EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT RACE
Our eyes tell us that people
look different. No one has trouble distinguishing a Czech from a Chinese, but
what do those differences mean? Are they biological? Has race always been with
us? How does race affect people today? There’s less – and more – to race than
meets the eye:
- Race is a modern idea.
Ancient societies, like the Greeks, did not divide people according to physical
distinctions, but according to religion, status, class, even language. The
English language didn’t even have the word ‘race’ until it turns up in 1508
in a poem by William Dunbar referring to a line of kings.
- Race has no genetic
basis. Not one characteristic, trait or even gene distinguishes all the
members of one so-called race from all the members of another so-called race.
- Human subspecies
don’t exist. Unlike many animals, modern humans simply haven’t been around
long enough or isolated enough to evolve into separate subspecies or races.
Despite surface appearances, we are one of the most similar of all species.
- Skin color really
is only skin deep. Most traits are inherited independently from one another.
The genes influencing skin color have nothing to do with the genes influencing
hair form, eye shape, blood type, musical talent, athletic ability or forms
of intelligence. Knowing someone’s skin color doesn’t necessarily tell you
anything else about him or her.
- Most variation is
within, not between, "races." Of the small amount of total human
variation, 85% exists within any local population, be they Italians, Kurds,
Koreans or Cherokees. About 94% can be found within any continent. That means
two random Koreans may be as genetically different as a Korean and an Italian.
- Slavery predates
race. Throughout much of human history, societies have enslaved others,
often as a result of conquest or war, even debt, but not because of physical
characteristics or a belief in natural inferiority. Due to a unique set of
historical circumstances, ours was the first slave system where all the slaves
shared similar physical characteristics.
- Race and freedom evolved
together. The U.S. was founded on the radical new principle that "All
men are created equal." But our early economy was based largely on slavery.
How could this anomaly be rationalized? The new idea of race helped explain
why some people could be denied the rights and freedoms that others took for
- Race justified social
inequalities as natural. As the race idea evolved, white superiority became
"common sense" in America. It justified not only slavery but also
the extermination of Indians, exclusion of Asian immigrants, and the taking
of Mexican lands by a nation that professed a belief in democracy. Racial
practices were institutionalized within American government, laws, and society.
- Race isn’t biological,
but racism is still real. Race is a powerful social idea that gives people
different access to opportunities and resources. Our government and social
institutions have created advantages that disproportionately channel wealth,
power, and resources to white people. This affects everyone, whether we are
aware of it or not.
- Colorblindness will
not end racism. Pretending race doesn’t exist is not the same as creating
equality. Race is more than stereotypes and individual prejudice. To combat
racism, we need to identify and remedy social policies and institutional practices
that advantage some groups at the expense of others.
Copyright (c) California
RACE - The Power of an Illusion
A three-part documentary series from California Newsreel
For more information or video purchase: www.newsreel.org
Visit the companion web site at http://www.PBS.org/Race