Does Racism Exist Because We Forgot About a Volcano..?


Thoughts on the loaded term “Race” and it’s implications today


What does the word “Race” mean?

What do we mean by race? There are clearly different skin colors and thousands of languages, cultures and human behaviors. It seems on the surface nonsense to claim that race doesn’t exist. We need to dive deeper, in a scientific and specific way, to understand the nuances and implications. It turns out these subtleties make the world of difference in interpreting how you view your fellow human.

Race is a broad term that can be seen in part as a combination of skin color, culture, language and genetics [1]. It implies that both culture and genetics are correlated in some meaningful way. In continuing to study humanity we have outgrown this broad of a term in our understanding of how people are interrelated. Culture and genetics play separate and unrelated roles.


To say genetics has a dark past would be an understatement. Along with the entire study of anthropology, the early beginnings of applying actual science to social studies was crudely done and misapplied by most [1]. In vogue during anthropology’s rise was the notion of a handful of human “races”. Entire continents were seen as a single, discrete section of human populations that contained their own idiosyncrasies and defining characteristics. Implied in this division was hierarchy: some races were more “fit to survive” than others [1]. The implications for this erroneous line of thought is horrifying yet has seen a resurgence in modern white supremicist movements. 


Native Americans were often left off of these early classifications. Oh and Indians from India did not quite fit either, Neither did Native Australians, North Africans or Arctic Europeans [3]. Scientifically speaking, there is immediately evidence that these racial theories do not hold up. There is both more diversity within and also less diversity between these so called “races”. However, since these ideas were proposed in the midst of European colonialism, racism became a “scientific” justification for the brutal treatment of non-Europeans. 


Superficial differences that can be erased within a handful generations were seen as absolute genetic separations [2]. Because a skull from someone in Sub-Saharan Africa was shaped slightly differently than one in Northern Europe, social scientists declared that race existed as a meaningful difference. They failed to understand that slight regional variations among humans do not equate to a separate race. Those physical variations could be easily incorporated into any human population within a few generations. There is no intellectual variation among any human populations [3]. We all have the exact same capacity no matter what continent we are born in or skin color we are born with. It is culture that creates meaningful human differences, not genetics. 


No human population has ever been separated long enough to make any of these physical differences meaningful or correlate to anything that can be exclusively passed down among one group of humans but not another [3]. Compared to other animals, there is virtually no physical difference among humans across the globe [4].


Contrary to the early colonial Darwinian conclusion is the fact that modern genetics shows more variation within two random African individuals than there is between a random African and a European [5]. In fact there is vastly more genetic diversity within Africa than there is outside of it [5]. Almost all current genetic variation is found within the single continent of Africa [3]. There is more difference between East and West Africa than between Europe and Asia, shattering the idea of race and skin color. 


Learned behavior is not race, “race” is genetically inherited. Culture is separate from genetics, “race” incorrectly combines the two. 


The Absurdity of Race

Skin color correlates to no other physical trait. It is determined by its own genes and does not influence anything else meaningful about the individual other than outward appearance and sun absorption [5]. Just as eye color does not determine intelligence, skin color does not determine “race”. 


If your ancestors hundreds of generations ago lived far from the equator, the melanin in their skin decreased slowly over time as a response to the lack of radiation from the sun exposure [4]. If you take your descendants and somehow ensure they never leave the equator regions, the opposite would eventually happen. There is a strong chance that your personal genetic makeup is more similar to some random individual living in Africa than it is to the person you share a church, school or community with [3].

If we were to apply the same “race” standards to other animals we would have to classify a golden retriever and a white retriever as two different races of animal despite the only difference being the color of their fur. In fact there would be dozens of races of dogs. Who could possibly think a Pomeranian and a Great Dane are genetically similar, just look at them!


For this reason social scientists often say “Race is cultural” [1]. This essentially means that although genetic and intellectual differences are not significant, humans still do perceive a difference. We are visual creatures and cannot help that the skin is the largest visible organ. What we can do is learn more about this difference and see if it means anything other than offering different sun protection. We do not divide ourselves up based off of the color of any other organ, I personally don’t care what color your pancreas is. Maybe your doctor does. 


This perception deeply influences the way people experience life and treat each other. Although genetically we cannot see a difference, humans create artificial divides and treat others based off of assumptions about those divides [6]. So although race does not exist genetically, racism is strikingly prevalent culturally. 


What would need to happen to form different races? Geographic absolute isolation, not temporary separation, but complete isolation and non contact among human populations for tens of thousands years, if not more. Even the 12,000 plus years of separation between the New World and the Old World that produced a host of cultural and ethinc variations created no significant lasting “racial” differences among humans. A handful of generations, even hundreds to thousands of years of separation, makes no difference.


Something so absurd and dystopian would effectively not be possible. This has never happened in human history and will never happen since humans are social and sexual creatures who actively seek each other out, travel, explore, fall in love and intermarry.  When we speak in terms of “human diversity” we are perpetuating a myth. There is one “human race”.


Does racism exist because we forgot about a Volcano?

Diversity among humans clearly exists on an individual level, but genetically speaking we are almost entirely identical as a whole [5]. Strangely so because this is not the case among other similar animal species. Chimpanzees, our closest genetic relatives, have more genetic variation within their species than humans do [4]. No biologists consider there to be different Chimpanzee races and no Average Joe can see a difference among chimp populations. Genetically speaking, a color blind alien looking in at humanity would have a very hard time classifying us into different groups at all because genetically we are one.


Differences occur when mutations happen randomly over time. More mutations in genetic code means the longer that group of animals has existed as a population. More time equals more mutations Our human “group of animals” has only been genetically diversifying since about 75,000 years ago [5]. There are very few mutations among our DNA code. Since we have existed as humans for 300,000 years [6], something drastic happened here. The first 225,00 years of diversity and genetic difference among humans was wiped out. 

 
Something catastrophic happened around that time that killed the majority of all humans in existence: Mount Toba exploded. A true apocalypse in which the sky filled with smoke and ash, fire rained from the skies and entire islands may have been created and destroyed in moments. Biblical in proportions, the largest and most destructive volcanic eruption in human history nearly wiped us all out, and in doing so ensured that every human alive today is nearly genetically identical. 


Only a small band of a few thousand survivors emerged [7]. This genetically miniscule band of apocalypse adapters eventually spread out from Africa and explored every inch of land left bare by nature’s brute force. We have a shared history, every single one of us, of this strong reliant, incredibly lucky group of humans. Of course there are alternate views as to why our population hit a bottleneck at this point [8] but the Toba explosion provides one compelling, exhilarating explanation. 


Our problem is that we focus on superficial differences in skin pigmentation when we could instead be focused on the similarities and deep shared history that we all share as a unified species. 


We are survivors, we have risen from the ashes of hell-fire apocalypse, we have spread and multiplied and created this amazing range of culture, language and superficial differences. This should be celebrated. But we may have forgotten that we all share common ancestors, This should be commemorated as well. 


Our similarities have more of an impact towards our future than any difference does. We need to remember and teach each other that humans are one. There is no “white race” or any other color for that matter. It may be this knowledge and this pursuit of similarity that helps undo the deep harms of centuries of racial division and falsely imposed separation brought on Western colonialism.


So what is “race”? Race is the artificial combination of several superficial characteristics that perpetuates the idea that humans differ in meaningful ways from one another. It is much more meaningful and accurate to break “race” into some of its components and evaluate those on their own. Race is assuming language, culture, behavior, intelligence, appearance and biology are all related whereas in fact they are all separate and individual components that make up a whole rather than determine who an individual is.


Sources

[1] https://www.americananthro.org/ConnectWithAAA/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=2583

[2] https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/02/12/466379200/can-you-tell-your-ethnic-identity-from-your-dna

[3] http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2017/science-genetics-reshaping-race-debate-21st-century/

[4] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/04/race-genetics-science-africa/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1893020/

[6] https://www.britannica.com/story/just-how-old-is-homo-sapiens

[7] https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2010/01/human-ancestors-were-endangered-species

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