The idea of “race” still matters in sociology only because racist oppression still exists. But, since the mapping of the human genome, biologically, the term is irrelevant, writes Dr A L Jones.
WE’RE CURRENTLY awash in a toxic regurgitation of an old panic about race. White people are on their way out, washed up, done for, kaput. White extinction – due to increasing diversity of skin colour – is imminent.
In one extreme variation on the theme, there is a plot to bring about White extinction through the promotion of non-White immigration, forced assimilation, mixed-race marriage, abortion and so forth.
Whence comes this dumb but deadly drivel?
As an aside, the only people panicking are those who think skin colour matters. Most of the rest of us don’t. In fact, we’re hoping a coffee-hued majority will solve more problems than it could possibly cause.
But I digress.
Why is this putrid vomit surfacing again? Given that the idea known as “race” likely originated in prehistory, we can only make informed – and less informed – guesses as to its ancestry. Typical of the less informed is: “God wrote it, so it must be true.”
Take the Hebrew bible’s Genesis 9 myth. Noah and his three sons have finally recovered from the Deluge — not to mention from having to jump-start humanity. One day, Noah’s youngest son, Ham – father to the Canaanites – catches Noah lying naked in a drunken stupor. ‘Cursed be Canaan!’ cries Noah when he grasps the situation. ‘The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.’ Hence, a biblical justification for slavery.
An informed guess, on the other hand, might say the story was invented by ancient Hebrew patriarchs to justify invading and enslaving the Canaanites.
Later Jewish and Christian patriarchs expanded the category of “those we don’t like” to include any non-Judeo-Christians.
Similarly, ancient Greek patriarchs invented their own lies to justify invasion, war and enslavement of those they didn’t like. Just as Aristotle gave “scientific” weight to the oppression of women – as “mutilated” and “defective” males – he justified slavery on the grounds that divine providence created naturally born inferior and superior human beings.
Coincidentally, the inferiors were designed for heavy manual work; the superiors, for the heavy intellectual work of ruling. As everybody gets what they were born for, everybody wins. And ever since 12th Century Europe’s rediscovery of Aristotle’s so-called “science”, the powers that be used it to justify colonisation.
Twenty-first Century science sends the myths packing. Human genome mapping, for example, tells us that we share 99.9 per cent of our DNA with each other. In other words, biologically speaking, the term “race” is trivial to the point of being unnecessary.
Variations between different populations are few and superficial, arising not from core biology but from external factors. Geographical location, for example, influences skin tone, but skin tone is unrelated to other traits such as intelligence.
Relatively speaking, in contrast to variation between different populations, variation among members of the same group is huge. In other words, almost all the genetic differences between, say, two Europeans come from within the group. Little of the variation is between Europeans and, say, Asians.
Astonishingly, perhaps, to us non-scientists, two individuals of European descent may be more genetically similar to an Asian individual than they are to each other.
What all this means is that biologically trivial traits such as skin colour say nothing about anything. The ancient myth of race-based superiority is no more and no less than a monumental lie concocted by the powerful to increase their power, wealth and privilege.
And since the publication of The Turner Diaries in 1978, the novel is estimated to have inspired at least 200 murders. Many White supremacists are deadly serious. They, not their imagined enemies, are the ones who would commit genocide to save their imagined status.
Political psychology suggests that the complexity of the above scientific ideas might put them beyond the intellectual reach of your everyday extremist. Worse still, that mind-blowing complexity may trigger the extremist’s fight-or-flight response — preferably the latter.
What to do, then, with the relatively new scientific information. Recall that, in biological terms, the term “race” has no meaning. Sociologically, however, it does — for the simple reason that racist oppression still exists and must be fought.
Given that the science is still unfamiliar to most, here’s what to do. Pass it on to your colleagues, family and friends — and look out for signs of anxiety among the more conservative.
Together, we could help put the obsolete idea of biological race where it belongs — in the infamous dustbin of human folly.
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