Do you still believe in races?

Sometimes the things we believe in most
confidently and never challenge crumble and collapse under the weight of the
slightest bit of scrutiny and reason. Biological race is one such belief. To
survive, it depends upon parental indoctrination, enculturation, compartmentalized
thinking, and a lack of relevant science education. Given the mischief it
inspires and facilitates, however, this house of cards is best blown over.

Racism is commonly viewed as a problem of
evil or seen simply as a mean and unjust philosophy. I disagree with these
characterizations. Racism is less about corrupt morality than it is ignorance
and stubborn stupidity. Race belief and racism are the products of educational
systems that do not teach students basic human biology and anthropology. Most
people who could be described as racist do not need counselling on the virtues
of fairness and cooperation. What they need is a few days in an introductory
anthropology class.

Believing in race doesn’t mean one is
unintelligent. It likely means one simply hasn’t yet heard about the many ways
in which science has exposed the absurdity of the race concept. For example,
most people probably missed the recent landmark study of African genomes. It
revealed that two tribesmen who have lived their entire lives within walking
distance of each other are more genetically distant from one another than a
typical “white” European is to a typical person from China or Japan.

Skin, hair, and facial features conspire
with our eyes to fool our minds. The genes within us, however, tell a story
that is very different from the lies of superficial traits on the surface.
Genes reveal the truth about our origins, the journeys of early people who
spread from Africa to fill the world, and the remarkably close kinship of all
people today. Biological race categories make no sense when we peer beneath the
skin to see humankind as it really is.

In my latest book “Race and Reality: What
Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity,” I present several thought
experiments designed to help readers recognize that the concept of race is a cultural
construction and not something nature imposed on us. Here are a couple:

Race
and time.

If you send a “white” Irishman back to the United
States in the early 1800s a funny thing would happen. He wouldn’t be white
anymore. Everything about him would be identical but his race would change
because the US racial identification rules have changed over time. Racial
identity is determined by culture, not nature.

The
real lineup.

Imagine if we lined up every human alive
today, single file, arranged from lightest to darkest. On one end we would have
the darkest person on the planet and on the other end we would place the lightest-skinned
person. We could inspect this line for a thousand years and never discover a
naturally occurring border between one “race” and another. It would become
obvious to us very quickly that humankind is far too blended to support the
existence of distinct categories based on colour, hair type and facial
features.

This still may feel wrong to many people
because of the imagined lineup of a dark African, a light-skinned European,
and, say, a typical Chinese person. The striking observable differences between
these three carefully chosen samples would seem to prove the existence of at
least three biological races. But this is a misleading scenario because the
world’s population cannot be reduced to a three-person lineup. It’s an absurd
presentation that offers no honest reflection of the real human species. It
would be like standing a seven-foot man next to a five-foot man and then
claiming that their contrasting heights establish that we are a two-race species,
one tall and one short. But we all know that would be absurd. Why? Because we
know that there is every possible height in between the short and tall man.
Imagining a natural border between them would be silly. The same reasoning
should apply to any attempt to separate human race groups based on observable
physical traits.

One
very interesting lady.

A beautiful Haitian woman I dated during my
university days had the bizarre ability to change her race. When she was in the
United States attending university she was “black” but when she went home to
Haiti she became “white”. How can this be if race is about fixed physical
traits and ancestry stretching back thousands of years? It could happen because
races are not natural or logical categories. They are human inventions based on
the made-up rules and customs of whatever society one happens to be standing in
at the moment. My friend was “white” in Haiti because in that culture even a
small amount of noticeable white-European ancestry means “white”. Whereas in
the United States the criteria is reversed. America’s “one-drop rule”
traditionally has meant that even a small amount of noticeable black-African
ancestry means the person is “black”. Neither country is right or more sensible
about this than the other. They are just different. It can be done either way
because racial groups are not based on anything other than the whims of
culture.

It is clear that race belief is a game of
our making and not something nature imposed upon us. Sure, biological diversity
is real and of course we don’t all look alike. But there is no justification
for placing vast numbers of human beings into rigid categories and then
pretending that these groupings determine what these people can and cannot do.
The sooner we become aware of what science has revealed about our ancestry and
kinship, the sooner we can put the illogical and dangerous belief in races
behind us.

Guy is the author of “Race and Reality: What
Everyone Should Know about Our Biological Diversity” and         “50 Reasons People Give for Believing
in a God.” Contact Guy at [email protected]

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