Can races be scientifically well defined?
The untenable theories of "races"
"We cannot take in all the immigrants who come, we have to decide whether our ethnicity, our white race, our society should continue or be erased." Attilio Fontana, politician of the Italian Lega Nord, uttered this sentence in the election campaign for the regional presidency for Lombardy in January 2018. Apart from the obvious contempt in this statement, the use of the expression "white race" is particularly noteworthy.
Fontana uses a concept here that has been obsolete in biology for decades. As a scientific term, the term "race" in relation to humans first appeared in 1749 in a work by the French biologist Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon. He used it to divide humanity into different groups.
His example was followed by others, generally Europeans, who, when classifying people into races - unsurprisingly - found each time that their own, the "white race", was superior to all others. The use of the term race was almost never about a pure description, but above all about a ranking, as this quote from Immanuel Kant (1775) makes clear: "In the hot countries people mature earlier in all respects, but does not reach the perfection of the temperate zones. Mankind is at its greatest perfection in the 'race' of the whites. The yellow Indians have less talent. The negroes are deeper, and some of the American peoples are deepest. "
It was obvious to the biologists of the 18th and 19th centuries that there were "better" and "worse" races, and just as obviously the Europeans were above all others. The color of the skin and other purely physical characteristics were used as the outward mark of the breed. Kant himself later distanced himself at least partially from his statements about the division of people. But the new "race theory" advanced. More and more human races were identified by the biologists, the classification became more and more fine.
Contradiction from genetics
In Meyers Konversations-Lexikon from 1908 one can read detailed descriptions under the heading "Overview of the human races and nationalities". The "Western Europeans or Cevennes race" are characterized as follows: "Average height (1.63-1.64 meters). Skin color white. Head shape round. Hair light brown or black, eyes light or dark brown. Face rounded." A distinction must be made between the "Eastern Europeans: skin color rosy white. Head shape moderately round. Hair taut, blond, yellow or flax-colored. Eyes blue or gray. Nose often erect. Purest representatives: the Belarusians." For Europe, the lexicon still knows the races of the "Northern Europeans" and the "Adriatic" and lists 29 human races worldwide with various subgroups.
In the following decades (and above all through the inhuman excesses that grew out of the racial theories of National Socialism), however, criticism of the term "race" slowly arose. The British-American ethnologist Ashley Montagu published his work "Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race" in 1942 and argued that there was no genetic basis for the concept of race.
In 1950, a Unesco declaration on the issue of race followed, in which a committee of anthropologists and sociologists stated that there was no evidence of any differences in intelligence, character or other characteristics among the various groups of people, and neither was there any evidence that "racial intermingling" would have any negative effects.
In the meantime, it has long been clear in biology that all the external differences such as skin or hair colors are only adaptations to different climatic and nutritional conditions in different places on earth, but do not represent any kind of fundamental genetic separation between groups of people. Within specific human population groups - for example the inhabitants of a country - the genetic variation is many times greater than when comparing people who are classified into different "races" according to their skin color.
In biology today, the word "race" is generally only used to classify domestic and farm animals. Modern genetics has shown that the term "human race" has no scientific basis. What happened to this scientific error is exactly what should ideally happen to all errors of this kind: it was recognized and corrected.
And those who still speak of "human races" today, of "pure blood" that must be protected, or who warn against the "mixing of races" are not only demonstrating absolute ignorance of the current state of biology. Anyone who makes use of these concepts shows above all what has always been behind the race theory: contempt for human beings and a hardly veiled racism. And Attilio Fontana? He won the election for regional president by 20 percent. (Florian Freistetter, 7/8/2018)
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