“Losing the race” (Biological claims of race)

ZEBRAThe idea that we are all just one race, human, isn’t just a feel-good platitude or call for unity. It’s science.

Attempts to establish racial superiority using phrenology and craniology permeated the 19th and 20th Centuries and was used to justify slavery, Nazi ideology, and other atrocities. It hasn’t been limited to the light-skinned either, as Melanin Theory posits that black is the ideal color, with lesser pigments being emblematic of devolved races.

Craniology, the idea that the size and shape of the skull reveals a person’s intelligence and morality, was used by racists to argue that brain size separates superior races from inferior ones. This logic would mandate that elephants and blue whales be Earth’s most intelligent creatures, and would have meant Neanderthals would have never been supplanted by homo sapiens.

Charles Darwin’s works, On the Origin of Species and Descent of Man, shot holes in these bigoted beliefs. He showed that humans were one species without clear biological delineations amongst ourselves. Despite Darwin’s’ refutation, some twisted his ideas to argue that evolution favored superior races. The term “Survival of the Fittest,” often misattributed to Darwin, came from Herbert Spencer, who believed man could continue evolving until he reached an ideal state, with evolution extending to social arenas as well. Some racists have expanded this idea by insisting those who share their skin color are part of this push to racial superiority through evolution.

These ideas have been embraced by members of Appleby Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas, who argue blacks are under the Curse of Ham. At the other end of the spectrum (or the same end, depending on how one looks at it), are a Black Hebrew offshoot, the Nation of Yahweh, whose members plotted to murder demonic whites on orders from God.

But members of Appleby Baptist and the Nation of Yahweh are indistinguishable biologically. Races are social constructions based on physical traits, primarily skin color, and to a lesser extent, hair and facial features. But this is no more legitimate than separating people by intelligence, height, or weight. There are some genetic differences in all of us, of course, but this is not race. In fact, the most genetically diverse peoples on Earth are all dark-skinned Africans.

One of the more amusing results of our DNA similarities came when racist Craig Cobb learned on a talk show that his ancestry was 14 percent sub-Saharan African.

Anthropologists theorize that Cobb owes his whiteness to the northerly migration of black-skinned populations. During and after this move, they ate more grains and fewer animals, meaning less Vitamin D in the diet. And while dark skin was a plus for protecting against UV radiation, it was a detriment farther north where the inability to absorb enough Vitamin D from the sun compounded the lack of it in the diet. This led to Ricketts. By contrast, being able to get Vitamin D from the sun provided an evolutionary advantage, so lighter skins were developed. These types of adaptations have occurred throughout history and led to what is called race.

That’s why scientists working on the Human Genome Project came up empty when examining the genome for DNA evidence of race. It’s similar to the way we have the same bones, muscles, tendons, and organs.

That’s because homo sapiens have been around for too short a time, and their migration has been too wide and frequent, for them to be divided into biologically distinctive groups. They originated in Africa about 150,000 years ago, with about 10,000 of them migrating to Asia, Europe, and Africa. Since then, 7,000 generations have come, a nanosecond by evolutionary standards. This short time, combined with a small founding population and its tiny genetic variation, means humans differ very little from each other despite some outward appearances. Dr. Harold Freeman of Human Genome Project said less than .01 percent of genes are reflected in appearance. Traits used to identify race, such as skin color, eye color, and nose width, are controlled by a tiny number of genes which can change rapidly in response to environmental conditions.

But what about the preponderance of sickle cell anemia among blacks, or hemoglobin disorders that afflict those of Mediterranean ancestry? Or what about the stunning ability of western Kenyans to consistently dominate marathons?

With regard to the illnesses, this is the result of ancestors of these groups developing a resistance to malaria. This was beneficial at first, but disastrous when doubly inherited. In this and similar cases, the high prevalence of distinctive conditions among a population is due to an ancestor bringing a unique mutation into the region.

As to the marathon winners, it’s a combination of genetics, culture, and training. Evolution is driven by random genetic mutation, so isolated populations will drift toward common traits. In the case of western Kenyans, this means longer legs, shorter torsos, and slender limbs, along with a more advantageous body mass index and bone structure. The cultural importance of marathon running in the region and an elevation of 7,000 feet are also factors. Hard work also plays a role.

So there are differences in populations, but this is genetics. The only races are the ones Kenyans are winning.

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