"Race" and "racism" paradoxically are different things. One does not exist, at least in the scientific sense. It is a chimera, a phantom. The other is a powerful reality, an invention that is absurd, illogical, irrational, and nonsensical. One is a figment of the collective imagination. The other manifests itself in a destructively powerful way. Yet together the two are interdependent, feeding upon each other.
Yes, the twin notions of race and racism combine to make a powerful concoction, poisoning human relations, maiming, killing, and destroying people everywhere in both hidden and open ways. Sometimes people appear to understand both the absurdity and the power of the twin notions as expressed in the following trite phrases: "Our differences are only skin deep" and "we all belong to the human race".
These two phrases are often invoked across the "colour bar", either to promote racial harmony or to expose the fallacy of racial exclusiveness. The truth in these two observations is beyond contest. Yet the history of the human race suggests that people use these terms without really meaning the idea behind them. So, then, what is "race" and what is "racism"?
"Race" is defined as a grouping of human population characterised by socially selected physical traits. What this definition points to is that "race" is a social construct. In other words, race is neither natural nor biological. Instead the concept was artificially and arbitrarily created by human beings. It also means that "race" is not genetically predetermined or divinely created. In other words, what constitutes race is like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.
How can that be, you wonder. Your eyes do not deceive you. There are indeed physical differences among the human populations we call racial groups--"black", "white", "yellow", etc. A Chinese man is obviously as different from a Portuguese man as an Englishman is from a Nigerian Ibo man. However, what our eyes see as physical differences are only superficial traits, differences brought about by geographic and climatic adaptations.
An Ibo man is darker than an English man simply because he lives in the tropics and is closer to the equator, with plenty of sunshine. His darker pigmentation is the result of the presence of high levels of melanin, a molecule that protects his skin against the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Without melanin acting as a shield from the sun, the Ibo man would burn or contract skin cancer.
The Englishman's lighter complexion, in contrast, signifies the presence of vitamin D, an organic chemical that helps him absorb the little sunshine available to him in the colder environment. This also helps him to absorb calcium, a chemical element needed for strong bones and to prevent rickets or softening of the bones.
Such adaptation to geographic and climatic conditions is a survival mechanism for everyone. Long periods of adaptation to geographic and climatic conditions ensure the interaction between genes and the environment.
In other words, mutation took place in the "original" Englishman and "original" Ibo man in their efforts to survive in the polar and tropical regions respectively. In time, they passed on these survival genes to their offspring. Thus, the Englishman and his offspring became paler in their complexions, while the Ibo man and his descendants became darker. This explains why the farther people are from the equator toward the North Pole, the lighter their skin complexions. Skin colour, from say Sudan to Iceland, is thus a continuum from dark to pale, with no clinical way to pinpoint where the "black" race ends and where the "white" race begins.
But that does not explain why the Ibo man became a member of the so-called Negroid or "black" race and the English man became a member of the so-called Caucasoid or "white" race. The Ibo man did not call himself a "black" man until somebody defined him so. …