Let’s suppose it does. Then what is a race, exactly? One might say it’s a group of people with common ancestry. Well, so is a family. How common, and how ancient? A snobbish Frenchman once remarked that Americans can amuse themselves endlessly trying to discover who their grandfather is, to which Mark Twain replied that Frenchmen can amuse themselves endlessly trying to discover who their father is. But almost all of us can amuse ourselves endlessly trying to discover who our great-great-great-grandfather was. If ancestry is the race-criterion, then it must be inferred, because it can’t be discovered.

We are then left with the question of which characteristics show race. One might think that all of them do, but some are always favored over others. Skin pigmentation is very popular, but why is that more a racial characteristic than, say, height? The Nazi race-theorists used to like eye color. In the late 19th century, the heyday of race theories, skull shape was all the rage. Dolichocephalic, or long-skulled people, were supposed to be the guardians of civilization, while the degenerate broad-skulled (brachycephalic) types were all radical politics and dirty fingernails.

And how many races are there? Three seems to be the standard answer these days — Negro, Caucasian, Asian — but why only three? What about the Arabs? the Italians? the Irish? Don’t we also have to distinguish the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes? Are there only races or are there sub-races as well? Race-theorists have given numbers ranging from two to two hundred. No logic dictates the choice. One might object that we don’t know exactly how many species there are either, yet we believe in the division. True; but once we get up to the level of families, or phyla, there is universal agreement among scientists. With race there is no agreement even at that level of granularity.

I am reminded of this by Andrew Sullivan’s excellent article on miscegenation. (I realize I am logically bound to deny that there is such a thing as miscegenation. I define it as marriage between people who identify themselves as belonging to different races.) The more intermarriage there is, the fewer obvious physical distinctions to latch onto, the more race-thinking is submerged. Tiger Woods, Sullivan points out, is a terrific antidote to race-thinking, partly because he pretty clearly has no race at all, but mostly because he refuses to identify himself racially or to align himself with any race causes.

Nations, cultures, religions — these things are real. But races are like witches. Witch-thinking disappeared not because cultural exchange programs convinced people that witches were nice people too, even if they did fornicate with Satan once in a while. It disappeared because people finally convinced themselves that witches don’t exist.

(Note on Sources: Mostly stolen from Jacques Barzun’s book Race: A Study in Superstition. He wrote it in 1937 and it is as relevant now as then. I would dig up a copy if I were you.)

Aaron Haspel | Posted July 27, 2002 @ 12:04 PM | General

8 Responses to “Does Race Exist?”

  1. 1 1. jtmckee

    the Brazilians have the better idea on race. They allow you to choose your racial identity.
    Brothers and sisters can have different racial identities.
    Plus I think they have over 500 selections.

  2. 2 2. Dan

    The Chinese and Japanese till this day are races in pure form. Europe, especially eastern Europe and the Iberian Peninsula is very mixed due to invasions by Mongols, Turks, and Arabs. With the lax immigration laws in France, Arabs are intermixing with White French people and changing France’s genetic makeup. The elite scientists, physics professors, and leaders in Europe and Russia, as a whole, are dolichocephalic and many times Nordic in appearance(the Indo-European invasions by:Germanics, Celts, Balts, or Slavs); while the modern day Bulgarian man or Ukrainian is probably mixed with a Gypsy, Mongol, or Arab and most likely has a brachycephalic skull shape. My own research has shown, according to genetics, that many Britons share genetic similarity to White Iberians and Basques.

    To me, continental Europe, other than the Scandinavian countries, will be of different racial background if these lax immigration laws continue. The same is happening in North America(excluding Mexico and Central America) and in Australia as people from the Middle East, North Africa, and south Asia immigrate to these once predominately White regions of the world.

  3. 3 3. v

    Dan you are wrong Japanese and Chinese share almost 99% genetic makeup so looking at pure genetics there isn’t much of a difference.

  4. 4 4. Mogambo

    I love how dim-witted racist try to present china and japan as bastions of “purity” – the orioginal native japanese are ainu (round-eyed, tribal), who were almost wiped out, while the current japanese are korean/chinese in origin….

    trace anyone back far enough and nobody is “pure”…

    you whites are just a weird and impractical mutation and u will die out before the rest of us — FOOLS! bwa-ha-ha-ha-HAAAAAA!!!!!

  5. 5 5. Patricia

    I just don’t understand how different racial backgrounds is seen as something negative if immigration policies do not get stronger. I do think that race exists but I do not think it is a bad thing. I also do not believe in the existance of one pure race that has been long dead since the colonial times, and the slaughter of natives.
    - Patricia -

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