Race is a biological fiction and a powerful reality

In his 1940 essay “Dusk of Dawn,” the renowned scholar WEB Du Bois recalled his appointment early in his career some 44 years earlier as a temporary lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania – a time he considered with a clarifying vision coincidentally he described America’s “racial problem”. Back in the early 20th century, Du Bois believed that the main obstacle to racial enlightenment was “stupidity” – and the cure was simple: “knowledge based on scientific inquiry”.

But where the youthful Du Bois believed in the power of science to overcome ignorance, the elder Du Bois admitted that belief was waning: “I took it for granted that the world should want to know the truth, and if the truth was even sought approximate accuracy and meticulous dedication, the world would happily support this effort,” he wrote. “Of course, that was just a young man’s idealism, not at all wrong, but never universally true either.”

It still isn’t. For example, we’ve known for decades that the bigoted panaceas of certain scientists, consumed by the belief that “race” has some genesis in our cells, were wrong — dead wrong. Over time, the human species is simply too young for significant racial differences to have evolved. “We all evolved over the last 100,000 years from the same small number of tribes that migrated out of Africa and colonized the world,” J. Craig Venter, then head of Celera Genomics Corporation in Rockville, Maryland, confirmed to The New York Times more than 20 years ago.

The American Anthropological Association had stated as much two years earlier in its 1998 statement on race: “The ‘racial’ worldview was invented to assign some groups a permanent low status while others were granted access to privilege, power, and wealth,” wrote the organization. “The tragedy in the United States was that the policies and practices that flowed from this worldview did all too well to create unequal populations among Europeans, Native Americans, and peoples of African descent. Given what we know about the ability of ordinary people to achieve and function in any culture, we conclude that today’s inequalities between so-called “racial” groups are not consequences of their biological heritage, but products of historical and contemporary social, economic, , educational and political circumstances.”

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