Friday, June 19, 2009

Blood, DNA, Race and Culture - part 2

Well I had no idea these posts would be so topical, but after tv personality Esther Rantzen's astounding rant on BBC's Question Time last night, (and which she restated on Radio Ulster this evening) that the actions of a few feral teenage thugs in Belfast means that everyone in Northern Ireland is a seething racist, clearly race is a hot topic right now.

In my own view, culture and race have little or nothing in common. It's the social environment that a person grows up in, and not their genes, that gives someone their culture. Culture is not genetic. It is absorbed from other people's behaviour and beliefs, not inherited through parentage.

Same genes = same culture?
So when scientists show that the DNA of the peoples of Ireland is pretty much the same, it doesn't automatically follow that we are culturally the same. To put it in simple terms, you can't say that an Irish nationalist and an Orangeman are culturally the same, even if their DNA is virtually identical. Their social environments are different, so their cultures are also different.

Different genes = different culture?
And conversely, if DNA shows people are genetically different, neither does it follow that those same people are culturally different. I know plenty of folk who have been born and raised in Ulster-Scots homes and communities in Northern Ireland, who have a "foreign" parent. Nevertheless, they are as culturally Ulster-Scots as someone who can trace their roots back in an undiluted pedigree to the first settlers of 1606 - due to the cultural environment that they were raised in.

Take my own three children, they have an English mother. They've been raised in an Ulster-Scots household, in an Ulster-Scots wider family, in an Ulster-Scots community. Their Ulster-Scots cultural identity is due to their social environment, not their genes. And I know that many of the readers of this blog (you know who you are!) who are in similar "mixed marriage" situations - Englishmen married to Ulster-Scots women, or Ulster-Scots men married to women of exotic extraction! Their children will all grow up as cultural Ulster-Scots.

I have Scandinavian DNA. But I don't have any Scandinavian cultural characteristics - no longboats, horned helmets or broadswords. Culture is what's important, not genetics. Don't confuse the two... and be wary of those who do.