The Truth about Race
By Chuck Connell
Race has been widely used and misused among humanity for hundreds of years. People have been enslaved and their lives destroyed because they were of the wrong race. Others have accumulated wealth and been certain of their superiority because they were of the right race.
Enlightened people today don’t believe in racism (at least not openly) but have a variety of views about it. Conservatives think we talk too much about race and, as long as we don’t discriminate overtly against someone, we should move on to more important issues. Liberals think that race is a part of every interaction between people and that we don’t talk enough about it.
There is a serious problem with all of this discussion however – it makes no sense. The human species does not contain different races. There is simply no such thing as race among humanity. This is not my opinion. It is accepted scientific fact from many sources. UNESCO released a study titled The Race Question making this point more than 50 years ago; the American Association of Physical Anthropologists has issued a position paper to this effect; and new research by the National Geographic Society provides hard DNA evidence for the same conclusion. The concept of race came about fairly recently in human history, specifically as a way for privileged people to subjugate other people.
If the scientific and historical evidence does not convince you, consider this commonsense thought experiment… Suppose that the concept of race is correct and that there are three main racial groups among humanity: European, Asian, and African. If this were true, people within each race would have skin color and other physical characteristics that generally matched their racial group. Conversely, skin color and physical characteristics between different racial groups would be markedly different. This would have to be the case, since skin color and facial features underlie putative definitions of race.
But this assumption is clearly false. People from Sweden look quite different than people from Sicily, yet both are European. The people of northern China (Inner Mongolia) have significantly different skin color and facial features than people in southern China, yet both are Asian. Between races, the assumption also breaks down. My daughter is from southern China, but her skin color is nearly identical to my Irish/English skin. (Except in the summer, when she gets a much nicer tan.)
As the National Geographic Society’s Genographic project makes clear, all people on Earth today share a direct common ancestry. We all came from Africa about 60,000 years ago. After walking north from Africa, some of our ancestors turned left and migrated to Europe. Others turned right and populated Asia, then Siberia, then America. In fact, the DNA evidence is conclusive that everyone alive today shares a common great-great-grandfather and a common great-great-grandmother – with many “great”s added. The people who stayed behind in Africa during the exodus are now the San people of the Rift Valley in southwestern Africa. These hunter-gatherers are the source of all humanity and, not surprisingly, look like a prototype for all humans. They have brown skin, which became lighter in some descendents and darker in others; prominent cheekbones, which carried across northern Asia as they became Native Americas; and single eyelids that carried into southern Asia as they became Chinese.
Everything I said above is well known to researchers and authors in anthropology, genetics, sociology, and any related field. But the scientific fact “race does not exist” is not common knowledge among the general public. Politicians, social commentators from all sides, and laypeople continue to discuss race as if it were real.
Forty years ago, Malcolm X said “I hate every drop of white blood in me”, and wished fervently that he could make it go away. This conflict continues, with less intensity, for many African-Americans, including Barack Obama. He has described his mixed feelings about being multi-racial and the white blood within him, even though he loved his mother who gave it to him. Race is so ingrained in our everyday conversation that its existence is accepted by the U.S. Census Bureau. Currently, there is much discussion about whether Obama’s race will affect the U.S. presidential election.
But the division of people into racial groups is an illusion. There is no white blood, just as there is no black blood. The white blood that Malcolm X hated was actually the blood from a long lost cousin from Africa. Obama’s race cannot alter a single vote in an election because he, and the rest of us, have no race. And the Census Bureau should know better than to promote the falsehood of race – it is their job to understand this issue.
Interracial, or transracial, adoption continues to be controversial. Many adoption agencies, both private and state-run, discourage it. Other agencies specialize in this kind of adoption. A quick search of the Internet yields much advice from experts, both pro and con. In particular, the National Association of Black Social Workers is well known for their opposition to interracial adoption. Adult adoptees have written moving essays on both sides of the topic. There is a hidden assumption built into this discussion however – which is that race is real. The “interracial adoption question” is whether parents of one race ought to adopt a child of a different race. But the “question” of interracial adoption is meaningless. Asking whether adoption should be allowed between races is like asking whether adoption should be allowed because the moon is made of Swiss cheese. Both questions equally make no sense. There is no such thing as race among humanity.
My daughter’s biological parents live in a different culture than my family. Stating that obvious fact is different, however, than asserting that we are of different races. My daughter from China is really a distant relative to my Irish wife and me, with the same African ancestors. Every child, by whatever set of parents, everywhere in the world, is in the same position. All join a family composed of their true kin, with remarkably few generations separating children and parents from their shared common origin.
Wikipedia article about UNESCO’s statement titled The Race Question:
American Association of Physical Anthropologists statement on race:
National Geographic Society genographic project:
PBS series Race: The Power of an Illusion:
Photographs of the San people:
US Census Bureau definition of race:
National Association of Black Social Workers statement on transracial adoption:
Addendum: Based on feedback I received about this article, I want to clarify an important point. I am not discounting that racism exists. There is a lot of racism in the world: between individual people, and within cultural systems. Besides being demeaning and cruel, racism is based on a false pseudo-science, the existence of separate races within humanity.
Author’s bio: Chuck Connell is a writer and consultant in Woburn, MA. He can be reached at www.chc-3.com.
Copyright 2007 by Charles H. Connell Jr. This article is available for publication.