We are all homo sapiens. Our physical differences are genetic mutations.
With the recent rise in white supremacy, antisemitism, hate crime, and hate speech, scientists have been working overtime to help us understand what race is and what it is not. In December 2022, the National Institutes of Health National Human Genome Research Institute published this definition of race: “Race is a political and social construct that is fluid. Racial categorization can change over time, place, and context. Race has been used historically to establish a social hierarchy, whereby individuals are treated differently resulting racism.” Those of us with varied colors of skin, know this to be true.
It goes on to say, “Genomic scientists are currently investigating the relationship between self-identified race and genetic ancestry. There is more genetic variation within self-identified racial groups than between them.”
Racists have turned to science to create false support of the notion of a biological construct of race that does not exist. We are all homo sapiens. Our differences are genetic mutations.
American social anthropologist Professor Audrey Smedley said, “Race is a culturally systematic definition a way of looking at perceiving and interpreting reality.”
We are all X-Men without the powers of Wolverine, Charles Xavier, Magneto, Raven, et al.
What have we learned thus far? Race is not scientific. It’s created by human beings. Our differences in hair, eye and skin color are genetic mutations. For example, humans with blue eyes are a result of a genetic mutation that occurred around 10,000 years ago which led to the repression of melanin, according to the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Copenhagen.
I have blue eyes because of a giant DNA switch affecting the OCA2 gene. Does that mean I’m special? No, just different. I would imagine that 10,000 years ago when the first blue-eyed baby was born to our common ancestor, it was deemed either evil or special depending on what was happening in the world at the time. Logic dictates that everything was cause and effect back then. Blue-eyed baby is born, a family member is killed by a bear. Evil. Blue-eyed baby is born, hunters return with food for the winter. Special. Whichever happened, those of us with blue eyes remain mutants.
Only 8-10% of humans have blue eyes says Professor Hans Elberg from the University of Copenhagen. “They (blue-eyed people) have all inherited the same switch at exactly the same spot in their DNA. Nature is constantly shuffling the human genome, creating a genetic cocktail of human chromosomes, and trying out different changes as it does so.”
Skin color. Did you know we all started out with basically the same skin color? Evidently, we were covered with hair so no one could tell the difference in skin color. The Smithsonian Magazine published an article by Madison, Wisconsin, based science/ natural history writer Jason Daley in 2017, covering a large-scale study of skin pigmentation which demonstrates that humans with both light and dark skin pigmentation have coexisted for hundreds of thousands of years. Lead researcher Sarah Tishkoff at the University of Pennsylvania and her postdoctoral fellow Nicholas Crawford measured the skin pigmentation of over 2,000 genetically and ethnically diverse people across Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Botswana. They were able to identify eight key areas in the DNA associated with skin pigmentation.
What does all this mean? The study shows that societal constructs of race are not useful when it comes to genetics. “One of the traits that most people would associate with race— skin color—is a terrible classifier” according to Tishkoff. She says there is variation even within dark skin. “The study really discredits the idea of a biological construct of race. There are no discrete boundaries between groups that are consistent with biological markers … Mutations influencing both light and dark skin have continued to evolve in humans, even within the past few thousand years.”
In 2022, American actress and producer Whoopi Goldberg was suspended from her talk show hosting job at ABC for misspeaking about race and the Holocaust. Jill Savitt, President and CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, said while Jews are not a race, Nazis made Judaism a race in their effort to create a racial hierarchy that “borrowed this, it should be said, from the American conversation about racial superiority and eugenics.”
Goldberg is not the only person to offend inadvertently. Our differences are complex and as humans we have feared and hated the ‘other’ throughout our history on this earth. Savitt made another statement regarding Goldberg’s gaffe, which I believe everyone should take note. “I think people are not as quick to give anybody the benefit of the doubt these days, which is a shame because in order to work through painful, complicated, difficult issues, especially painful histories, we could give each other a little more grace because people are going to make mistakes or they’re going to say things that offend.”
Here we are in 2023, not much different from our early ancestors, still fearing and fighting those humans different from us. We are all homo sapiens. Our physical differences are genetic mutations. Like our Marvel Comic friends, those who are most different are vilified. Unlike our Marvel Comic friends, most of us don’t have superhuman powers. Or do we?
Here are a few superhuman beings who have displayed a different type of power to defend the rights of ‘others’—Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Cesar Chavez, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, John Lewis, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Mahatma Gandhi, David Ben- Gurion, Anne Frank, Winston Churchill and many more.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion is about ensuring that we all have an equal shot at life. DEI exists because we, as human beings, have devised a social construct to group people. Because we needed to construct a hierarchal human-grouping system, generating racial classification to identify, distinguish and marginalize some groups across nations, regions, and the world. Race divides human populations into groups. Isn’t it time we stopped?