“Return of the Race Myth”

Osagie K. Obasogie’s opinion piece “Return of the Race Myth” in the 4 July issue of New Scientist opens with:-

“As the 20th-century world recoiled from the horrors of Nazi Germany and the eugenics movement, we learned how economic , political and social circumstances produced the racial differences that science had once claimed to be “natural”. Race came to be recognised as a social construct – an aspect of social choices rather than a reflection of biological differences between racial groups.”

It is true that the Jews, the group that was most hated by the Nazis, were defined by their religion and the social customs that sprang from it. Often there was no physical difference between the Jewish communities and their Christian neighbours so it is reasonable to say that the Jew-Gentile divide was a social construct rather than due to any innate differences between the two communities.

That being said, it seems to me that Professor Obasogie is conflating two concepts in the rest of the article (most of it refers to the black-white divide) – race itself and the consequences of different races living in racist societies. For example, being ethnically African, Asian or European is biological but apartheid was a social construct that granted or denied opportunities based on ethnicity. He goes on to say that since the Human Genome Project has discovered that “all humans are more than 99 per cent alike” the final nail should have been put into the coffin of the concept of racial differences.

Frankly I do not see why he should think that; 99% (or for that matter 99.9% or 99.99%) is not 100% so there are slight biological differences between races. The one that everybody notices – the paler skin of Europeans and some northern Asians – is a real biological adaptation to low ultra violet levels but is contolled by a tiny number of genes. Please note that I am not claiming that any group is superior to any other – just slightly different. Racists used to claim that whites were more intelligent than other races but a little thought shows that this could never have been the case. The pressures on pre-civilization humans would have been very similar the world over so no region would have favoured high intelligence more than any other.

The notion that black Africans wre less intelligent than white Europeans was a social construct. Blacks in many societies were denied education so they knew less so would be less able to hold up their end of a conversation on a topic of interest to whites so would seem less intelligent. This was then used as justification for not educating them …

Spot the circular argument. Indeed, once the socially constructed constraints have been removed, blacks can be seen to be just as capable as whites of being teachers, doctors, military commanders or President of the United States.

I do wonder at what point Obasogie does believe that genetic difference do reflect genuine biological differences. Chimps and humans are 98 percent alike but I presume he does not believe the differences between us and our hairy cousins to be mere social constructs. I can only assume that he – and other constuctionists – go down the route of pretending that there are no differences between racial groups is through fear that difference will be equated with superiority/inferiority. In the 1950s, when blacks were still oppressed just about everywhere constructionism was an understandable tactic to undermine racism but in the twenty-first century, when racism is shown to lack any sort of evidence base, it is an unnecessary intellectual imposture.


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3 Responses to ““Return of the Race Myth””

  1. Akheloios Says:

    The categorisation of Race due to skin colour is inherently flawed, as it is a completely arbitriary division.

    You might as well lump everyone west of the Urals who has oily ear wax together and everyone to the east who hasn’t. Or divide the Turks, Africans and Indians from the rest of the world because of the trait for Sickle-Cell

    Skin-tone is not a good way to divide populations as there is a lot more going on both genetically and socially.

  2. jaycueaitch Says:

    I didn’t say that skin tone was the only difference. Merely that it is one of the more noticable differences

  3. Michael K Gray Says:

    Skin colour is NOT an arbitrary division.
    I agree with many ethnologists and evolutionary biologists, as well as anecdotal experiences plus common sense, that skin colour is essentially a sexually selected trait.
    If one looks at the evidence, as has say Jared Diamond, the solar resilience theory would insist that the (now extinct) Tasmanian Aboriginals who had been living in frigid latitudes for many tens of millennia, of would be whiter than white, yet say that the red-headed Arabs in northern Africa, who have been there since time immemorial should be mistaken for white Europeans is a complete objection to the theory in just these two examples, out of many.

    For the Tasmanian Aborigines were especially noted for their ‘blacker than charcoal’ skin, and the Saharan Arabs are noted for their relatively fair skin and reddish hair.

    This proves that climate has NOTHING whatsoever to do with skin colour.
    The native’s oft quoted expression of sexual attraction for partners of the same skin tone says it all.

    If there is no better definition of “Race”, than visual/vomeronasal sexual preference, than I should like to know what it is!

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