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Saturday, January 27, 2007

On Racism

Human beings come in many different sizes, shapes and colours. However, under the skin, our skeletons and our genes show that we are all closely related. The variations we see today probably all developed within the last 200,000 years as our species diversified from an ancestral African population. Humans have evolved into different 'races' according to the climate of the environment they live in. The book, The Complete World of Human Evolution, says:

People with a shorter and rounder body physique will retain heat better than those with taller, lankier physique. However, a distinctively smaller body may be favoured in closed tropical forest environments.

Therefore, such evolved obvious external differences between human populations in features have formed the basis of racial classifications. Because of this, as well as the views of some scientists that there are fundamental differences between races in characteristics such as behaviour and intelligence, the whole concept of 'race' has become highly controversial.

I am more interested in knowing how these different so-called races evolved. We all have a common ancestral root in Africa. But how did humans start to show regional differences. Darwin's natural selection is certainly one of the reasons accounting, for example, the variations in skin colour, the book says. However, it seems that other factors have also influenced the evolution of variations in humans. One of them is sexual selection. Darwin thought that this mechanism could be used to account for the evolution of some 'racial' characteristics. In such cases, mate selection influenced by cultural preferences can gradually steer a population in a particular direction. Repeated over thousands of genrations, such individual choices can accumulate in a population, changing its typical characteristics.

Other factors include genetic drift and founder effect. Australian Aborigines arose when individuals from Southeast Asian islands travelled to the completely uninhabited continent of Australia-New Guinea, and their particular characteristics multiplied over many thousands of times in their descendants.

Evolution and natural selection played a fundemental role in the rise of 'races'. But it is interesting how the concept of social construct, has introduced some of the taboos that we see and hear of today. It is also interesting to notice that there are classifications within an individual 'race'. Like in India. Hinduism is a race in itself. However, it has a caste system of itself. Religion has also become a part of the 'race'. If you are an Indian, you can be either Hindu or Muslim or Christian. If you are an European, you can be a Catholic or Protestant and so on. Becaue of such divisions and classifications, a lot of stereotypes, generalizations and prejudices have arised.

I would like to read more on such topics and I would also like my friends and visitors to recommend me some books or websites to read about such topics. Thanks:)


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