Racism is a socially-constructed disease of the mind. Racism is an infectious disease that is caused by a specific form of ignorance: a groundless, pre-scientific belief that race is based in fundamental biological differences among humans. Nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to biology, humans are all like (Gregor Mendel’s) peas in a pod. Fortunately, since racism is a socially-constructed, ignorance-cultivated disease, there also happens to be a cure: science and education. With adequate doses of science and education, it just might be possible to cure the scourge of racism within our lifetimes.

When it comes to biology, humans are all essentially the same (Chiras, 2005, p. 464). We are all one species, Homo sapiens, with one shared genome. A species can be defined as a group of organisms that are biologically similar enough to breed and generate viable progeny. That’s what keeps the evolutionary process going. In turn, speciation occurs when a single species sub-divides—quite often this is driven by geographical isolation—into biologically-differentiated groups that can no longer breed and generate fertile progeny (Nosil, 2012).

Beginning with Galton (1909), eugenicists have argued that racial group differentiation can be understood as an example of sub-human speciation in progress. Indeed, not only do eugenicists claim that there are indisputable biological distinctions between human racial groups, but eugenicists also argue that such distinctions are also qualitatively value-laden, i.e., again, Hitler’s extermination of “inferior” Jews. It is worth noting that eugenicists are dead wrong on both counts for the following reasons:

  1. Humanity in all of its (comparatively limited) variety is everywhere derived  from one genome. Consequently, race-hatred is equivalent to self-hatred: if we despise other people because of their genetic attributes, then, because all humans derive from the very same genome, we also, by implication, hate ourselves.a. There is hardly a more emphatic illustration of the ignorance upon which race-hatred is based.
  2. Humans of every race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, skin pigmentation, hair style, diet preference, etc., can, and do!, successfully interbreed and generate viable progeny.  Thus, barriers that distinguish human groups—whether we rightly or wrongly refer to such groupings in terms of race, ethnicity, nationality, political party, etc.—are unquestionably socially-significant, however they are biologically insignificant (Dawkins, 2004).
  3. Genetic variation cannot be judged in a legitimate, scientific sense in terms of good vs. bad, or better vs. worse (Darwin, 1859). In scientific terms, genetic traits can only be understood as adaptive vs. non-adaptive. Any additional value judgments concerning the relative “desirability” of genetic traits (e.g., dark vs. light pigmentation, short vs. tall, brown-eyed vs. blue-eyed, etc.) are purely a product of unscientific prejudice (McWhorter, 2009).

In his original work, Charles Darwin (1859) did not ascribe value judgments to the evolutionary process. From Darwin’s perspective, life forms either evolved random genetic solutions to environmental challenges, or they did not; those that survived were not “better” than those that went extinct, only different.

When it comes to human diversity, eugenicists[1] strenuously disagree. From the eugenicist perspective, markers of racial distinction evince either fundamental virtues or irredeemable vices (Carlson, 2001; Entine, 2000, 2007; Herrnstein and Murray, 1994; Stoskopf, 2002). Again, from this perspective, excellence is defined in terms of racist pecadillos, e.g., Aryans are “the bomb” (Weikart, 2004). Eugenicists are so passionately persuaded by their own logic that they have repeatedly advocated horrific social policies (e.g., Hitler’s Final Solution, forced sterilization exercises in early 20th century Europe and the USA, Herrnstein and Murray’s “budget cuts for dummies,” etc.) that have been explicitly designed cull genetically-undesirable humans from the gene pool (Bashford and Levine, 2010). For eugenicists, such policies make perfect sense because, once the gene pool has been cleansed of undesirables, the genetically-gifted will enjoy unfettered opportunities to cultivate excellence by breeding a superior race of humans (Mann, 2005). Of course, the fact that undesirables can readily propagate with their presumptive superiors is prima facie evidence that humans are all members of the same close-knit family, but, since eugenicists and racists tend to be deficient in scientific credentials and rationality, it is not surprising that their beliefs lack intellectual coherence.

The Virtues of Variety

The crucial flaw in eugenicist logic is that the genetic differences upon which advocates of ethnic cleansing have chillingly rationalized the grisly murder of millions (Lieberman, 2006) are biologically-disadvantageous only in the twisted minds of racist xenophobes. Darwin (1859) recognized that variation is present in all species. No two broods of chickens, fields of wild flowers, or pods of peas or whales are identical. Variation is an endemic quality of life–particularly among sexually-reproducing species, such as (to name only a few) humans, peach trees, and honey bees.

Sexual reproduction arguably increases the survival potential of any particular species by introducing a mechanism through which to increase advantageous genetic diversity within a particular species (Sadava, 2013). Thus, it is scientifically-valid to argue that, contrary to eugenicists’ irrational denunciations, genetic diversity is adaptively-advantageous and is, therefore, biologically-speaking a good thing. Species that are genetically uniform are more likely to be plagued by parasites that need to evolve only a single strategy to capitalize on their host’s genetically-unvarying vulnerabilities (Sherratt and Wilkinson, 2009, p. 42). Species with wider variation in their gene pools present multiple challenges to parasites and other undesirable invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. Indeed, it is possible that it was only due to crucial variations in the human gene pool that Homo sapiens avoided extinction at the hands of the bubonic plague, or other “bottleneck” near-extinction crises (Santos, 2012, p. 80). Thus, when it comes to biology—and in contrary to the bilious protestations of eugenicists—in any case where survival is the key criterion to judge biological merit, genetic variation is unquestionably a good thing.

References

Bashford, Alison, and Philippa Levine. The Oxford handbook of the history of eugenics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Carlson, E. A. (2001). The unfit: A history of a bad idea. Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

Chiras, D. D. (2005). Human biology. Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Darwin, Charles (1859). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. 1st ed. London: John Murray.

Dawkins, R. (2004). The ancestor’s tale: A pilgrimage to the dawn of evolution. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Entine, Jon. Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People. New York: Grand Central Pub., 2007.

Entine, Jon. Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk about It. New York: PublicAffairs, 2000.

Galton, F. (1909). Essays in eugenics. London: Eugenics Education Society.

Herrnstein, Richard J., and Charles A. Murray. The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. New York: Free, 1994.

Lieberman, B. D. (2006). Terrible fate: Ethnic cleansing in the making of modern Europe. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.

Mann, M. (2005). The dark side of democracy: Explaining ethnic cleansing. New York: Cambridge University Press.

McWhorter, Ladelle. Racism and sexual oppression in Anglo-America a genealogy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

Nosil, P. (2012). Ecological speciation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sadava, D. E. (2013). Life: The science of biology. New York: W.H. Freeman.

Santos, Filipe Duarte, 2012. Humans on Earth: From Origins to Possible Futures.  New York: Springer.

Sherratt, Thomas N., and David M. Wilkinson. Big questions in ecology and evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Stoskopf, Alan, 2002. Race and membership in American history: The eugenics movement. Brookline, Mass: Facing History and Ourselves National Foundation.

Weikart, R. (2004). From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary ethics, eugenics, and racism in Germany. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


[1] It is worth pointing out that the vast majority of eugenicists are not professional biologists. As such, eugenicists lack the scientific credentials to understand, much less credibly dispute the findings and opinions of expert geneticists.

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