Based on the paper titled “Race is Not Biological” by Misty Hamilton Smith. Originally published on Nov. 12, 2017, for IDS 400 at Southern New Hampshire University College of Online and Continuing Education.
Race Is Not Biological
In today’s society, we are, unfortunately, bombarded by the modern idea of multiple races within the human race. On the news, in textbooks, and via social media outlets, we are subjected to horror stories of oppression of individuals of color alongside the typical oppression of gender, religious groups, and social classes. However, it was not until the 1500s that word race surfaced within in the English language (PBS, 2003). Before that time people had been categorized by their class, language, religion, and social classes; not the color of their skin (PBS, 2003); however, scientifically speaking, there is no such thing as a race within the human species: in fact, the idea of a biological race is nothing more than a modern construct of ideas and classifications which has no basis in scientific fact (PBS, 2003).
The idea that people from different areas of the world are of different races and therefore must have certain genetic differences is nothing more than mythology. “Traditional race concepts give an inaccurate picture of human variation” (American Anthropological Association, 2016). In reality, modern humans only date back to only approximately 170,000 years, with the first humans evolving on the African continent from earlier hominids species who date back some five million years. As a result of this short span of time for the human species, we have not had enough time to develop into subspecies like other animals who have been upon this earth longer (PBS, 2003). Consequently, genetic variation in humans cannot be attributed to “races” but within humans themselves (PBS, 2003). For example, “the genetic variation in populations such as Europeans and Asians are actually subsets of the variation in the African population” (American Anthropological Association, 2016). Therefore, this variation difference can be explained “because only part of the African population migrated out of Africa, only part of Africa’s genetic variation moved with them” (American Anthropological Association, 2016).
One of the main culprits of the race mythology comes from the variance in skin color of human beings. However, it is scientifically proven that skin color has to deal with the UV rays of the sun, and not a genetic or biological difference in humans (PBS, 2003). Another myth that dominates in today’s society, in relation to race, is that of diseases that affect one population more directly than another. For example, when individuals hear the term sickle cell trait or sickle cell disease they may automatically assume that the carrier is of African descent. However, as with most diseases, sickle cell can be attributed to genetics, not the existence of race. As a matter of fact, sickle cell trait and disease are due to a gene mutation in individuals who were living in a geographical location on earth where malaria was/is a constant (PBS, 2003). These areas do include Africa, however, individuals with family ties to Greece, the Mediterranean region, Turkey, Arabia, and Southern Asia have just as much, if not more, of a chance of carrying sickle cell trait (PBS, 2003).
In conclusion, race is a modern concept that is also a myth because it is not based on scientific fact. As a matter of fact, in comparison to the age of the earth, modern humans are a relativity new species. As a result, there is only one species of modern human, with no subspecies like is seen within the animal kingdom. Furthermore, skin coloration is due to the UV rays of the sun, and some diseases are due to genetics, not biological differences. However, since the introduction of skin color as a classification system in the 1500s people of color have been seen as a different race by society. This false classification helps to fuel oppression and justify the mistreatment of minorities across society.
American Anthropological Association. (2016). Race: Are We So Different? A Project of the American Anthropological Association. Retrieved from http://www.understandingrace.org/humvar/race_humvar.html
PBS . (2003). Race – The Power of an Illusion. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-background-01-x.htm
PBS . (2003.). Race – The Power of an Illusion Human Diversity. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/race/004_HumanDiversity/004_01-quiz.htm