In a Swiss television film, passersby near the Musée de l’Homme in Paris are asked “Combien de races”? (How many races?). For the most part they respond “Four, as we have been taught in school, white, black, yellow and red.” Until recently, the Hall of Man anthropological museum in New York displayed four statues at its entrance representing the black, white, yellow and red “races”. Never mind, that humans are not white, black, yellow or red (except for fair skinned individuals who stay in the sun too long), but scientifically, all humans belong to only one race, the human race, or Homo sapiens, where Homo (man) is the human genus, sapiens (wise) is a subspecies of homo and the additional sapiens differentiates us from our direct ancestor, Homo sapiens Idàltu (elder – in the Afar language, an Afroasiatic language spoken by the Afar people of Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
In 1951, after the Second World War, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), published a Statement on Race, declaring that:
“Scientists have reached general agreement in recognizing that mankind is one: that all men belong to the same species, homo sapiens.”
“From the biological standpoint, the species homo sapiens is made up of a number of populations, each one of which differs from the others in the frequency of one or more genes. Such genes, responsible for the hereditary differences between men, are always few when compared to the whole genetic constitution of man and to the vast number of genes common to all human beings regardless of the population to which they belong. This means that the likenesses among men are far greater than their differences.” (Refer to http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0017/001789/178908eb.pdf for the complete copy of the statement.)
The UNESCO statement concludes that “race” is not a biological reality but a myth and all humans belong to the same species.
A great deal of scientific evidence had been accumulated already by that time supporting the conclusion that race is associated with biology and biological races do not exist among humans, a fact that continues to surprise many of us. In his book Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know about Our Biological Diversity, Guy P. Harrison wrote:
“One day in the 1980s, I sat in the front row in my first undergraduate anthropology class, eager to learn more about this bizarre and fascinating species I was born into. But I got more than I expected that day as I heard for the first time that biological races are not real. After hearing several perfectly sensible reasons why vast biological categories don’t work very well, I started to feel betrayed by my society. “Why am I just hearing this now? . . . Why didn’t somebody tell me this in elementary school?” . . . I never should have made it through twelve years of schooling before entering a university, without ever hearing the important news that most anthropologists reject the concept of biological races.”
The concept of “race” is a relatively recent. It came about in the 18th and 19th centuries when, influenced by Enlightenment philosophers, scientists developed a system of categorizing things in nature, including humans. In 1758, before the idea of race emerged in the U.S., Carolus Linneaus, Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, published a classification system in System Naturale that was applied to humans, but it was German scientist Johann Blumenbach who introduced a race-based classification of humans. He established a framework for analyzing race and racial differences that would be used for the next hundred years. In the 19th century there were two theories: One was that different races represented different species; the other was that humans were one species and that race represented variation in the human species. The latter more compatible with the teachings of the Bible, that teaches that God has “made of one blood all nations of men” (Acts 17:26). Samuel Morton, a Philadelphia physician and European academic Louis Agassiz supported the multiple species theory, while Charles Darwin was the most prominent scientist to espouse the monogeny theory, that all humans are one species. (Ref. http://www.understandingrace.org/history/history_trans.html
If there is only one human race why do we not all look alike?
Today, most academics accept the hypothesis that humans evolved in Africa and over time, they left the continent and began to spread across Europe, Asia, and Australia.
“Broadly speaking, there are two competing hypotheses on the origin of modern humans: the Out-of-Africa hypothesis and the multiregional hypothesis. Both agree that Homo erectus originated in Africa and expanded to Eurasia about one million years ago, but they differ in explaining the origin of modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens). The first hypothesis proposes that a second migration out of Africa happened about 100,000 years ago, in which anatomically modern humans of African origin conquered the world by completely replacing archaic human populations (Homo sapiens; Model A). The multiregional hypothesis states that independent multiple origins (Model D) or shared multiregional evolution with continuous gene flow between continental populations (Model C) occurred in the million years since Homo erectus came out of Africa (the trellis theory). A compromised version of the Out-of-Africa hypothesis emphasizes the African origin of most human populations but allows for the possibility of minor local contributions (Model B).” (Ref: Scitable by Nature Education http://www.nature.com/scitable/content/out-of-africa-versus-the-multiregional-hypothesis-6391)
A preponderance of anatomical, archaeological and genetic evidence supports to the view that fully modern humans are a relatively recent evolutionary phenomenon. Today, most academics accept the Out of Africa, or African Replacement Hypothesis that postulates a single, African origin for Homo sapiens. It argues that humans evolved in Africa and over time, they left the continent and began to spread across Europe, Asia, and Australia. The number and timing of the waves is still being debated.
One hypothesis is that homo sapiens sapiens migrated out of Africa into Asia probably between 2 and 1.8 million years ago and entered Europe slightly later, between 1.5 million and 1 million years. Species of modern humans populated many parts of the world much later. For example, they came into Australia probably within the past 60,000 years and to the Americas within the past 30,000 years or so. The beginnings of agriculture and the rise of the first civilizations occurred within the past 12,000 years.
As time passed, humans who were living in one region acquired new DNA mutations across their whole genome (the complete set of genes or genetic material), and these mutations were specific to that region. The mutations eventually spread to become common across the regional population. Therefore, two ancient neighbors were more likely to share genetic patterns than two people living on opposite sides of the world, because their ancestors were more likely to have met and intermixed. Over time, this has made people from Ethiopia, for instance, more similar genetically to each other than they are to people from China, and vice versa.
“Although humans are sometimes divided into races, the morphological variation between races is not indicative of major differences in DNA. For example, recent genetic studies show skin color may drastically change in as few as 100 generations, spanning 2,500 years, as a result of environmental influences. Furthermore, the DNA of two humans chosen at random generally varies by less than 0.1 percent. This is less genetic variation than other types of hominids (such as chimpanzees and orangutans), leading some scientists to describe all humans as belong to the same race — the human race.” (Ref.: What is the Difference between Race and Ethnicity? http://www.livescience.com/33903-difference-race-ethnicity.html)
In summary, humans have been migrating since Homo sapiens evolved and this migration has not been in one direction but happened back and forth. Migration has also served to disperse these regional population patterns over time. For example, agriculture was introduced to Europe from the Middle East and this dispersed the genetic patterns of these early agriculturists as they moved into Europe. This may explain why someone who is, say, Irish and Scottish on both sides of their family going back many generations would show Middle Eastern or Southern European components in their regional affiliations—not because their great-grandparents migrated from those parts of the world, but because over thousands of years, Europeans have mixed with people from these regions and have retained traces of this mixture in their DNA. For example, if you have 40 percent Eastern European DNA but also, say, 12 percent Southern Asian DNA, then sometime in the past, your Eastern European ancestors mixed with your Southern Asian ancestors, leaving a trace of both groups in your DNA. (Ref.: A Guide to Exploring Your Journey https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/v/#Hominin).
Therefore, while all of us belong to the same race – the human race, we also belong to different Ethnic Groups. These groups are different from social groups in that ethnicity is inherited and membership is defined by a shared cultural heritage, ancestry, origin, history, nationality, language or dialect, religion, cuisine, dressing style, art, physical appearance and other such characteristics. Race and ethnicity can overlap, but they remain separate. For example, a Chinese-American would probably consider herself a member of the Chinese or Asian race, but, if she doesn’t engage in any of the practices or customs of her ancestors, she might not identify with the ethnicity, but might instead consider herself to be American.
If biological races do not exist, why are race and racism still a reality?
Although race is not a biological reality, many people still believe that it is. This is because the concept of “race” is cultural and not scientific. In America, even those of us who are not racists grew up exposed to the idea that racial hierarchies exist and some races are better than others. We heard that race predetermined our intelligence, work ethic, abilities, work ethic, aggression and even the size of our brain. These beliefs have been deeply embedded in our institutions, law, culture, history and in the reality of the United States since the 17th century.
When the UNESCO statement on race was made public in the 1950’s, it turned upside down the concepts of race and racism that had existed for the past 500 years. It was criticized on several accounts and revised versions were publicized in 1951, 1967 and 1978. Since then, our perception of race has continued to change over the years, not without strife. Civil rights movements and the massive influx of new immigrant groups has destabilized the previous concepts of race and have forced us to take a look at ourselves. These changes in culture and attitude are reflected in the continuously evolving verbiage used in the “race” section of the U.S. census. The 2000 census introduced the “mark one or more” standard to allow for multiple race combinations. The 2010 census included a section for Hispanic “origin”, followed by the statement “Hispanic origins are not races”.
Moving closer to dropping mention of race and origin, the Census Bureau said in a 2013 report: “We recognize that race and ethnicity are not quantifiable values. “Rather, identity is a complex mix of one’s family and social environment, historical or sociopolitical constructs, personal experience, context, and many other immeasurable factors.” Therefore, the Bureau is experimenting with just asking “Which categories describe person 1?” and allowing respondents to choose from a list of races and origins.
The content test reportedly will experiment with adding a new Middle East and North Africa category.
“I’m very happy that they are going to test a question which gets away from the language of race and ethnicity because frankly that is just a quagmire, that language,” said Ann Morning, an advisory committee member and New York University race scholar. “No two people seem to be able to agree on what those terms mean.”
Social scientists have arrived at a conclusion about the human race – that there is only one. Culturally, however, we are still assimilating this premise and what all these changes mean to our collective identity as a people. We can only look forward to the day when, as a global community, we arrive at the conclusion that there is more that unites than separates us.