I don’t know a damned thing about football. I have hated it my whole life. I cannot carry on a halfway decent conversation about it. Taking me to a football game for me to enjoy it is about like taking a dog to the Louvre and expecting him to appreciate the art*, and I will remain happily ignorant about the subject until my dying day.
Currently, the US is going through some great historical reckonings about racism, which I must admit that I do fully support. There is a lot of controversy about taking down statues and renaming streets, and it’s all horrendously gut-wrenching and difficult.
Among the changes that is happening is that the professional football team in Washington, D.C. is getting its name changed. For decades, various groups affiliated with various Native American organizations have been trying to get the name changed. It has been called the Redskins, and as someone who doesn’t care about football, I think it’s kind of silly that we have a name like this for anything.
But all the recent events have finally led to decision to change the football team’s name.
And although we don’t know the new name. The current favorite is “Redwolves.”
Well, that’s a different controversy!
And no, I’m not saying the systematic racism and oppression of Native Americans is an any way comparable to a big taxonomy kerfuffle, but it is controversial.
As long time readers of this blog know, I generally reject the “red wolf” paradigm. I base this rejection upon really good genome-wide analysis. I also reject the ancient North America-only origins for the coyote, and I believe that both the red wolf and coyote are offshoots of the Eurasian gray wolf. Indeed, I have proposed that the coyote is a form of gray wolf in the same way the domestic dog is , and that it should be recognized as Canis lupus latrans. The red wolf is a hybrid between relict gray wolves that lived in Louisiana and Texas and the coyote.
One unusual discovery about gray wolves, coyotes, and “red wolves” is that all three populations are about as genetically distinct from each other as humans from different continents are.
And this discovery might tell us thing or two about racism in our own species. At one time, the various races of humanity were often classified into different species. Some people resisted this notion, which popular in the nineteenth century.
However, among them was the Rev. John Bachman, a Southern Lutheran pastor, who also ministered to the slaves. He defended the institution of slavery, of course, but he did not think that African Americans were a different species from Europeans.
Bachman also believed the wolves of North America represented one species, and this idea was very much expounded in Aubudon’s The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. Bachman and Audubon worked closely on the text, and although Bachman and Audubon are credited with documenting the red wolf as a species, they were very clear that were the same species:
“The Wolves present so many shades of colour that we have not ventured to regard this [the red wolf] as a distinct species; more especially because it breeds with those of other colours, gangs of wolves being seen in which this variety is mixed up both the grey and the black” (243).
Bachman and Audubon’s initial idea that the “red wolf” was just a color phase has since been revealed in the genome-wide analysis of wolves, coyotes, and red wolves are so closely related to each other that it would almost make sense to classify them as one really diverse species. Bachman and Audubon were certain that the coyote was a very distinct species, but it likely diverged from the gray wolf within the past 50,000 years. And a gene flow still exists between coyotes and gray wolves across the continent.
Humanity is so caught up in labeling, and now, we’re trying to undo some of the damages that were done through our pseudoscientific labeling in the past.
And Confronting past and present racial discrimination is the current zeitgeist.
I reject racism very clearly and definitely. I don’t want to have teams with racist names or have statues of Confederate generals on public property.
I am what some people would call “left wing scum.” I wear the badge with pride.
But I wonder if much of my rejection of Canis rufus is also my rejection of racism. I think the evidence is strong that the species should not be considered valid, but I wonder if my strong aversion to the classification of this species is part of my deep anti-racist ideology.
Maybe it clouds how I view data. Ideology does drive a lot of scientific understanding. Philosophy underpins so much more than we’re ever willing to accept.
I know that I have intellectually made the case to myself. It makes me look like I hate endangered species to some poor readers out there. Or that I want some sort of whole-scale blood letting among the red wolves.
But I don’t think that this species was defined correctly. It wasn’t even defined when wolves were commonplace in Texas and Louisiana, and the genetic data that was used to identify them as a species in the 1970s was rather primitive. Indeed, much of their defining characteristics were based upon what they looked like, and as Peter Steinhart pointed out in The Company of Wolves, it was not unusual for 75-pound “red wolves” and 25-pound “coyotes” to appear in the same litter. The founding population of red wolves consisted of only 14 individuals, and when they were released in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, it was assumed they would keep coyotes out and not interbreed with them.
Indeed, what happened was they started interbreeding with Eastern coyotes as those smaller canids began colonizing the red wolf release area.
Believing that coyote blood contaminates red wolf blood has resulted in several litters of pups being euthanized. The coyote cannot sully the blood purity of the red wolf, even when the genome-wide analysis shows that the red wolves are themselves admixtures of of coyote and extinct Southern gray wolf.
We have defined these animals so rigidly before the law that the wolves cannot choose their own mates. If they pair with a coyote, they have created a mongrel.
It is this level of stupidity that I reject when it comes to nature and simple ethics. These animals cannot be thought of as truly wild and natural if they must be maintained only by keeping the coyotes from mating with them.
It reminds me so much of the racial purity nonsense that was once so prevalent in the United States and still exists, though often is never explained or articulated in this fashion.
And when wildlife management apes this sort of buffoonery, I have to reject it. I am not saying that red wolf advocates are racist, but the way they describe them and the crosses between coyotes and red wolves truly sounds so eerily similar to our antiquated ideas about blood purity that I am instantly repulsed by it.
So yes, let’s rename the football team. Lets oppose racism in all its forms.
But renaming the team by this name is not without its own controversies. Indeed, it echoes and rhymes so much with the ones facing the human world that one cannot stop and marvel at the folly.
*Stolen from Julie Zickefoose.
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