WE ARE CREATING WHAT IT IS TO BE HUMAN
Roughly forty-five years ago science confronted itself with the fact that there is one human race—not a group of separate human races. In mainstream society this conclusion seems never to have been widely known, or was simply ignored. In the last twenty years or more there has developed a haggle of confusion, as the term “race” has been used to refer to differences in ethnicity, religion, nationality, and customs, as well as mistakenly to divide humans on the basis of physical appearance. In 1972 Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin showed that the greatest genetic variations were within so-called “racial” groups, not between them. He asserted there is no genetic evidence to classify humans into “racial” categories (PBS Interview). In discussing Lewontin, Dorothy Roberts, in her book Fatal Invention, states that there is no such thing as a set of genes that “…belongs exclusively to one group and not another.” The notion of different “races” is a social construct—one that appears to have helped lead us into a societal quagmire. Alan Templeton, Ph.D. did DNA research and came up with the same conclusion. Robert W. Sussman Ph.D. Anthropology, stated that the “folk concept” of race in America “…is so strong it is difficult to make people see otherwise.” (EurekAlert: Global Source for Science News, Oct. 7, 1998.)
Back in the 1960’s when I studied anthropology, humans were classified as Mongoliod, Caucasoid, and Negroid. In more recent decades I have been amazed at the added categories of various skin tones and ethnicities—the expelling of peoples formerly under a given group (or mixed) and into groups such as Hispanic, East Indian, Semitic, Arabian. It must have been about eight years ago now that CBC Radio announced that there are no separate “races” of human beings. We all are part of one human race/species. And yet on both CBC Radio and TV ever since then, and media in general, we hear the terms “race, racism, racial.” This seems to be a social denial of genetic reality, of the fact that we all belong to one genetic family. Habit can be hard to break, but in many instances it has been broken: the planets orbit our sun, the father’s sperm determines the sex of the child, not the mother’s egg. Women are humans equal to men; and gender is flexible. It has been shown that all human females came from the same original mother, all men from the same first father. Of course most of us do not want to ignore or be disrespectful of a people’s sociocultural identity, yet we can do this without the notion of “racial” differences.
The danger of maintaining the false idea that genetically there are different groups, is of course that in some people this can lead to a basis of fear, misunderstanding and/or hatred. The idea of “the other” can have a harsh hold in some situations. If we look at resentment, fear and hatred shown by some people today in some countries, there are economic, territorial, and cultural differences that lie behind the fear and hatred. There are Earth changes underneath some of the huge migrations, as well as political strife, economic inequality, war, and rape an murder. These things have nothing to do with genetic variations among humans.
Slavery is another reality which has nothing to do with genetic variations, but with the ability of one group to exploit another group. Historically slavery came out of conquest and had nothing to do with perceived differences. It is a human “owning” another human. In the slave trade of Blacks from Africa the color of the Africans’ skin was used to propagate the myth that somehow these people were less than human, so it was all right to treat them inhumanely and to “own” them. The slave traders made a profit by labeling a group of people in a way that stuck, among some, up to this day. Many people have been killed, buildings burned, people treated like so much dirt, in the aftermath of the slave traders’ myths. Today we have human slavery, human trafficking, child slavery, child and adult sex slavery. The word “slave” comes from the Slavic tribal people captured by Germans and sold to Arabs in the Middle Ages. “Race” seems to have come into prominence with the founding of the United States of America. The privileged males of European ancestry doing this work needed to promote their value of equality, but not have it impinge on the economic system which was dependent upon slavery. To justify slavery they labeled the Black slaves as inferior; women of course were also considered inferior, yet in a different category.
Another instance of the false concept of “race” being used to harm people is that of the US government’s theft of land from indigenous populations. Also the same applies to the acquisition of Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. The idea of “race” was attached to the superiority and even responsibility for actions of the dominant group. Mexicans were classified as “white” (Caucasian?) until in 1930 lobbyists were able to have them classified separately so as to justify discrimination against them.
Our bodies are the same colors, except for the less than 1.6 percent which makes up the epidermis, where skin-color develops. When we look at discrimination, violence against a group of people, distribution of wealth and social services–if we leave the idea of separate “races” out of the matter, society may more quickly get to the enormous challenges of creating equality. We live in societies rife with discrimination, oppression, hatred, fear, violence, and unrepentant wrongdoing. All people in a democracy must have equal opportunity—for education, housing, healthcare, a safe home in which to grow up, clean water, safety, and the right to justice, and to protest unjust actions against them. So long as ideas of inherent differences among groups persist it will be very hard to attain such equality.
What would be a viable pathway to making constructive change here? It would seem that before society tackles the injustices, inequality, the fear and hatred, it could try eliminating the words denoting different “races.” This might over time change consciousness around this misconception. Some years ago I eliminated the “race” words from my vocabulary except when talking about the use of such words. I instead use terms such as “xenophobia, bigotry, discrimination, intolerance,” or “hatred.” If the proper terminology were to be emphasized, e.g. terms of ethnicity, nationality, faith, culture, religion, etc. then these attitudes can be examined at a level conducive to more profound results. If humanity is to move toward a sense of our common human-ness, we need to stop using the “race” nomenclature. There could be a shift in the perception and understanding of those once identified as biologically different. Is that not the crux of the matter? If we view people with certain differences, or perceived differences, as the other, that can set up a possibility for envy, threat, fear, dislike, disrespect, even conflict that leads to war. We live in a time when viewing our human group as a unity–a great family that must unite to face global challenges–is of utmost importance.
If they are not directly taught, hatred and fear are indirectly taught by the behaviors of those who are role models. If we do not have hatred and fear of other people, then we tend to focus on the commonalities of us all as human, with many more things shared than not. When our hearts open to another’s reality, then what can result is compassion. Even studies of human behavior (and what does that tell us, that it needs to be proven?!) show that really what brings happiness to us humans is to give to others. We are now challenged to define, in this moment, what it is to be human; let us not ignore this great opportunity.
What is it to be human? We are one species, one family faced with the challenge and opportunity to do the best we can for the present and future of this living planet Gaia and all that makes up Her realm. It is up to us to create a living, changing consciousness of what is human-ness, and how that will set our path as a species. We can define being human as realizing the interbeing of all; in this we cherish and marvel at ALL and keep our hearts in line with what it means to be part of such a miracle, for the brief moment that we share here, interwoven.