Monday, May 2, 2016

Prejudice, Race, and Science

I thought if might be helpful to provide a link for those who have not had occasion to read as much about the so-called "race" issue (or as I prefer, the prejudice issue). According to the scholar Duana Fullwilley and most others in the field of genetics research, "There is no genetic basis for race.”

To put it another way, the ideas we hold about race are human inventions. We made this up to explain things as best we could with scant knowledge. This can be a bit tricky to wrap ones head around as most of us have grown up in a society that has programmed us to believe the exact opposite.

To be clear, nobody in their right mind is denying the existence of prejudice or bad behavior based on the color of a person's skin. Also, no scientist denies cultural differences. What the scientists are telling us is, there are groups of people whose ancestors came primarily from certain areas but this does not make them a distinct group on a genetic level. Our differences merely reflect the fact that people adapted to places with differing conditions, such as levels of solar radiation. Obviously the people whose ancestors came from very sunny places near the equator needed more melanin to protect their skin from an over abundance of sunlight. Also, people in the far north would begin to lack vitamin D if they failed to adapt to the lower light conditions in their region.

For those who are new to this line of thinking, all this may sound like a mere technicality. Nothing could be further from the truth. The evidence now clearly shows there is no foundation to  automatically attribute either positive or negative social traits to groups of people (we once called races of people). Therefore differences in skin color, hair texture, etc. have no deeper meaning. The old expression people's color is only skin deep, turns out to be exactly right.

The implications of this information are huge and will not be absorbed by the general public for some time. However, I feel it is incumbent upon those who do understand, to plant the seeds of this knowledge in a compassionate way. One thing that will help move the change forward is to leave the old language behind. In short, one can’t easily “play the race card” (for good or ill) when people understand there is no race card. I understand this will not be easy. Everywhere we look the old ideas and the old language persist. Often even educated people who really should know better are mired in old habits. My assertion is, we should derive hope from the fact that in my lifetime social convention has changed dramatically. In my youth it was common for many Americans to  openly use slurs against various groups with impunity. We have not made those words disappear but now there is often a social cost to such language. Also, whether it was a result of, or coincidental with, the advancement of civil rights may be debatable but the change is undeniable. 

For myself, I will talk about the struggle. I will talk about tolerance. I will talk about justice. But when I do, I will use terms like prejudice and tolerance, equality and inequality. For me it is not merely semantics. It is not about being a liberal or progressive. These terms are based upon a clearer view of the world made possible by the scholarship of our best and brightest. Furthermore, using these terms will make it more difficult to think of the world in terms of us and them. In the end, there is only us.  The evidence points clearly in one direction. There is only the human race and its members. Each one of those humans is capable of being more or less tolerant, more or less kind, more or less inclusive.