The meaning of “race.”January 8, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
I think I found the problem! the Professor is confusing race with species! For his edification, race is a subset of species. This means not that some of us do not come from African descendants. It simply means that those “groupings of shared characteristics” in different regions are more the rule than the exception.
I’m not “confusing” race with species. I’m pointing out that “race” is a subjective and scientifically vacuous criterion for discriminating between different human individuals. I think the following exercises will help illustrate the problems with making “racial” distinctions based on superficial differences.
1. In the following list of groups, how many races are represented?
Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tibetan, Cambodian, Laotian, Mru, Hmong, Javanese, Indonesian, Polynesian, Australian aborigine, Magyar, Aryan, Hindu (lower caste), Hindu (upper caste), Pakistani, Afghani, Czech, Serbian, Albanian, Russian, Caucasian, Siberian, Mongol, Hun, Goth, Viking, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finn, Lithuanian, Turkish, Kurd, Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian, Jewish, Ethiopian, Saudi Arabian, Bedouin, Libyan, Algerian, Tunisian, Moroccan, Hutu, Watusi, Zulu, Kalahari bushmen, pygmy, Sudanese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Maltese, Cyprian, Sicilian, Palestinian, Greek, Viennese, Belgian, Dutch, English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Normand, Erie, Huron, Sioux, Apache, Nez Perce, Hopi, Cherokee, Inca, Aztec, Mayan, Cuban, Mexican, Peruvian, Brazilian, Venezuelan, Argentinian, American, Canadian, and Eskimo.
2. To me, the above are all members of the human race (one race). If you see more than one race in the above, explain what objective criteria you use to tell the difference between one race and another.
3. Explain why we don’t find “races” in other species besides our own.
4. What is a “mixed” race? If a child of two “white” parents happens to be born with skin that is noticeably darker than theirs, is it a “mixed race” child? If not, why not?
5. What is the purpose of segregating people into different races? What good does it do?
My take on it is that “race” is simply a naive and subjective manifestation of an instinctive fear of strangers. Races do not actually exist in the real world, but when we see someone who is different from what we’re used to, we instinctively want to put a label on it–we call it “belonging to a different race.” It’s an innate prejudice, a defect in our human character, and something that men and women of civilized and enlightened views ought to resist and correct. Fundamentally, we are all members of the same human race, and if we meet someone whose superficial features show greater diversity than we’ve been used to seeing, we ought to make the effort to broaden our own horizons, instead of erecting mental barriers designed to separate us from those “other races” outside.