The human species is very young, but in a short time it has acquired some striking, if biologically superficial, variations across the planet. As this book shows, however, none of those biological variations can be understood in terms of discrete races, which do not actually exist as definable entities. Starting with a consideration of evolution and the mechanisms of diversification in nature, this book moves to an examination of attitudes to human variation throughout history, showing that it was only with the advent of slavery that considerations of human variation became politicized. It then embarks on a consideration of how racial classifications have been applied to genomic studies, demonstrating how individualized genomics is a much more effective approach to clinical treatments. It also shows how racial stratification does nothing to help us understand the phenomenon of human variation, at either the genomic or physical levels.
- Addresses common misunderstandings about race in an accessible and rational way for the general reader
- Explains why races are purely cultural constructs and do not result from any acceptable form of taxonomic analysis of our species, helping readers to understand why race is not a useful or even justifiable way of understanding human variation
‘DeSalle and Tattersall provide a brilliant and comprehensive refutation of the folk concept of human races. Anyone who thinks that there are natural categories of people that correspond to zoological subspecies will have their worldview blown to bits!’ Jonathan Marks, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
‘Understanding Race explains to the reader in accessible terms all the misconceptions that continue to plague both lay people and professionals concerning race. First, the authors establish for the reader the fundamental mechanisms of evolution that are responsible for the variation within all species; then they explain how people thought about variation before there was a science to correctly explain it. The book guides the reader through how racial thinking changed as our understanding of evolution, as well as the technology to understand genetic variation, improved. The authors end by drawing attention to ongoing misconceptions concerning biological variation and social definitions of race in a variety of arenas, including medicine. If you don’t read my books, you should read theirs; and in the best of all worlds you should read both.’ Joseph L. Graves, Jr, Professor of Biological Sciences, North Carolina A&T State University
by Kostas Kampourakis, Series Editor
The term “race” is unfortunately one that immediately brings to mind situations of discrimination and inequalities when it is applied to humans. But this is not due to any inherent differences between the human groups that are often distinguished from one another as being different races; rather, it is due to biases—conscious or unconscious—that make people think that internally homogeneous human races exist
If races are not absolutely internally homogeneous, then they don’t exist.
that are in turn clearly distinct from one another.
You see, in Science, we never deal with anything that’s not clearly distinct. Odd numbers are clearly distinct from even numbers, so odd and even numbers are Science. [Note to self: Before publishing, come up with some more examples of clearly distinct and internally homogeneous things in Science. Electrons?] If something is not internally homogeneous and clearly distinct, then it’s just your opinion, man, it’s not Science.
The situation becomes even more complicated when attempts are made to naturalize these distinctions and divisions by explaining the existence of distinct human races on biological/genetic grounds. As Robert DeSalle and Ian Tattersall explain in this magnificent book, this is far from accurate from a scientific point of view. All available evidence, especially from human genomics, supports the conclusion that human genetic variation is continuous, not clustered.
For example, think about all the islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean where the native inhabitants for tens of thousands of years were a mixture of New World Indians and Sub-Saharan Blacks, varying continuously across the Atlantic.
This means that the genetic variation of any two human groups is overlapping, and that we share most of our DNA.
And if anything overlaps, it’s not Science. Do odd and even numbers overlap? I don’t think so.
Of course, there are average differences between human groups,
But those are groups, not races.
but these differences do not support the division of humans in genetically distinct human races, or groups of any kind.
Note to self: Before publishing, work on this sentence a little more: the reference to “human groups” at the beginning of the sentence would appear to contradict the denial of the existence of “groups of any kind” at the end of the sentence.
Does this mean, then, that human races do not exist? The answer that the authors give is that if they do, they depend on culture and not biology. If people decide to differentiate themselves from outgroups in favor of their ingroup, this is something done by choice or culture and upbringing, and is not imposed by our genetic background. DeSalle and Tattersall invite you on a fabulous journey that presents the scientific evidence for the fact that all humans living today are members of a huge family that has evolved very recently in evolutionary terms.
We’re all a huge family! And none of us is more closely related to some of our family members than to other of our family members.
Reading this book will make you appreciate how much we share in common, and wonder why we often insist on paying attention to our very minor differences.
Why are you interested in anything that’s very minor? What’s wrong with you?
And from the Preface by DeSalle and Tattersall:
… Yet we will argue in this book that, biologically speaking, human races do not exist. That is because, to be accessible to science, something must not only be observable but also definable and preferably measurable.
Look, people, this is Science, dammit. Just because you can observe a whole bunch of facts with your own eyes, that doesn’t mean that Science lets you wonder about them. Science requires that before you think about facts, you must have a definition. Do you have a definition?
This in turn requires that the entity observed possess recognizable boundaries.
The Atlantic Ocean in 1491? What? What are you talking about? Why are you insinuating that the Atlantic Ocean served as a racial boundary in 1491? What happened in 1492? We don’t get it. You’re just babbling gibberish.
And, as we will see, human races simply do not meet this criterion at the biological level.
In Science, we have strict criteria. That’s why we call it Science with a capital S. Science is capitalized for a reason, like Black people. It’s not like white people who don’t get to be capitalized because they aren’t Scientific.
Certainly, striking variations in hereditary physical features can be observed between members of human populations originating in different areas of our planet, just as similar variation exists among the individuals who compose those populations. But on closer examination the boundaries between those populations fade,
You never see anything in real Science fade into anything else. The colors of the rainbow don’t fade into each other, now do they? That’s because rainbows are Science. Race is not Science.
not just because most human physical features vary in a continuous manner, but because the human varieties—the races—we perceive are constructs not of Nature, but of the human mind. Beyond the human mind, it turns out, races have no objective biological existence.
It’s all in your head. They used to put crazy people like you in insane asylums. Nowadays, you just become homeless and sleep on the sidewalk.
Of course, perhaps the most remarkable uniqueness of we human beings is that we live—at least for much of the time—in the worlds we construct in our minds, rather than in the world as Nature directly presents it to us. Our artificial constructions of the world are of critical importance to the quality and conduct of our daily lives; and indeed, we couldn’t live our complex interior existences without them. But this makes it all the more important for us to understand when the distinctions that are filtered through our mental processes are accurate reflections of Nature itself, and when they are by-products of the ways in which we arbitrarily represent the world.
Like we said, it’s all in your sick, sick mind.
If we are to remain grounded in reality, it is essential to ensure that the images we entertain of the world around us are as accurate as possible, and are not simply products of our preconceptions, or objects of our convenience. That essential grounding in reality is what science is there to provide; and nowhere is scientific understanding more important than in the all-pervading question of race. We hope to show in this short book that, while our notions of “race” are based on the undeniable reality of human biological variation—and yes, in some respects human beings do indeed differ strikingly, if not significantly
And who decides what is and isn’t significant? Huh… Well… We do. We are Scientists.
—they are in fact artifacts of subjective human perception that vanish under closer scrutiny.
Vanish into thin air, like all your hallucinations. You really need to get help.