Racialism is a phenomenon that claims that people from different “so-called” races genetically inherit certain characteristics that are not found in other races. However, it is quite hard to clinically prove that the chromosomal difference between two human beings belonging to two different races is more pronounced than that of two humans from the same race. Moreover, the biological community does not agree on human beings from different ethnicities being physically classified as races. Kwame Appiah suggests that it is biologically quite difficult to arrive at a conclusion that people from different ethnicities have different mental abilities, thereby voiding misconceptions such as intellectual and moral racial superiority.
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Morphological characteristics such as skin color do not play a role in determining an individual’s biological traits. Therefore, it would impossible to gauge a person’s characteristics merely based on his/her race. One has to understand that differences in culture, language, and general attitude are purely due to social factors and has nothing to do with racial inheritance. The theory of evolution would suggest that all the morphologically different people around the world actually descended from one race.
As time passed by, people moved from one place to another and evolved accordingly to survive under different environments. It would be impossible to claim that a new species originated in any part of the world since all of us have some degree of genetic linkage left in us. Appiah compares classifying human beings based on morphological differences to classifying books in a library based on their size since such a classification is of very little significance.
It is also quite similar to early scientists perceiving characteristics of substances based on taste and smell. Physicist Heisenberg believed that the characteristics of a substance can be determined only by understanding a simpler entity (atom) that does not possess its properties.
As science progressed, scientists began to realize that a substance’s behavior is based on its atomic properties rather than physical attributes. Similarly, the characteristics of human organisms cannot be determined based on physical properties such as color and hair texture, thereby shattering nineteenth-century racialist beliefs. The genes and DNA structure of a human being actually determine an individual’s characteristics. Although there is enough scientific evidence to prove that racialism is not a scientific concept, Appiah believes that racists who would still “want” to believe in it will find new ways to stigmatize certain races.
Appiah also observes the research work of Du Bois who initially favored racialist theory and then changed his perspective in his later works after 1911, suggesting that racialism was merely a social idea rather than scientific. In his second biography, Bois explicitly states that the powers that try to control other people for economic, political, and social reasons use race as a weapon to control and enslave people. He empathizes with the African people who have been subjected to the highest degree of racism and made to feel like lesser beings.
He considers the stigma as a badge of insult, which is more painful than the insult itself. He states that most people belonging to the non-white population could relate to this. This phenomenon is referred to as Pan-Africanism which binds together non-white people such as African-Americans and European Africans and gives them a feeling of oneness on the basis of common suffering.
Appiah believes the “badge of insult” described by Bois is carried on to future generations even today in subtler ways, thereby leading to discrimination and denial of equal opportunities. Similarly, the Jewish community suffered such atrocities and brought together Jewish people from all over the world. Zionism is a movement that aims to form a separate state for Jewish people. Although it has brought about a lot of suffering, it is quite similar to Pan-Africanism as a concept. It strives to unite people of a particular group that had suffered racial discrimination in the past. However, such efforts that strive to unite people for a common cause eventually lead to the formation of groups, thereby perpetuating the existence of races.
I am of Hispanic ethnicity and “race” is quite a common term used in my daily environment. However, I try not to use the word “race” often in my conversations due to its social implications. I do not believe in a race is a biological factor that differentiates the abilities of a person and I consider all people as equals. On the other hand, I feel that race is nowadays being used as a manipulative tool to create a bias and gain support from a specific group of people.
People will have to start respecting cultural differences and exercise tolerance, so as to ensure that racial difference does not pave the way for misunderstanding. I seriously would not mind marrying a person belonging to another race, since I believe love, mutual respect, and trust are deeper human emotions transcending artificial human differences such as race. As long as my partner understands and respects my values, I do not see any reason for misunderstanding or discontent in our relationship. I would be proud to call myself a member of the human race, rather than restricting my identity to a particular race.
Appiah, Kwame. “Exploring Diversity and Postmodernity.” American Intellectual Tradition : A Sourcebook : 1865 to the Present.