By Jeff Adachi
Race is the world’s most persistent deception.
Throughout history, the color of our skin and general shape of our facial features have been used to justify subjugation and genocide, served as shorthand to sum up strangers, signaled entree for some and exclusion for others.
But the concept fueling all of it — from slavery to bigoted YouTube comments — is 100 percent bunk. While racism is real, race itself is pseudoscience.
Author Robert Wald Sussmann, who wrote the book “The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea,” explores how the faulty concept of race embedded in our culture affects where we live, go to school and work. It influences our choice in friends and our treatment in the healthcare and justice systems.
The idea that variation in our phenotype dictates our intelligence, abilities, personal restraint, law-abidingness, aggression, economic and business practices, families and even brain size has persisted for centuries despite being dead wrong. It has been scientifically proven for decades that there is no inherent relationship between any of these factors and race, just as there is no relationship between them and “nose size, height, blood type or skin color,” Sussman says.
Today, the vast majority of researchers, anthropologists and scientists who have studied human variation agree that biological races simply do not exist, a fact Sussmann says is as clear as the fact that the earth is round and revolves around the sun.
So why does racism persist when there is so much scientific evidence to dismantle the concept at its core?
According to Sussmann, many leaders have deluded the public into believing in racist fallacies and that “basic policies of race and racism have been developed as a way to keep these leaders and their followers in control of the way we live our modern lives.”
History is replete with examples of how racism has been used to control people, such as the Spanish Inquisition, colonialism, religious missionaries, slavery, Nazism, Jim Crow laws and anti-immigration propaganda. So what then accounts for the fact that people look different, have different skin colors, languages, customs and cultures? Were human beings at one time just one race?
In 2005, Chinese geneticist Jin Li and his international team embarked on a study to prove Chinese people evolved independently of all other humans. Instead, Li found that DNA samples collected from more than 165 different ethnic groups in China all had a genetic marker that appeared 80,000 years ago in Africa.
Li concluded that Africans migrated to Asia 100,000 years ago, and his account has been supported by historians who concluded that features of Chinese in the Manchu and Tang Dynasties were distinctly African. Similarly, DNA evidence has also linked the DNA found in Native Americans and Europeans to Africa.
As people migrated throughout the world, intermarriage and isolation shaped their phenotype. Skin color changed depending on the amount of exposure to the sun; thus, dark skin was found in Africa, India and Australia. However, genetic traits of people who lived in the same region were not necessarily similar and do not necessarily correlate with one another.
Sussman cites A.R. Templeton, one of the world’s most recognized and respected geneticists, who said “human evolution and population structure has been and is characterized by many locally differentiated populations coexisting at any given time, but with sufficient contact to make all of humanity a single lineage sharing a common, long-term evolutionary fate.”
What becomes clear from our genetic history is that humans are more similar to one another as a group than we are to one another within a particular racial or genetic category. Race is not part of our biology, even as racism is deeply ingrained in our history.
Today, our ideas about ethnicity are more fluid. Nearly 7 percent of adults in the U.S. identify as mixed race. But racial politics remain stormy: From light skinned black Latina Zoe Saldana playing the title role in the Nina Simone movie to white former NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal insisting she identifies as black to campus confrontations over who has the right to wear dreadlocks.
In the boiling cauldron of bigotry, identity, and controversy, it’s easy to forget there is only the human race.
Jeff Adachi is the San Francisco Public Defender and a founding member of the Bay Area-wide Public Defenders for Racial Justice.