The Myth of Race

I continue to be saddened at the extinct to which the construct of race has contributed to a culture of racism that is systemic to our American society today. As part of my UCC SC2ER facilitator training this week I’ve had some heady assignments that I am still processing.

One assignment was to watch episode 1 of the PBS series, Race – The power of an illusion (Adelman, 2003). Episode 1 discusses the fallacy of race from the perspective of biology and genetics. Describing the development of the construct of race through the lens of science and history as the overarching narrative, the video followed a group of high school students conducting tests with their own DNA. The students were surprised to discover that they were more likely to more genetically similar to those outside our race-culture construct then those within their race-culture construct. The same would hold true for you and I.

Pantone. (2020). [Photograph of Patone Skintone™ color cards for 110 skin shades]. Retrieved March 10, 2020 from https://www.pantone.com/skintone-guide
SkinTone Color Cards (Pantone, 2020)

Any variations in skin color is due to the melanin we all possess and that has adapted over time based upon geography. This does not equate to a biological basis for race.

Just as there is no single gene to control for athleticism, musicality, or intelligence, there is no single gene that controls for race. Evolutionary biologist Joseph Graves describes it best. If we were to travel from the tropics to Norway we would see a gradual change in skin color, “… at no point along that trip would we be able to say, ‘Oh, this is the place in which we go from the dark race to the light race’” (in Adelman, 2003, DVD Scene 8). This is punctuated by our common ancestral African roots from which all humanity as descended.

Logically this makes sense, culturally it is hard to grapple with, and scientifically, it is yet to be settled how best to divorce variations in skin color as a biological basis for the construct of race (Yudell, Desalle, & Tishkoff, 2016). Race, as we know it, is a myth rooted in power structures, not biology.

Historically, this biological myth of race has led to some of the darkest times in American history, American present, and I predict, American future, of which I will talk about in my next entry. But as Hammond observes, ““Race is a human invention. … We made it, we can unmake it” (in Adelman, 2003, DVD Scene 17).

References

Adelman, L. (Producer). (2003). Race – The power of an illusion (Episode 1) [DVD Documentary]. California Newsreel. https://www.racepowerofanillusion.org/

Pantone. (2020). [Photograph of Pantone Skintone™ color cards for 110 skin shades]. Retrieved March 10, 2020 from https://www.pantone.com/skintone-guide

Yudell, M., Roberts, D., Desalle, R., & Tishkoff, S. (2016). Science and society: Taking race out of human genetics. Science, 351(6273), 564-565.