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.)