We all know that people look different. It’s easy to differentiate a German from a Chinese. But are these differences racial? What does race mean? Race is a modern idea.  Ancient societies did not divide people according to physical differences, but according to religion, status, class, even language. These divisions though are somewhat reflected in the present racial divisions. So what determined the present racial divisions, it certainly isn’t biology. It’s a scientific fact that race has no genetic basis. Not one characteristic, trait or gene distinguishes all members of one so called race from all members of another so called race. But there is one thing that could have paved the way and that is slavery. Slavery predates race. Throughout history, societies have enslaved others, often as a result of conquest or war, but not because of physical characteristics or on natural inferiority. The current idea of race probably came from the fact that a certain set of circumstances led to the enslavement of people who looked similar: Africans were enslaved and forced into manual labour by European colonists and subsequently by Americans. When the US was founded, equality was a radical new idea. But their earlier economy was based largely on slavery. The concept of race helped explain why some people could be denied the rights and freedom that others took for granted.  As the concept of race evolved, it justified extermination of Native Americans, exclusion of Asian immigrants, and taking of Mexican lands. Racial practices were institutionalized within government, laws and society.Coming back to biology, here’s another fact: Human sub-species don’t exist. Unlike many animals, modern humans have not been around long enough, nor have populations been isolated enough, to evolve into separate sub-species or races. Despite surface difference, we are among the most similar of all species. Most variation is within, not between races. Of the small amount of total human genetic variation, 85% exists within any local population, be they Italians, Kurds or Malayalis. So you see, race is not biological, but racism is still real. Race, as well as all other prevalent modes of discrimination, is still a powerful social idea that gives people different access to opportunities and resources. Pretending such divisions don’t exist is not the same as creating equality. To combat such social vices, we need to identify and remedy social policies that advantage some groups at the expense of others.

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