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Racism is Dead, Long Live Racism! (Part III)

30 October 2007 at 11:05 | 713 views

In the second installment of his five-part article, Charles Dr. Quist-Adade explained that there is no pure “race,” that all the so-called races have been mixing, interbreeding and intermingling for centuries. In spite of all the efforts of the race “scientists” to divide the human groupings into different “races,” there are no genetic markers that set the so-called races apart. In this third installment, he continues to debunk the idea of “race” as a biological concept and argues that social scientists took off from where the “race scientists” left off. Many social scientists in the US and Canada, borrowing from English sociologist Herbert Spencer’s Social Darwinist theory, attempted to not only justify racial inequality, but inspired the Eugenicist movement to create a pure healthy “white race” by weeding out inferior races and other undesirables.
Please, read on.

By Charles Quist-Adade, PhD.

The findings of the Human Genome Project (Davies, 2001; Hawley and Mori, 1999) and a great number of scholars across the globe appear to have put the final nail in the coffin of scientific racism, at least for now. Here are a few of the findings based on Race:

(a) What has been called “race” has no genetic basis. Not one characteristic, trait or even gene distinguishes all the members of one so-called race from all the members of another so-called race. Beneath the skin, and beyond the few physical features such as skin color, eye and nose shape, we are all-Aborigines, Asians, Africans, Europeans, and Native Americans-the same, genetically speaking.

The so-called races share a common gene pool and operate within an open gene system on the basis of what social scientists call “genetic interchangeability.” (See Omni and Winant, 2001) That means members of the “distinct races” can freely interbreed. This explains why a ‘White’ woman and a ‘Black’ man can produce normal ‘white-black’ offspring, but it is impossible for, say a pig and a dog, to produce a pig-dog offspring. The Akans of Ghana explain this in simpler and clearer terms in their saying: “Okoto nnwo anomaa,” literarily translated, as “A crab cannot beget a bird.” The crab and the bird cannot crossbreed, because they belong to entirely different gene pools.

(b) Human subspecies don’t exist. Unlike many animals, modern humans simply haven’t been around long enough or been isolated enough to evolve into separate subspecies or races. Despite surface appearances, we are one of the most similar of all species. Large-scale comparisons of human genomes from many individuals through DNA sequencing show that the gene pool in Africa contains more variation than elsewhere, and that the genetic variation found outside of Africa represents only a subset of that found within the African continent. From a genetic perspective, all humans are therefore Africans, either residing in Africa or in recent exile.

(c) Skin color really is only skin deep. Most traits are inherited independently from one another. The genes influencing skin color have nothing to do with the genes influencing hair form, eye shape, blood type, musical talent, athletic ability or forms of intelligence. Knowing someone’s skin color doesn’t necessarily tell you anything else about him or her.

(d) Most variation is within, not between, ‘races.’ Of the small amount of total human variation, 85% exists within any local population, be they Italians, Kurds, Koreans or Cherokees. About 94% can be found within any continent. That means two random Koreans may be as genetically different as a Korean and an Italian.

(e) Slavery predates race. Throughout much of human history, societies have enslaved others, often as a result of conquest or war, even debt, but not because of physical characteristics or a belief in natural inferiority. Due to a unique set of historical circumstances, the European enslavement of Africans in the so-called New World was the first slave system where all the slaves shared similar physical characteristics. Until then, slavery was ‘colourless’. In other words, most societies around the world practised one form of slavery or another. Thus, the Europeans enslaved fellow Europeans; Africans enslaved fellow Africans, and Asians enslaved fellow Asians.

(f) Race and freedom evolved together. The U.S. was founded on the radical new principle that "All men are created equal." But the early economy in that country was based largely on slavery. How could this anomaly be rationalized? The new idea of ‘race’ helped explain why some people could be denied the rights and freedoms that others took for granted.

(g) Race justified social inequalities as natural. As the race idea evolved, white superiority became "common sense" in America. It justified not only slavery but also the extermination of Indians, exclusion of Asian immigrants, and the taking of Mexican lands by a nation that professed a belief in democracy. Racial practices were institutionalized within American government, laws, and society.

(h) Race isn’t biological, but racism is still real. Race is a powerful social idea that gives people different access to opportunities and resources. Governments and social institutions have created advantages that disproportionately channel wealth, power, and resources to White people. This affects everyone, whether we are aware of it or not.

So why did the ‘race scientist’ go to such lengths to categorize the human groups and then assign different meanings and ranks to the various groups, you may want to know. The attempts to categorize the so-called races were born out of an ideology of white supremacy, an ideology which holds that the white race is superior to the non-white races. ‘Scientific’ racism was invented to rationalize this ideology. The ideology of white supremacy itself stemmed from Social Darwinism, a racist, sexist, and classist theory based on the premise of ‘survival of the fittest.’

The term ‘survival of the fittest’, coined by the English sociologist Hebert Spencer, was a vulgarization of a more complex theory by his compatriot Charles Darwin, the theory of evolution by natural selection. Herbert Spencer (1857) perverted Darwinism which sought to explain the origin and evolution of the plant and animal species through natural selection and struggle.

Darwin, Smith, and Spencer: Race, Europe and Social Darwinism
The assumption of Social Darwinism is that some societies, races, etc, are endowed with superior genes, while others inherit inferior genes. Those fortunate enough to have superior genes are better able to survive and thrive and control their social environments, which includes those others unlucky enough to have been endowed with inferior genes. Social Darwinists drew on the idea of struggle and survival as natural mechanisms for improving the ‘stock’-i.e., genetic characteristics-of human beings. In fact, inferior races and societies, it was hypothesized, would ‘naturally’ wither away. Any attempts to save them were in defiance of the laws of nature.

Subsequently, Adam Smith’s laissez faire economic theory, (See Smith, 1999) which proposed non-government intervention in economic affairs of individuals and the promotion of free-market economy based on the ‘invisible hands’ of the market, was incorporated into Social Darwinism. The aim was to let the ‘natural laws’ of the market take their due course, during which the ‘economically deficient’ peoples would be weeded out and the ‘economically progressive’ would thrive.

According to Mills (2006), in the 19th century Europeans increasingly became preoccupied, even obsessed, with ‘race’ for various reasons:
(a) the development of technology (particularly military technology) gave White Europeans tremendous weapons and power superiority over non-white peoples. Power indeed corrupts and breeds arrogance. White Europeans came to regard ‘race’ as an explanation for the disparities between their societies and other societies. Ultimately, they began to attribute military and technological advantage and superiority to the actual characteristic of ‘white-skin’ or ‘race’!

(b) the social sciences (especially anthropology-social as well as physical-and sociology) were heavily influenced by biological sciences both in method and the adoption of analogies; thus social scientists set out to classify different ‘races’ by attempting to perceive of human beings as members of different sub-species or even different species.

(c) exclusionist ideas of nationalism contributed to and drew from racist thinking; thus a homogenous ‘nation’ (one which shared a language, and whose people shared physical characteristics, culture, etc.) constituted a ‘race’; there were frequent references to the British ‘race’ or to the French ‘race’ or to the German ‘race.’
Writes Mills (2006): “Alternately, it was asserted that many of the homogenous characteristics (not only physical characteristics but also moral, intellectual and “spiritual” characteristics) were transmitted genetically and were thus racial”.

Mills (2006) outlines several consequences of Social Darwinism and ultimately, white supremacy:
Ranking: This generated the ideas that not only human beings could be classified into different ‘races’ but also that the ‘races’ could be ranked on a scale from higher to lower. As a criterion for ranking, sometimes culture or technology was used, but especially as the ‘new imperialism’ and the ‘scramble for Africa’ ensued, military power (brute strength) seemed to be the chief criterion to determine ranking. Thus ‘proficiency in subjugating or even exterminating one’s opponents’ was the measure of ‘higher’ races relative to ‘lower’, ‘more primitive’ races: someone who kills with a spear or bow and arrow is more primitive than someone who kills with machine guns and artillery. Of course, those who obliterate with atomic weapons must be a ‘higher’ race still!

Morality: Social Darwinists rejected the idea of morality as an important consideration in human affairs: It was not ‘right’ but survivability or plain might that mattered. Nature, they argued, was amoral. In the law of nature, might is right-the strong should and would inherit the earth, with no namby-pamby platitudes about the meek: the hungry lion does not care whether or not the antelope in its view is sick or is only a calf. Thus any people or ‘race’ which could not defend its land deserved to lose it. This, of course, was the rationalization for colonization of vast stretches of Africa, of Asia and of Latin America.
Competition: Social Darwinists saw competition and struggle operating both internally and externally in societies, and competition separated the efficient and able from those less evolved, at least if laissez-faire policies were in place. They called for an end to ‘interference’ in the natural processes and for ‘survival of the fittest’. While they did not condone physical violence and destruction, they sought to achieve their objective-the destruction of their rivals-through economic means. Moreover, they insisted that the prosperous and dominant peoples should produce children at high rates while the poor and unsuccessful, with fewer resources and opportunities, should be discouraged and even prevented from producing children on as large a scale. Societies worldwide, however, were not in accord with Social Darwinism: fertility rates were declining among the upper social and economic classes but on the rise among the lower classes.

“Social Darwinists,” notes Mills (2006), “often blamed the government, including policies which relieved unemployment and destitution, as the reason for the contrary outcome.” They argued that social welfare measures preserved inferior racial stock and encouraged their reproduction. They pointed to the demographics: the poor (i.e. “the inferior”) had many children while the well-to-do (“the superior” had fewer children- the opposite of what ‘should’ have happened.
Eventually Social Darwinists began to argue that society and government should become actively involved to ensure that what they thought should happen actually did happen, and this line of thinking led to the birth of Eugenics-biological engineering and selective breeding of humans. Eugenicists tried to apply to humans the knowledge and practices that had been developed for the breeding of domestic animals.

In Canada and the U. S., eugenicist and Social Darwinists tended to focus on immigration policies. Both countries passed anti-Asian legislation and erected political and social barriers to immigration. In British Columbia, serious riots and public pressure induced the legislature to pass laws to restrict the immigration of Indians from Asia.

Among the Imperial Federationists in Canada (many of whom were Social Darwinists), there was a great deal of concern in the last two decades before 1914 about immigration from southern, eastern and central Europe, from which increasing proportions of immigrants were coming. These immigrants were regarded as greatly “inferior” to “British,” “Germanic” or “Nordic” “races,” and therefore their presence threatened to reduce the quality of the “racial stock” in Canada.

Mills (2006) offers amusing sidelights to this Social Darwinism. Charles Kellogg was a Social Darwinist and a zealot for ‘moral purity’. He thought that eggs and meat stimulated sexual appetites and urges. Thus his invention of corn flakes was an attempt to find a quick and easy cereal substitute for bacon and eggs. He hoped this switch in diet would help young men to preserve their ‘moral purity’. The concern for ‘moral purity’ was certainly partly religious (Kellogg was active in the YMCA, which was a religious organization at that time), but it was also related to his concern to maintain and even to raise the quality of racial stock among young American men, as he was convinced that only the ‘pure’ could father healthy, sturdy children.