Isn’t it strange that so many things are just the opposite of what they appear to be? Take color, for instance. The color of something is not what it is, it’s what it isn’t. Simplistically put, the wavelength of light that an object rejects is its color. So, in one sense, a red object is actually every color but red. Similarly, autism appears to be a lack of awareness of the outside world. In reality, people with autism perceive too much, and the deluge of sensory noise paralyzes them. “Normal” people, able to screen out the majority of sensory input, are the less aware ones. The idea that “all men are created equal” that informed the Declaration of Independence helped bring about another, uniquely American idea, that humans could be separated into “races” and discriminated against on that basis. The upside-down cross is actually a symbol of humility…Hold on!! “All men are created equal” caused racism?!
Well, not exactly “caused.” But catalyzed – yes. Here’s how.
According to Race – The Power of an Illusion, a documentary which aired on PBS a decade or so ago, slavery had been around for millennia, but slavery based on racism only began in the 1700s, right here in the soon-to-be United States of America. Early English plantation owners succeeded in surviving and prospering only because they had low-cost slave labor, but the first slaves, Irish and Amerindian, didn’t take to it very well. They got sick and died, or ran off, or became belligerent. The colonists believed that what was absolutely needed for economic survival were African workers. Africans were the cream of the crop. Africans were already farmers and cattle breeders, with industries, arts and crafts, governments and commerce. They worked harder, were more civilized, were familiar with many of the colonial money crops, had immunities to Old World diseases, were easily identifiable and therefore easily captured if they ran away (not so with the Irish), and they had nowhere to run away to since their home was across the ocean (not so with Amerindians). But there was a problem: how could New World leaders promote liberty, freedom, and democracy on the one hand, and a system of slavery and exploitation of non-white people on the other? The first solution was the contrivance that, since Africans were heathens, they benefited from contact with Christians and conversion to Christianity. This, however, did not stand the test of time, so a new solution was developed toward the end of the 1700s. Africans, as it turned out, were sub-human, and therefore designed for slavery. Shamefully, many otherwise admirable historical figures, including well-known “scientists,” colluded on this feat of social engineering over the next 200 years. Such was America’s unique original sin and America has suffered from it ever since. (The Amerindian genocide and displacement, while equally tragic, is not a uniquely American phenomenon.)
Contrarians notwithstanding, modern anthropologists appear to be overwhelmingly in agreement that there is no scientific basis for the concept of human races. Never has been, never will be. UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) declared so four times, in 1950, 1951, 1964, and 1967, and strongly worded denunciations of the concept were published by the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in 1996 and the American Anthropological Association (AAA) in 1998. There are some physical differences among human groups, generated by 200,000 years of evolutionary response to different environments, but, if you took a walk from the equator north, you would encounter no biological boundaries or sharp distinctions. In fact, physical characteristics would change so gradually, you might not even notice. As the AAA put it, “it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that…Conventional geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes.” So biological markers indicating racial differences in intelligence, sexual behavior, birth rates, infant care, work ethics and abilities, personal restraint, lifespan, aggression, altruism, economic and business practices, family cohesion, brain size, etc. simply don’t exist, and no amount of wishing will bring them into being.
This is not to say that centuries of discrimination, poor treatment, low quality food, sub-standard housing, lack of a proper education and so on did not have consequences, but any humans, from anywhere, exposed for over 200 years to the poisonous fruits of racism would end up disadvantaged and struggling.
Not every expert agrees of course. Dr. George W. Gill, professor of anthropology at the University of Wyoming and forensic anthropologist for Wyoming law-enforcement agencies, for example, pointed out on NOVA’s website a few years ago that “Morphological characteristics.. like skin color, hair form, bone traits, eyes, and lips tend to follow geographic boundaries coinciding often with climatic zones…serologists (blood serum specialists) who work largely with blood factors will tend to see…races as not a valid construct, while skeletal biologists, particularly forensic anthropologists, will see races as biologically real. The common person on the street who sees only a person’s skin color, hair form, and face shape will also tend to see races as biologically real. They are not incorrect.”
But Dr. C. Loring Brace, professor of anthropology and curator of biological anthropology at the Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, clarified it in this way: “Major continental terms are just fine, and sub-regional refinements such as Western European, Eastern African, Southeast Asian, and so forth carry no unintentional baggage. In contrast, terms such as “Negroid,” “Caucasoid,” and “Mongoloid” create more problems than they solve.”
When in doubt try logic. Any pinkish tan person who lifts weights in the sunlight will have denser bones and darker skin than another who swims in an indoor pool. Do these differences indicate a difference in “race”? Of course not. How do these temporary adaptations differ categorically from the longer-lasting adaptations acquired after 200,000 years surviving in Africa? The answer is they don’t. A 6% adaptation does not a sub-species make.
There is no such thing as race. What boggles the mind is that this realization wasn’t reduced to a cliché years ago.