Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

A New Perspective on Race

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

A New Perspective on Race

Article excerpt

Race: The Reality of Human Differences

Vincent Sarich and Frank Miele

Wcstview Press, 2004

A New Perspective on Race

Perhaps those who live in the Western world are becoming tired of hearing about race. In the United States, Canada and Western Europe, sociologists, anthropologists, and television commentators have for several decades repeatedly asserted that race is biologically meaningless, and that the physical differences between Danes and Pygmies are insignificant evolutionary accidents. Race, they say, is an artificial concept invented by whites only a few hundred years ago to justify colonization and slavery. Yet legislation is passed based on the existence of races, and the billions who inhabit Asia, Africa and Central and Southern America seldom show any sign of believing that race is not a reality.

Those who seek to deny the biological reality of race maintain that race is nothing more than a cultural invention, and seem to be motivated primarily by a belief that the concept is responsible for "social injustice." However, in Race: The Reality of Human Differences authors Vincent Sarich, emeritus professor of anthropology at Berkeley, and Frank Miele, senior editor of Skeptic magazine, produce a powerful argument against this myth, claiming that race is indeed a biological reality, and one of considerable evolutionary and political importance at that.

Historical Attitudes

Race takes aim first at the notion that it was 16th and 17th century Europeans who first noticed race and race differences. As Saarich and Miehle point out, humans appear to share with dogs, baboons, wolves, killer whales and virtually all of the higher animals, including birds, an instinctive ability to distinguish members of their own group from outsiders. Three-year old children sort people by race without being taught to. Every human population that ever had contact with aliens seems to have noticed racial differences, and treated those who were different from them with caution. Similarly, they point out, slavery was around long before Europeans began to explore the wide world beyond Europe.

Egyptian tomb paintings clearly differentiate four racial variants amongst the peoples known to them: Egyptians, Asiatic Semites, Caucasians, and sub-Saharan Africans. Nor are these simple depictions of physical characteristics to which the Egyptians were indifferent. The Twelfth Dynasty Pharaoh Sesostris III (c. 1887-1849 BC) regarded blacks as inferior to Egyptians, and erected a stele at the southern boundary of Lower Egypt which still reads: "No negro shall cross this boundary by water or by land, by ship or with his flocks, save for the purpose of trade or to make purchases in some post."

Similarly, Saarich and Miehle note that the Indo-Aryans who invaded India some three thousand or more years ago were a light-skinned people who looked down upon their dark-skinned subjects, pointing out that ancient Vedic literature records how the Aryans "stormed the ancient cities of the hated broad-nosed Dasas, the dark-skinned worshippers of the phallus." These invaders developed a caste system which was one of the most elaborate anti-miscegenation programs ever put into practice.

Arabs early became involved in extensive slaving missions across the Sahara, and quickly noted racial differences. The Baghdad historian Abu-al-Hasan Masu'di (d. 956) offered a detailed and accurate physical description of enslaved Africans, adding that they were given to merriment. The Arab jurist Sa'id al-Andalusi (1029-1070) likewise noted their physical differences, and observed quite distinctive behavioral attributes, pejoratively declaring that black Africans "lack self-control and steadiness of mind and are overcome by fickleness, foolishness and ignorance." He also wrote critically about the Slavs and Bulgars who lived to the north of the Arabs, describing them quite differently: "Their temperaments are frigid, their humors raw, their bellies gross, their color pale, their hair long and lank. …

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