One human race

  • MIKE WATSON IMAGES

Published: 8/10/2020 2:56:49 PM

Human “races” originally reflected nationality; there was the German race, the English race, etc. When science got involved in the 17th century, human races were defined by measurable attributes like blood type and ear wax. Mostly, they still reflected nationalities, becoming the African, Asian and European races. Scientifically, race is simply a genetically isolated population with distinctive characteristics: there are races of wolves and squirrels; distinct populations that are not quite a species. The only humans in America today that come close to satisfying the definition of a distinct race might be the Mennonites, but science dispensed with the concept of human races a century ago.

Skin tone was never a good indication of race. Your skin tone best correlates with how far your ancestors lived from the equator and how much time you spend outside. There are lighter and darker skinned groups in each of the “human races.” There are the fairer Swedes, Xhosa and Japanese, and the swarthier Italians, Congolese and Malays. The term “people of color” is a bizarre modern invention. All people have “color” that varies with health, environment and season.

The term Black becomes problematic because there isn’t any way to determine whether someone is, indeed a “Black.” How dark does someone need to be to be included? Is it a genetic nationality; does someone “Black” need to be able to trace his ancestry to a specific ancestral group? What does one do with the multitudes with diverse ancestry? Is Barack Obama, with his white and Black parents, Black or White? Splitting such hairs was important when there were laws applying to mestizos and octoroons, but laws discriminating among genetic backgrounds no longer exist in America.

Is “Black” a cultural experience? If so, what is it and who defines it? There is the common stereotype of people of color being driven by passion, lovers of spicy food and warm weather, and being less bound by rigid reductionist thought. Does that make the introverted African American engineer who enjoys skiing and whose favorite condiment is mayonnaise, less Black? Does a history of being victimized by society make you a POC (Person of Color)? I’ve minded my own business, and yet been stopped at gunpoint by the police because of my appearance. I’ve been threatened and assaulted because of the color of my skin. I’ve been denied jobs and promotions because of my ethnic background. Does that make me Black?

Western culture currently indulges an unhealthy pre-occupation with race. If an innocent person is killed by police, that is a problem with police practices, not a problem of race and law enforcement. As Daniel Shaver tragically showed, you don’t need to be a POC to experience police brutality. If children attend poor schools, that’s an educational problem, not a symptom of systemic racism. There are plenty of poorly-educated fair-skinned children. If people suffer in poverty, the conditions leading to poverty need to be addressed. Poor people share many identifiable attributes, but skin tone isn’t one of them.

Since there is only one human race, and Black can’t even be defined, it’s strange that people talk about racial injustice and the Black experience. Why does anyone even take such transparent nonsense seriously? Most problems in modern society are human problems shared by people across the whole range of personal attributes, not things confined to any particular sub-group. You might obsess about your skin tone, but people interact with you as they experience you as an individual, not as a color cipher. Why are people so anxious to divide humanity into these artificial categories when more unites than divides us? What purpose is served by that? Or, perhaps, whose purpose is served by that is a better question?

There are serious challenges facing humanity today. Race is just a distraction, and every moment devoted to the non-existent problem of “racism” detracts from efforts to solve real-world problems. 

John Blasiak is a Greenfield resident. Thoughtful comments are welcome at henrycarlyle@outlook.com


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