Race and its Evil Twin, Racism: Chapter 1, The Falsehood of Biological Race

6 mins read

By DAVID TAUB

A good novelist keeps his/her readers turning pages until the last chapter, perhaps even the last page by kidnapping the reader to live in the novel’s imaginary world.

And a good journalist hooks his/her readers quickly; perhaps even the first sentence or paragraph.

I am neither, so I am going to give you the bottom line about “race” straightaway.

Why? Because I want this TRUTH to etch a permanent place in your cerebral cortex. And for it to remain there. Now and forever.

There are NO biological or genetic-based human races; nor have there been for hundreds of thousands of years, since the evolution of Homo sapiens (modern humans, although the sapiens part – Latin for “smart” or “intelligent” — may be problematic). Period.

All so-called human “races” are subjective creations of other humans. These human races are a socio-cultural or political chimera (an illusion or fabrication), often masquerading as pseudo-scientific conclusions or facts.

The Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment, beginning in the 16th century, gave us the rapid development of science. Primarily driven by dedicated endeavors of European men, geology, zoology, physics, medicine, chemistry, astronomy and other disciplines stormed onto our intellectual horizons.

When the European explorers brought back strange animals (and people), zoology dominated the description and categorization (typology) of the novel creatures from a world previously unknown to the dominant white civilization of Western Europe.

In the early years of the biological sciences, biologists/zoologists/paleontologists used the term “race” as a typological category to classify different groups of plants and animals, including humans. It was typically used to identify geographic populations belonging to a single species, and thus became a vernacular or generic synonym for “subspecies.”

Unlocking the secrets of our genetic code in the middle of the 20th century produced major advances in our knowledge of evolutionary biology. Today, there is scientific certainty that species are real biological phenomena. Species are factual reproductively organized evolutionary units; for example, even though dogs evolved from wolves, all the various varieties (breeds) of dogs belong to only one species, lupus.

As bio-genetic insights increased our understanding of human variation, use of “race” as a categorical concept lost its validity and thus, its scientific utility. Why? Because it lacked a clear definition as a biological/taxonomic rank, having been arbitrarily and subjectively defined and then applied.

Genetic variation in a species, what geneticists call the genotype, underwrites the differences we observe in critters, what is referred to as the phenotype. While environmental factors may have some minor influences on the phenotype, fundamentally the genome determines what we look like. It is an evolutionary biology maxim, which still allows for the substantial variation that is exhibited in all plant and animal species, a product of inherent genetic variation.

Homo sapiens rank in the lower end of species variation, but variable nonetheless. All species possess differing degrees of genetic variability, as reflected in their physical appearance and such differences as hair tint and type, eye and skin color, facial features, etc.

These physical differences among humans are the most commonly used criteria for constructing “races,” which are really just social compositions.

Highlighting the subjectivity and imprecise definition of races, the artificially created list of human races have been fashioned based on physical, linguistic, ecological, geographical, climatic, physiological and even seasonal criteria. There have been classes of sub-races, local races, race populations and micro-geographic and macro-geographic races; even ethnic or religious “races.”

But races are NOT real biological phenomena. Species represent genuine “breaks” in nature, whereas so-called races are part of a continuum and can only ever have arbitrary and subjective boundaries.

As a biological phenomenon or typological category, “race” is on precarious ground; it is not based on good science and its usage in the biological sciences, by and large, has been abandoned. Its lack of credibility derives from a desire to remove subjectivity and fuzzy thinking from the science of understanding the nature of Nature.

Nonetheless, human “races” as socio-cultural classifications have been and remain common place in many cultures around the world. The notion of human races has a long, profound and, too often, an ugly, ignominious and bloody history.

Herculean advances in the biological sciences of the 20th century provides us with the following axioms or rules as they regard man-made human racial categories:

No. 1: Human Races do not exist as biologically definable classes. Human races are a bio-genetic fiction, even if they are a social fact (see No. 2).

No. 2: A socially constituted definition (and identification) of a human race is an arbitrary and capricious grouping, usually based on differences in physical appearances, with no value in the scientific universe.

“Well, all I know is what I read in the newspapers.” – Will Rogers. 

David M. Taub was Mayor of Beaufort from 1990 through 1999 and served as a Beaufort County Magistrate from 2010 to 2015. You can reach him at david.m.taub42@gmail.com.

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