In light of recent discussions on race, I came across a reading passage that I thought worthy of quoting. You see, I’ve been reading What Evolution Is lately, written by one of the great biologists of the 20th Century, Ernst Mayr. It truly is as clear and detailed an explanation of the modern understanding of evolution as you will find anywhere. But I digress – the passage that caught my attention was on page 262 in chapter 11 (“How did mankind evolve?”) – quoted below the fold:
Are There Human Races?
When one compares an Inuit with an African Bushman, or a Nilotic Negro, an Australian aborigine, a Chinese, or a blond, blue-eyed northern European, one cannot escape recognizing the so-called racial differences. But does this not conflict with our fervent belief in human equality? No, it does not, provided we define both equality and race properly.
Equality is civil equality. It means equality before the law and it means equal opportunity. But it does not mean total identity, because we now know that one of the 6 billion human individuals is genetically unique. Not every human has the mathematical ability of an Einstein or the speed of an Olympic sprinter, nor the imagination of a good novelist or the aesthetic sense of an outstanding painter. Every parent knows that each of his or her children is uniquely different. The time has come that we must honestly face and admit these differences. What is important is to realize that these differences also exist within all of the human races.
The major reason for the existence of a race problem is that so many people have a faulty understanding of race. These people are typologists, and for them every member of a race has all the actual and imaginary characteristics of that race. To translate this bias int an absurd example, they would assume that every African-American can run the 100-meter dash faster than any European-American. Yet, if in a racially mixed class in a school of students were seated according to their performance in various mental, physical, manual, and artistic challenges, each ranking would be different and each “race” would be distributed through a greater part of the ranking. In other words, by rejecting the typological approach, which considers the members of each race as a type, and replacing it with the populational approach in which each individual is considered on the basis of his or her particular abilities, a truer understanding of reality can be achieved that avoids any typological ranking and any discrimination based on such a ranking.
Mayr’s passage is right on, no? I think so, and reinforces the point that race does not automatically indicate superiority or inferiority by any metric that one would care about in structuring a society. Individuals within each race, or population, vary widely and unpredictably, necessitating that we consider each person by looking beyond their race, ethnicity, or skin color.
Funnily enough, our trollish commenter accused the those with that point of view as being “flat-earthers.” Hardly. However, his is almost as out-dated as the flat-earth worldview.