tell you [YouTube Video].
- Braun, L. (2015). Race, ethnicity and lung function: A brief history. Canadian Journal of Respiratory Therapy.
- Sjoding, M. W., Smits, H. H., Iwashyna, T. J., Gay, S. L., & Valley, T. S. (2020). Racial Bias in Pulse Oximetry Measurement. The New England Journal of Medicine.
- Charles Murray. (2022). Southern Poverty Law Center.
The first time I interviewed Agustin:
Ashley: When I fill out a form at the doctor’s office or for a job application, there’s always a section labeled race slash Ethnicity. And while these days, the box I check usually says white, older forms always say Caucasian. And I’ve never known what it means. Other than some sort of extra politically correct term for white.
Ashley: It turns out that Caucasian does not refer to some mythical land of Caucasian where everyone’s blonde and blue eyed and loves singing Sweet Caroline at weddings. It actually refers to the caucuses mountains in the country of Georgia, where a scientist in the 17 hundreds believed people had the prettiest skulls.
Ashley: That scientist’s name was Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. And it’s because of him that we have the major human races: Caucasian or white, Ethiopian or Black, Mongolian or Asian American, which refers to indigenous people of the Americas, and Malay, the least used term that refers to people in and around Polynesia and not to be confused with the Malay ethnicity.
Ashley: The terms have evolved, but the idea has stuck. We categorize the entire diversity of humanity across the globe based on the ideas of a guy who didn’t have air travel or the internet.
Ashley: Today, we’re gonna explore why that’s so ridiculous. Race is real, but you can’t find it in our biology.
Ashley: I’m Ashley Hamer, and this is Taboo Science. The show that answers the questions you’re not allowed to ask.
Ashley: Before you dismiss Blumenbach as a racist idiot, it’s important to point out that most of his ideas were actually a lot more woke than others of his time. He believed that humans are all one species, when other scientists were saying that non-whites had de-evolved from the white race or that they were part animal. He wrote a lot about how he observed gradations among humans, not strict cutoffs between them like you would with subspecies. He said that you can’t base race on skin color because that’s just a product of climate.
Ashley: But then for some reason he threw a lot of that out the window to classify humans in five varieties, as he called them. Those varieties were exemplified by five skulls, even though he himself had written that environment is a big influence on skull shape. In his MD thesis, he included one diagram with a skull from a West African woman on the left, a skull from a North Asian person on the right and in the middle, a skull from a “Georgian female,” a Caucasian.
Ashley: He clearly chose the other skulls on purpose. The West African skull was long and narrow, and the North Asian skull was wide with big jutting cheekbones. The Georgian skull was placed in the middle to show how normal it looked by comparison. He wrote that this skull was quote, “a very symmetrical and beautiful one,” and that it was “most handsome and becoming.”
Ashley: He said that the most beautiful people live in the Southern slope of Mount Caucasus in Georgia, and concluded that this is where the white race originated.
Agustin Fuentes: but in fact, if you went and hung out in the caucuses, uh, people were are pretty dark, pretty short.
Agustin Fuentes: Don’t look like people from the UK or Germany or anything like that.
Agustin Fuentes: But that’s, one of these historical terms, right? It’s like there’s this kind of people, this is the typical way in which this race is versus that race. So Caucasian is, it’s actually an erroneous term. It’s based on this ideology that’s both wrong biologically and geographically and politically, historically.
Ashley: That’s Agustin Fuentes.
Agustin Fuentes: I am a professor of anthropology. Um, I’m interested in the big and the small of what makes humans tick over the last 2 million years, how we’ve evolved, what we look like and act like, and how our bodies work today, and how that all connects.
Ashley: Augustine is the author of many books, but the one most relevant for this discussion is Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths About Human Nature.
Ashley: Obviously the idea of race has changed at least a little bit since the 1700s, but not by much. And considering its foundation comes down to a white guy pointing at some skulls and saying, that one’s cute. It’s mine. It’s worth asking the question, is race even real?
Agustin Fuentes: Yes and no, right? I mean, that’s the, that’s the whole challenge. So, like, let’s take the United States. If you walk down the street in the United States, it matters what you look like because people are gonna interpret your race from that.
Agustin Fuentes: So race is real. It matters in the US. However, it’s not the real, the way most people think. Race is not biological. Race is a social construct, which means not that it’s fake, it means that it was created, it was invented and put on people, and it changes over time. That’s what race is. So it’s real in the social, political, economic, historical sense, but it’s totally false in the biological sense.
Ashley: I know what you might be thinking. How can that possibly be right? I can see biological differences between people of different races.
Agustin Fuentes: No. So what we’re doing is we’re using certain biological and other characteristics to create categories to slot people in. So for example, let’s take the common ones. Dark skin, like oh, or light skin. We’re like, Ooh, dark skin. Light skin. That helps me tell white and black. Well, actually some of the darkest people in the world are from South Asia.
Agustin Fuentes: Some of the lightest people in the world are found in different parts of North Asia. So actually skin color is something we use, but only because we don’t understand what it looks like across the planet, right? So skin color doesn’t work.
Agustin Fuentes: What about frizzy or straight hair? Like, oh, I can use that to classify people?
Agustin Fuentes: Nope, because frizzy and straight hair shows up in peoples, all over the planet. So what we do, Is we take some biological characteristics and we superficially and incorrectly associate them exclusively with certain groups and not with others. And that’s just wrong. And it’s because we’re ignorant about what human biological diversity looks like.
Ashley: You might compare it to astrology. A long time ago, someone decided that every human on earth fits into one of 12 Zodiac signs based on when they were born, and that sign is supposed to explain something about their personality.
Ashley: Astrology is real in the sense that when you put your sign on a dating app, people will make assumptions about the kind of person you are. It’s real in its influence in society. Even if you believe in that stuff, which I clearly don’t. I mean, would an intuitive and dreamy Pisces have a science podcast?
Ashley: And don’t come at me about rising signs. But even if you do, you’ve gotta admit that there’s nothing biological about it. Personality varies from person to person, but there are no biological categories you can point to that makes one person a Pisces and one person a Gemini.
Ashley: That’s one analogy. A more popular and wrong analogy for race is that it’s like breeds of dogs.
Agustin Fuentes: Holly Dunsworth and colleagues wrote a great article on why, um, breeds of dogs are a horrible comparison for humans, right?
Ashley: That 10,000 word article included insights from three anthropologists and two geneticists, and it’s open source so anyone can read it. It’s linked in the show notes
Agustin Fuentes: So what we do to get a breed of a dog is take some general random dog, which if you go around the world, you see there’s sort of these general dog shapes. Uh, and then we like see some babies. They have babies like, Ooh, I want that to look more like this one. And then we just keep in breeding, right?
Agustin Fuentes: Breeding things that look very, very similar together to get a chihuahua or a Great Dane, right?
Ashley: As a result of that, inbreeding dogs of the same breed are very similar genetically, but dogs of different breeds have a lot of genetic differences. One study the authors looked at said that genetic differences between dog breeds account for 27% of all genetic variation in dogs. So very little variation between individual dogs of the same breed. Tons of variation between breeds.
Ashley: Compare that to similar studies done on humans. These studies found that when you compare humans in the same population, say the same village, or from the same area of a country, they vary more genetically than when you compare groups from two different regions. Genetic differences between regions, so say Ethiopia and Sweden, account for less than 5% of human variation, while the variation you see just by hanging out in a random village accounts for more than 92% of that variation.
Ashley: There are more differences between individual people than there are between quote unquote racial groups.
Agustin Fuentes: There’s nothing like a Great Dane chihuahua human comparison, right? Humans vary enormously, but not in those categories. There’s really tall humans, but that comes in all races.
Agustin Fuentes: There’s very short humans and that comes in all races. So really the comparison totally breaks down because it doesn’t work. Dogs are the product like carrots, right?
Agustin Fuentes: Or types of lettuce or you know, we took something in the world and we’re like, how can we mess with the genetic variation. That hasn’t happened with humans and we don’t see it in humans.
Ashley: But just because most of our variation happens between individuals doesn’t mean we’re all that different on the whole. To understand just how similar we are, we need to take a step back and brush up on some DNA basics.
Agustin Fuentes: So each one of us carries about a little over a meter of DNA in each one of our cells.
Agustin Fuentes: DNA is all of these sort of chemical compounds that form the basis of life, right? It contains core information that is part, a necessary part of how organisms develop, how organisms go from one cell right, to a whole bunch of cells, and you and me.
Agustin Fuentes: So in the DNA in human DNA for example, we have about 20,000, 22,000 genes. That is sections of the DNA that that open up and turn on, and the rest of the body comes in and does stuff with them to, uh, understand how to build stuff or, or make things in the rest of the body.
Ashley: So DNA is like the book of an organism and genes are like the individual words in the book. But that’s where the metaphor breaks down, since all the words in the book are interacting with each other in really complex ways.
Agustin Fuentes: So we have DNA that is genes that does stuff. And then we have a ton of DNA that acts to regulate those genes. It doesn’t make anything itself, but it, it affects other genes when they turn on and turn off. And then a whole bunch of our DNA, most of our DNA at the moment does nothing, right. We don’t know. It doesn’t seem to do anything, it just sort of sits there.
Agustin Fuentes: So given that baseline of what DNA is, there’s not a single gene in the 8 billion humans alive today that is unique. All humans have all the same genes. We all have exactly the same genes. It’s what version of that gene do you have, right?
Ashley: when people talk about having a gene for freckles or Huntington’s disease, they’re really talking about the specific allele or version of that gene that produces that trait.
Agustin Fuentes: And it turns out that when you compare all 8 billion humans on the planet, we’re 99.9% identical in every single chemical bit of our DNA.
Agustin Fuentes: So all humans with all this variation that we have only vary by 0.1%.
Ashley: Of course, that 0.1% is really important. It’s the part that makes you the unique individual that you are, and it’s what creates the huge amount of diversity you see in humans around the world.
Ashley: But most of our DNA is identical because there are certain ingredients you absolutely need when building a human: bones, a brain, bilateral symmetry, more or less. And it’s worth mentioning that no one has ever found a race gene.
Ashley: There are hundreds, if not thousands of traits that make up what people interpret as a person’s race. And as we’ve established, they vary widely from individual to individual, even from the same region of the world.
Agustin Fuentes: We think we know what the visual stuff looks like. But like I said, with dark skin, okay, dark skin occurs in populations around the planet, not just Africa, and tons of African populations have very light skin. Curly hair occurs in populations around the planet, not just one. And, and so the thing is we think, oh, well, yes, there’s variation, but this variation clusters here, this variation clusters here. No, it’s not true. That’s why people doing racism and racist science and all that wanna ignore like Polynesia and Australia and all that because it messes up their whole association of certain things with Africa.
Ashley: When we come back, we’re talking race medicine, ancestry tests, and a whole lot more.
Ashley: Stay tuned.
Ashley: So we’ve established that race doesn’t exist on a biological level. The traits we associate with certain races can be found all over the world in different combinations, and there’s no one race gene that determines whether you’re white or black or whatever.
Ashley: But hold on, you might be thinking. There are legit medical differences between races. Like one example, black people are more likely to get sickle cell disease. That’s a condition where your red blood cells are shaped like a sea and can’t properly flow or carry oxygen throughout your body. That’s real, isn’t it?
Agustin Fuentes: What populations have sickle cell?
Ashley: I’m sure that’s like way too general.
Ashley: Oh, okay.
Agustin Fuentes: way too general. So populations with descent from, or some ancestry in West Africa have high frequencies of the alleles, the genetics that cause that.
Ashley: But it’s not just West Africa. It’s the same for people from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Malta, Sardinia, South Asia, the Caribbean, and South and Central America.
Agustin Fuentes: So there are populations around the world that have these sickling alleles for a variety of reasons. And so, People who have ancestry from those populations do so. But sickle cell is not common in East Africa or parts of Central Africa or South Africa or even North Africa.
Agustin Fuentes: So it’s not African at all.
Agustin Fuentes: It is from certain populations who live in this enormous continent of Africa. Does that help?
Ashley: It does and it, but, but are we still, and then is does racism come into play there where like assuming that if you are of African descent, you are a higher rate
Ashley: of, of sickle cell regardless of where you come from?
Agustin Fuentes: Well, yeah. That if you, regardless of where you come from, like if you’re like, oh, here’s my friend from Ethiopia, he’s gonna have a higher risk of sickle cell because he’s black. That’s racism, that’s wrong. Right? And that’s a, a, a bad gloss.
Agustin Fuentes: Now, many folks who identify as black in the US right, have ancestry from West Africa where sickle cell alleles, the, the genetics of sickle cell are fairly common, right?
Ashley: It’s worth mentioning here that many black folks in the US don’t actually know their ancestry because it was systematically erased by the slave trade. In that case, it doesn’t hurt to get tested for the trait if you’re having kids. There are some simple tests you can take before or during pregnancy to find out.
Agustin Fuentes: But, The racism happens when folks who are not classified as black, who happen to be classified as say Arabic or South Asian, come into the doctor’s office in the US with all of the characteristics of a sickle cell-like disorder. And the doctors don’t even bother diagnosing it because they’re like, well, these people aren’t black.
Agustin Fuentes: They couldn’t possibly have sickle cell anemia or some other blood disorder relative to that. Because they don’t know that these sickling disorders are as common, if not more common in other parts of the world.
Agustin Fuentes: And you know, there’s all these other cases where people are like, no, there must be a biological difference between let’s say black and white or, or Asian and white or what have you.
Agustin Fuentes: And so they assume that difference is there, and then they treat people poorly. Not intentionally poorly, but just poorly because of this racist belief about racist biology as a concept that’s really damaging, and we see it all the time.
Ashley: but there are a ton of race-based recommendations like this in medicine. And some do make sense, not because different races have different biology, but because different races have different experiences living in the world that affect their health.
Agustin Fuentes: So it turns out I said race is real, right? Social, political, historical. How are you classified? If you’re white or black and you walk down the street in the United States, it makes a difference, right? Or Latinx or, or Asian, whatever that means in the contemporary context, right.
Agustin Fuentes: So these are categories and it influences how people see you, how you interact. It influences political and economic actions. It influences all sorts of stuff. So, yes. Racism that is biased against people because of their race or favoritism. Right. Or, or race benefits. All of those things can have effects on your body and your health. We know that. Right?
Agustin Fuentes: So in one sense you can say it’s not about race-based medicine, it’s about racism based medicine. That is, how does racism impact bodies? That’s true, right? So we know access to nutrition, access to medical care, access to resources, discrimination and medical context impacts what your body has and reacts.
Agustin Fuentes: Now, the flip side though, what you really meant and what most people ask is though, but don’t black people have higher blood pressure than white people? Hypertension. Okay? That is not because of any genetic or physiological process that differentiates black and white people. ‘Cause there are no genetics that differentiate black and white people.
Ashley: In fact, black Americans have higher blood pressure than black Africans, which kind of demolishes the idea that this comes down to genetics.
Agustin Fuentes: Those categories, black and white, are not biological units. Right? And in fact, we have in the US medical system, for example, all of these race-based algorithms, like for kidney function.
Ashley: A study in the nineties found that black people have higher levels of a certain marker of kidney function than white people, and doctors have been “correcting” for that ever since, despite the fact that the study was flawed and there’s no biological reason for it.
Ashley: Still, it means that between patients with kidney disease, a black person with the same kidney function as a white person will take longer to get on a transplant list.
Agustin Fuentes: Or for, um, uh, breath, spirometry, right?
Ashley: Spirometry is a measure of lung capacity. Lung capacity is extremely variable, and scientists throughout history have tried to figure out why some people have more of it than others.
Ashley: Maybe it’s height, maybe it’s their occupation. Eventually a plantation doctor and slave owner landed on race. And it’s stuck. Today, most commercially available s spirometers have a built-in race correction that makes non-white patients look like they have better lung capacity than they do and makes them less likely to be diagnosed with lung disease.
Agustin Fuentes: Or for even the pulse oximeter, the little thing that you stick on your finger in the, the doctor’s office, um, that’s even racially biased, right?
Ashley: The pulse oximeter doesn’t work as well on dark skin, and that means doctors are less likely to catch low blood oxygen levels in patients of color. Low blood oxygen levels are a common symptom of Covid 19, which killed more Americans of color than white Americans at the height of the pandemic.
Agustin Fuentes: So we have all of these things because of racism. That are biased against certain groups that have negative health outcomes. The bottom line is black, white, Latinx, Hispanic, Asian are not biological categories, but because they are races and those have social and political realities, being one of those races in a given context can have an impact on your body.
Ashley: The more you look, the more traits you realize aren’t associated with one race at all. Here’s another one. The ability to drink milk. White supremacists have been known to chug milk to show off the fact that people of European descent tend to have a gene that lets them digest lactose in adulthood.
Ashley: Europeans have that gene because their ancestors raised cattle, and back then anyone with a genetic mutation that allowed for milk digestion had a huge advantage in an environment where nutritious food wasn’t as easy to find as it is today.
Ashley: But Europeans aren’t the only group that raised cattle, and cows aren’t the only livestock that produce milk. Goats, sheep, and even camels do too. Turns out that most groups that raised milk producing livestock had similar mutations take hold, which is why you’ll also find it in some parts of Africa and the Middle East.
Agustin Fuentes: I mean, some of the earliest evidence that we have of biological adaptation to milk drinking is within the African continent.
Agustin Fuentes: I remember the New York Times had this thing, it’s like, we’re white supremist, we can chug milk.
Agustin Fuentes: I’m like, dude, you know, you probably inherited that either independently from some northern European groups or as a human from Central and East African groups through all our shared inheritance.
Ashley: But what about that word, inheritance? There are DNA tests that you can take that will tell you what parts of the world your genes came from. If there are parts of your DNA a company can tell are from France or Indonesia or South Africa, doesn’t that mean race exists on a biological level?
Ashley: It doesn’t, because that’s not really how those companies perform those tests. So say you spit into a tube, you send it off, and you get back results saying you’re 50% Irish, 30% Greek, 20% Ashkenazi, or whatever.
Agustin Fuentes: They’re not actually saying you’re part of those peoples, those ethnic, religious, or linguistic groups, because the categories they have are either a geographic category or a cultural category.
Agustin Fuentes: They, they, they even mix all those different categories. They’re not. They’re not biologic groups. What they are are reference populations. They’re a cluster of genetic data they have from a particular group at a particular time.
Agustin Fuentes: And so that’s that’s what they’re comparing. They’re like your dna, your 0.1% of the DNA varies, overlaps more with these 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 groups than it does with other groups.
Ashley: And different companies will use different reference populations, which is why you might get a different result from 23andme than you will from Ancestry.
Agustin Fuentes: It’s like that old 23 and me commercial where there’s some guy like dressing in leiderhosen like this German stuff.
Agustin Fuentes: He’s like, oh, my Germans family. But then I spit in a tube and 23 of me told me, no, my family’s Scottish or something.
Agustin Fuentes: it’s like, first of all, there’s no genetic thing about playing a bagpipe or
Agustin Fuentes: wearing leather pants, right? I mean, that, that’s not the way genetics work.
Agustin Fuentes: And those things are contemporary cultural things. And so people with 23andme, which is cool, and you can learn stuff about your sort of ancestry and different things, people are blending culture, history, politics, genetic data, and a whole bunch of other stuff. And they’re not clear what is true, what is connected to one another and what’s not.
Agustin Fuentes: And that, that’s the real complicated stuff there.
Ashley: You know, I just took a DNA test. Turns out I am a hundred percent not beholden to outdated racist pseudoscience. So, think about that.
Ashley: And not to belabor the point, but this all also means that differences in behavior and circumstances between races, whether real or imagined, are also not a product of biology.
Ashley: People alive right now in prominent positions are spreading myths exactly like this.
Agustin Fuentes: you still see folks like Charles Murray, uh, and a bunch of other folks who are just these contemporary eugenicists who say, look,
Agustin Fuentes: um, blacks and whites have different intelligence and blacks, whites, and Asians. Asians are the smartest than whites than blacks.
Ashley: Charles Murray is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, co-author of the book, the Bell Curve, and a White Nationalist according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Ashley: He said that black and latino people, women and people in poverty all have a lower IQ and inferior genetics to rich white men. And any disadvantage those groups experience comes down to that. In other words, white men only hold the power because they deserve the power. Everyone else doesn’t.
Ashley: But if you examine that argument just for a second, it starts to unravel pretty quickly.
Agustin Fuentes: What do we mean by white people?
Ashley: I mean, European descent, I guess.
Agustin Fuentes: Okay. European descent. So are you gonna tell me that culturally or behaviorally, someone from Denmark is the same as someone from Spain or Italy or Greece or Romania or France or Germany, or, I could keep going. No, I mean, ask any of the people from those areas, they’d be like, oh my God, I’m nothing like that person.
Agustin Fuentes: However, the US has a history of particular migration from the greater sort of English, uh, Scotland, Britain, that area from Germany and all that. So white in the US means something as a cultural group, but it’s hugely variable, right?
Ashley: The US also has a history of systematic discrimination against anyone who wasn’t what the government considered a white man. Slavery, segregation, and redlining for black Americans. Lack of voting rights for anyone who didn’t speak English. Heck, women couldn’t own a credit card in their own name until 1974.
Ashley: The law held these groups down for years, and then people look at the results and say, it’s due to genetics.
Agustin Fuentes: And so what we do all the time, and this is racist, is we attribute specific behavioral profiles and capacities to folks depending on whether they’re white or black or Asian or Latinx, whatever. And the problem is these stereotypes can be associated with patterns in historical or cultural dynamics, but they are just that, stereotypes. They do not accurately reflect the diversity even within that group.
Agustin Fuentes: For example, people are like, oh, sports, right? Why are most N B A players black? That must be a biological explanation. Right? But how come no one brings up that same thing? Why have most presidents or CEOs been white? Oh, that must be a biological thing.
Ashley: I mean, some people do and it’s not good.
Agustin Fuentes: people do and they’re wrong. Right? But I’m saying these kinds of arguments, you’re like, whoa, step back and what are you even arguing?
Agustin Fuentes: Right?
Agustin Fuentes: You know, the Denver Nuggets, uh, lead player is a big, tall, white guy, right? And, you know, doing incredibly well.
Agustin Fuentes: The problem is, we believe because the United States is a racist society, that is, we are built on these histories of racism and discrimination. We tend to think, oh, these categories of people are real things in a biological sense, and that these real biological categories called races have kinds of behavior that are typical of them, and that is simply both of those statements are not true.
Ashley: So the, when we do see a difference in a group, it’s, it’s a cultural or just societal difference.
Agustin Fuentes: Yeah. I mean, it’s emerges from that. It doesn’t mean it’s not real, right? It doesn’t mean patterns aren’t real, right? So for example, you know, there’s huge bias in incarceration rates. There’s huge bias in like how your home, if you put your home on the market, how it’s assessed, what value it’s assessed, depending on whether you’re white or black or Latinx or Asian.
Agustin Fuentes: I mean, these kinds of things are real, and these have huge cascade effects. So the problem is people always wanna talk about race when they really need to talk about racism. At the same time, you can’t have one without the other. Right? So if we’re gonna talk about, oh look, there’s this black, white difference in test scores here.
Agustin Fuentes: Okay. Well, it doesn’t have anything to do with neurobiological or genetic or physiological capacities. So why is it there? How do we understand this? What’s the pattern? I think that’s, that’s what people are afraid of, that this is all complicated stuff and that every time you mention race, you need to talk about racism too, because the two coexist, you don’t have one without the other.
Ashley: Everyone wants simple categories and simple explanations. It’s easier to understand the vast range of human diversity if you can put it into clean categories like black, white, or Asian. It’s easier to live your own life if you think that society is fair and any disadvantages others face are due to something inherent to them and their group.
Ashley: But it’s these easy answers that get us into trouble. And society’s fear of facing the complexity and unfairness keeps us from fixing the problems we face.
Agustin Fuentes: The point is, is that we know a lot about biology. We know a lot about humans. We also know a lot about history and politics and economics. We should not be afraid to talk about this. People are terrified to talk about racism and race, and if we don’t get in front of that and talk about it for all the difficulty that it involves and the honesty and the challenge, it involves, we’re screwed.
Agustin Fuentes: It’s just gonna stay the same.
Agustin Fuentes: The most important thing is to understand that you can never talk about race without also talking about racism. Right, that the two go hand in hand.
Agustin Fuentes: And racism invented race for a reason, and that’s why we have it today. So understanding that is important. This does not mean, this doesn’t mean that race is not real and that there aren’t amazing things associated with difference in different people’s and different bodies and different histories that can be also incredible.
Agustin Fuentes: It’s just we know these things are not biological determinants of value amongst humans.
Ashley: Thanks for listening. Big thanks to Augustine Fuentes for talking to me again. I first interviewed him about this for the podcast Curiosity Daily, and that conversation was so influential to me that I knew I had to have him on this show. So thank you. I’ll link to that episode in the show notes if you’d like to hear more.
Ashley: Taboo Science is written and produced by me, Ashley Hamer. The theme was by Danny Lipka of DLC Music episode. Music is from Epidemic Sound. If you need music for a project, just use the referral link in the show notes and it’ll help out the show.
Ashley: Hey, by the way, if you’d like a video version of this podcast, I’ve been posting every episode of season three on YouTube the day after the audio version airs. It’s nothing fancy, but it is like actual video, not an audiogram. If that’s your preferred podcast format, click the YouTube link in the show notes and head on over.
Ashley: Thanks for listening all the way to the end. The next episode will be out in two weeks. I hope you tune in. I won’t tell anyone.