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  • I think we have a lot of preconceptions

  • about what race really is.

  • What is race has changed dramatically through time.

  • There is no official scientific definition of race.

  • We're all different.

  • I was aware that I wasn't white.

  • The teacher said, "No, no, Tess is something else."

  • And everybody's eyes are on me, and I'm a really shy person.

  • She said, "But what are you, Tessa?"

  • A lot of people imagine that there is some biological tangibility to race,

  • because we use it so much.

  • Race really is a social construct,

  • but just because something is a social construct,

  • that doesn't mean it doesn't have meaning in peoples' lives

  • like money, or the nation state, or democracy,

  • or all these other things that define how we live,

  • but are also constructed.

  • It influences what you're eating,

  • it influences the type of healthcare

  • you have access to,

  • the type of schooling you have access to,

  • how people feel about you.

  • I mean, it's a powerful marker for all of these things

  • that we care about when we're trying to run a society.

  • Race has never been something that I don't have to think about.

  • It's put on to us.

  • When you look at the history and origins of this idea,

  • you start to see it for what it really is,

  • which is the manifestation of power.

  • People imagine that people have always thought about skin colour

  • in this racialised way, and we really haven't.

  • That idea is no more than a few hundred years old.

  • It's not really until the age of colonialism, in the 17th Century,

  • that you start getting the idea that

  • each continent has its own individual kind of people.

  • It arose at a very specific moment in history.

  • In the 17th Century, you're taking long trips by ship,

  • and you're struck by how different people look

  • than you remember them when you got on.

  • So this is the first edition of Systema Naturae,

  • so the Systems of Nature.

  • And for man, Linnaeus distinguishes four varieties,

  • these varieties correspond to the four continents.

  • Where it really changes is in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae.

  • This is the foundation of scientific racism.

  • He brings in moral character,

  • so the American is "red and choleric,"

  • and stands up straight.

  • The European, "white, sanguine, and muscular"

  • The Asian, "sallow, melancholic and stiff"

  • The African, "black, phlegmatic and lazy"

  • So these stereotypes have endured through the ages.

  • If you're going to take a group of people,

  • and you're going to decide that they're not people anymore,

  • then you need something to justify that.

  • You can be defined very differently

  • depending on the country that you're in,

  • or the time that you're in.

  • And that's how these categories have always been used.

  • They are political tools

  • that change depending on their usefulness

  • to whoever is doing the categorisation.

  • We are one of the most homogeneous species on the planet.

  • Humans have far less genetic variation than chimpanzees do.

  • And yet, those chimpanzees look the same to me.

  • There were never any "pure" races,

  • there is no gene that exists in all the members of one race

  • and not another.

  • There is no black gene, there is no white gene.

  • Human groups overlap completely in their genetic variation.

  • In the same way that you're related to your family,

  • you can get a kind of fuzzy genetic similarity.

  • But when you get to the continental level,

  • which is really where we're talking about race,

  • that genetic similarity is so fuzzy,

  • and so statistically weak, as to be almost meaningless.

  • We have this envy of fields where things are hyper-simplistic.

  • We want to be able to look at a genome and say

  • that people are these kind of concrete immutable things,

  • that cannot be changed.

  • Genetics doesn't work that way, it's the product of many genes

  • interacting with each other and their environments.

  • To fully answer the question about what a living thing is

  • it's going to be about much more than genes.

  • If I were to go out on to the street today

  • and find someone of Indian heritage like myself,

  • and randomly then pick someone who is not of Indian heritage,

  • it is perfectly statistically possible

  • for my genome to have more in common with that person

  • who isn't of Indian heritage than that person who is.

  • Even though race itself is a construct,

  • racism is real and we are not in a post-racial society.

  • Race keeps making itself and power keeps making race.

  • Even though we know that race isn't biological,

  • we've been living with this idea of it being real

  • for so long that it means that people who do have a shared racial identity

  • have now cultural similarities

  • which has been born out of hardship,

  • but it's still beautiful and important.

  • The biology of race is not a useful concept.

  • I have a different historical trajectory,

  • I love the African American tradition,

  • but it's not better than anybody else's,

  • it's just the one that I'm a part of.

  • I don't think we're going to stop classifying people,

  • because I think that's how we make sense of the world.

  • I think every generation is going to classify people

  • according to the criteria that are politically important to them.

  • I don't think we need to find new boxes to put people in,

  • I think we now have the opportunity to say,

  • we understand that all of these things are a spectrum,

  • in a way that we hadn't considered before.

  • So instead of finding new ways to categorise people

  • we can just find new ways to exist better together.

  • Race is a story that's handed down and handed around.

  • But we can choose the stories that we tell.

I think we have a lot of preconceptions

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B1 race genetic people construct heritage gene

The myth of race | BBC Ideas

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    Summer posted on 2021/02/25
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