How to Argue with a Racist: History, Science, Race & Reality

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EVENT TRANSCRIPT: How to Argue with a Racist: History, Science, Race & Reality

DATE: 1pm, 2 March 2020

VENUE: Committee Room 11, House of Commons, SW1A 0AA

SPEAKERS: Dr. Adam Rutherford (Science writer and Broadcaster); Dr. Rakib Ehsan (Research Fellow, Centre on Social & Political Risk)

EVENT CHAIR: Janet Daby MP

 

Janet Daby MP:

Good afternoon everybody, thank you for coming this afternoon to this session. I’m Janet Daby and I am the Member of Parliament for Lewisham East. I hope people had some lunch and are ready to listen to this very important session. So this afternoon we’re here to talk about how to argue with a racist, and it’s to do with the launch of this book by Adam Rutherford and for me, it’s very unfortunate that we’re in this situation where we are having to keep highlighting and to keep talking about this through history in the way that we have and I would have hoped to thought that we’re far more forward as a society, but it feels like we’ve regressed somewhat in terms of racism and discrimination. And we also have Dr. Rakib Ehsan to my left, and he’s going to be speaking about the growth of the far-right. So I’m just going to hand you straight over to these two gentlemen.

Dr. Adam Rutherford:

Thank you very much Janet. So yes, exactly as she said, it is somewhat absurd that I had to write a book of this nature at this point. If you don’t know me, I am a geneticist primarily, I am a scientist at UCL, so we study population genetics and human evolution, but I’m also a broadcaster so I present Inside Science on BBC 4 which is the weekly science show and a couple of other programs, this is my 4th book but one which is specifically dealing with historical and contemporary scientific racism and ideas about eugenics. The reason we’re talking about this now, as Janet alluded to, I talk about it a little in the book, that we’ve got a change in political atmosphere. This is not my domain, this is the domain of politicians, but in its relation to genetics and the study of human variation, we’ve seen a number of things that have happened in the past few years, which have recapitulated some historical arguments about race and human variation, and they are things like just the general progress we’ve made in genetics in the last few years, a matching popular interest in genetics, which has kept me employed for many years and many years to come. And matching that, which none of us predicted, which is the rise in commercial and genetic ancestry testing kits, so things like 23 and Me and Ancestry.com, which I have a fairly low opinion of, for reasons which are described in the book. But I think they have prompted a return to the idea of genetic essentialism, inherent biological innate characteristics in us which determine our characters. And mostly this is fairly innocuous. White people write to me every week that they descend from Vikings, which is fine, all Europeans are descended from Vikings, really don’t have to pay to find that out. There is also a matching and incredibly devoted passionate interest in population genetics from the far-right in order to capitalize on their misplaced pseudo-scientific sense of racial purity. So the structure of the book itself is very short, it is meant to be pugnacious and effectively a toolkit. It is divided into 4 categories, which are the cultural origins of race, concepts of racial purity, race and sport, one of the ways we’re exposed to race both historically and today and where a lot of racial myths and stereotypes come from, race and intelligence, which is probably the most controversial area in the whole of the history of science so that was fun. Janet was very kind to introduce me, I’m not going to talk about white supremacists, I think we will today. I don’t think they’re uninteresting, but I think they’re people who are ideologically motivated to such an extent that there’s no point in arguing with them. But this is a serious subject, it is not without shafts of light. I get a lot of emails and hate mail and death threats from white supremacists which is almost certainly not as many as parliamentarians and people like Janet and of course, Diane Abbot. I just want to show you one though because it made me laugh a lot. A white supremacist website did a profile of me last year which was a thousand words long, which was sort of vaguely biographically accurate. It described me as a “scientist writer and broadcaster” in parentheses. I don’t really know why because I am those things. [inaudible] will again and again add authority to fallacious criticisms. His insidious influence over the scientific illiterate who constitutes such a large proportion of the West, that’s you, is substantial, his name is Dr. Adam Rutherford. So I’m using my insidious influence here over politicians and of course these are conversations we are having more and more. And part of the conversation is, as Janet alluded to at the beginning, it is stunning to me that this book, my work, is necessary in the 21st century. Part of the argument is that there has been a normalization of the expression of racist views in public discourse. And we know that very well because of course, our Prime Minister, has explicitly expressed racist views in the past, our Labour party has been defined by accusations of anti-Semitism. And just two weeks ago, while I benefited from in terms of its timing, Dominic Cummings recruited and vetted, and subsequently sacked, a super forecaster, it wasn’t so super he predicted this would happen, but who had repeatedly expressed misogynistic views, particularly about eugenics, in contemporary medicine and medical interventions. As with, in my opinion of Dominic Cummings’ views on these subjects, they are people who are bewitched by science but haven’t done the legwork to understand the complex biology that’s underlies these sorts of issues. There are plenty of weirdos and misfits on my team, but we’re not ideological drifters in the same way. So one of the questions that I try to address is how racist of a society we are. Very difficult thing to assess, and I believe that we are a less racist society than any other point in history, which is not the same thing as saying the expression of racist views is not more prominent in public discourse. 50 years ago, this was a leaflet for [inaudible] 1964. “If you desire a coloured for a neighbor, then vote Labour. If you are already burdened with one, then vote Tory.” Now of course, we are a long way from that and that is so far from being acceptable in any domain. So in that sense, I feel we are a less racist society than we have been historically. It’s very difficult to assess how racist a society is, because even in anonymous surveys, if you ask people questions to which the answer they perceive to be socially unacceptable, they still will give dishonest answers. So in surveys we tend to ask proxy questions, so in the British Attitudes Survey, which has been running since 1983, one of the proxy questions that we ask is “how comfortable would you be if your son or daughter were in a long term relationship with, in 1983 the first time it was asked, it was with a black or Asian partner” to which the answer was about 2/5 of the people said would be upset if their son or daughter were in a relationship with a black or Asian partner. In 2017, in the same survey, that number had dropped down to 18%. So by that metric, we are less racist than we were in 1983. However, in 2017 the first time that question was asked where the qualifier was with a Muslim spouse or partner, that number was above 2/5. So in a sense, the bigotry moves according to cultural norms. Are we less racist by certain metrics, we certainly are. I’ve mentioned that sports are important, I’m not going to talk too much about sport, but there’s John Barnes kicking a banana off the pitch in 1988. This happened up and down football pitches every single Saturday for the whole of my youth. And football’s done a really good job, they’ve kicked racism out of football to a very large extent, and of course at the Emirates stadium in 2018, there’s Aubameyang doing the exact same thing. Now the big difference here is, and of course I’m using this as a positive example again, is that the man who threw that banana at the pitch was banned for life from all premiership football, whereas in 1988 this just went unchecked. So again, is this progress, yes it is. When people say we are a less racist country, in fact, when Dave the Rapper [inaudible] two weeks ago, we are still a racist country. And that’s why we’re having this conversation. Sport being the source of a lot of these stereotypes, is also important, just to quickly mention. These is every single Gold medal winner in the 100-meter sprint in the Olympics of a Gold medal in the history of the Olympics. This is the last time a white man competed in the final, Allan Wells, yes he was Scottish. It was the last time that the winning time was above 10 seconds as well. Now as a data set that might indicate to you that people of West African descent via enslavement in the Americas are biologically predisposed to be better at sprinting. That seems like a reasonable data set. In fact, it is not at all, and the biology doesn’t say that. There are only 58 men that have ever competed in that race. These sorts of data are the beginning of inquiry, unless you’re actually a racist. Sports is very interesting for discussing these types of issues because most people who hold these views, are not self-defining racists, but they may hold racialized views. We sometimes call this positive attribute racism, who doesn’t want to be faster or stronger? But A – they’re scientifically incorrect when you dig, and B – they do have the effect of enforcing racial stereotypes, whose roots are in the Enlightenment and are so baked into our culture, that we find it so difficult to shed them. And so part of this process, part of my work, is to try and expose these types of myths to people who don’t consider themselves as racist but are effectively regurgitating or recapitulating deeply held prejudices. So a white man hasn’t been in the final of Olympics since 1980, how many people of African descent, or black people have competed in the shortest distance swimming competition in the Olympics? Two. And there is a pseudoscientific myth, that many black people believe, that due to bone density, black people have less buoyancy, and also cannot swim as well. This is also as ludicrous as it sounds and does not account for the discrepancy in the data that we actually see if you’re a sports fan. In this case, this type of structural racism, is literally lethal in America. 70% of African Americans can’t swim compared to 30% of European descended Americans. And the death rate in children drowning between 5 and 14 in America is 3x higher. So this is structural and institutionalized racism that is literally lethal. So that’s the preamble.

So I’m just going to talk about the origin of race today because a lot of the history on this subject is stuff that we don’t know in science, we talk about standing on the shoulders of giants, and one thing we’re not very good at recognising is that we’re also standing on the shoulders of some people during the time we call the Enlightenment, but it was also the time of exploitation and blunder and building of empire on which some pseudoscientific principles of racism in a time of racism were built, and that we have also inherited those sorts of ideas as well. Many people, myself included, say something as simple as race does not exist. What we mean by that, when we say race does not exist, is when we talk about race, the folk taxonomy, the way we talk about race, the way everyone sort of tacitly agrees, has very little relationship to biological diversity, as mentioned by genetics in the 21st century. Those two things do not overlap well. So that is what we mean when we say race does not exist. It is not a useful argument to make, race certainly does exist because it is a cultural phenomenon. I think it’s important that we get our language right on this because often in arguments with well-meaning people, if you say race doesn’t exist to them, many times, their reaction is “well obviously your denying my experience, you’re denying something very obvious to me”. So race does exist because it is a social construct. And of course social constructs are not insignificant, almost all human interactions are social constructs, very few human interactions are biological relationships, unless you’re very good looking. So I’m just going to talk about race in terms of pigmentation right now, a very important and primary determinant of the racial categories that we use and embrace today. The history of this is fascinating and important in terms of how the legacy of it only begins in the 16th and 17th century, there are plenty of references to pigmentation in ancient literature. In The Iliad, Homer talks about the Ethiopian’s “athieopia” which literally meant “burnt face”, which is the first reference we have to darker pigmentation of sub-Saharan African people. We think of the Greeks as being white Europeans but I think that mostly because all of the statues that we have of them are white marble, of course they were painted in classical times, and that paint has washed off over the past several thousand years. We know of many other examples, here’s one of Nubian priests visiting Egypt. But the key thing about all these references from deep history, ancient history, is that none of these references to pigmentation are particularly associated with character or behaviour. So I’m not pretending that in ancient times everything was hunky-dory, these are terrible times of slavery and ethno-centrism, but the primary determinant of the othering of people is not based on the pigmentation. That only comes with European expansionism in the 17th century onwards. With one notable exception which is interesting, which is during the Islamic slave era, which was more than 900 years and some estimate vary but there were maybe 500 million people enslaved. The great Uzbeki scientist has one reference to how slavery works in terms of pigmentation and interestingly, he says sub-Saharan African people are feckless. But also northern European people, pale skin people are ignorant and lazy. These are the reasons given, and its associated with pigmentation, for why they suit enslavement. Now this is sort of one tiny piece of data which is a prelude to what becomes the dominant characteristic of determining the othering of people during European expansionism and its mostly predicated on the work of a few men, some British, some German, but European men of the Enlightenment. Many of whom who have amazing scientific and philosophical legacies, but also less well known, have profound racist views. And that is not a contemporary judgement on their behaviour at the time, everyone was more racist back then. It is literal and you can contemporize their view and what people thought at that time. So to call them racist is factually accurate rather than putting our contemporary values on historical figures. They are also white supremacists in the literal sense if you look at the hierarchy of races, in the classification of people, white Europeans always come at the top. So we got here, Linnaeus, Kant, Huxley, and Voltaire. I’ll briefly talk about them in the next 10 minutes or so and then we can open it up for questions. So the key idea being discussed is monogenism vs polygenism. Everyone is a biblical creationist at this time, everyone think that we are derived from Adam and Eve who lived somewhere in the Middle East. The monogenists thought that literally everyone was derived from Adam and eve and all the racial characteristics we see emerged as they evolved from Adam and eve. The polygenists thought that people migrated away from Adam and Eve, and then developed these racial characteristics, in countries where we experience them. Linnaeus is possibly the first and most influential. Carl Linnaeus is the father of biology. He invented the taxonomy we use today for all biology, so genus and species, homosapiens, tyrannosaurus rex, all living creatures are defined by the system he employed. In one book, Systema Naturae, of which there are many volumes he changed throughout the course of his life, he puts humans in this categorization. In an earlier version of this book, he says we are homosapiens but he introduces several subspecies and categories, and these are one of the earliest descriptions of the racialization that we see today. This is the 17th and 18th century, bear this in mind. Minor trigger warning here, it’s easy to mock these from a position of privilege because the white people in this room are descendants of people who are relatively unaffected by these descriptions, these policies. Here are three of these categorizations, homosapiens americanus – primary determinate – skin colour. Red skin, black straight hair, stubborn, zealous, and regulated by customs. Homosapiens Asiaticus, yellow skinned, black hair, stiff, black eyes, haughty, greedy, and ruled by opinions. Homosapiens Africanus, black, frizzled hair, silky skin, females without shame, lazy, lustful, governed by caprice. Now this is obvious pseudoscience from the invention of this taxonomic system. Just using pigmentation as a biological, as a physiological categorizer immediately followed by pseudoscientific, made up characterizations. You can guess who comes top: Europeus, white, blue eyes, gentle, acute, inventive, governed by laws. And that is kind of amusing I guess, with a historical lens on it. He introduces another category in the 12th edition of this book. And I show you think partly because it’s funny but partly to demonstrate quite how pseudoscientific this is. In the later edition, he introduces homosapiens monstrosus, and that included Patagonian giants, feral wolf boys, alpine dwarfs, and his words not mine, monoorchid hottentrotts, which would be men from what we now call Khoisan, who would have one testicle removed. Now obviously, that is nonsense. It is however the root of this classification which forms the basis of faux taxonomies that we basically agree on. But also the association of characters, the deep roots of character myth race stereotypes which are part of racist discourse to this day. So he was the chief monogenists. Voltaire, the great voice of the Enlightenment, was the chief polygenist. So the polygenists believe that our racial characteristics emerged from where people are found to this day. He was a polygenist to the extent that he thought sub-Saharan African people were a different species. He didn’t think they could be characterized as homosapiens. This is a deeply unpleasant quote from Voltaire, he says “white men say man was created in the image of god, here is a lovely image of the maker, flat black nose, with little or hardly any intelligence, a time will come where these animals will know how to cultivate the land well.” This is Voltaire, you know one of our great intellectual philosophical heroes. Again, not judging using contemporary standards, it is possible to describe these people as profoundly racist, even in a time of racism and white supremacists they all are, in a historical sense. Now Blumenbach is a German scientist, and he’s interesting because he’s the first person to introduce actual metrics, actual scientific metrics, into this. He measured 60 skulls that were given to him by travellers and explorers from the colonies. From that, he came up with a system of roughly 5 races, which is roughly the same as Linnaeus’s. now I’ll just briefly talk about the contemporary values that we’re judging people in the past by because I want to introduce my intellectual hero, Charles Darwin. All of my work is based on the work of Darwin. Darwin was remarkably liberal for his era, quite possibly, to do with the fact that he was tutored by a freeman, John Edmonstone, in Edinburgh, who was his taxidermy tutor who profoundly influenced Darwin’s thinking. Darwin wrote the Descent of Man, which is the second best book that mocks the notion of races altogether, on the grounds that no one could decide how many races there actually are. And he lists in the Descent of Man that between the best scientists of this era, they have between 1 and 63 different races. He goes on to say that he doesn’t think that there are pure characteristics within races which don’t graduate into each other. Like much of the work Darwin did, this is incredibly prescient, and we really demonstrate this in the late 20th century using genetics, using molecular biology. But this is basically correct, there are not races, there are continuous graduation populations, which may look different, and have different biological characteristics to a certain extent, but there is no such thing as a discrete race. It is a social taxonomy and does not follow a biological taxonomy.

I just want to briefly mention this image here, because as the science advances, more categorizations are introduced. Thomas Huxley, who is a good, positive scientist, Darwin’s greatest defender, introduced a load of new categorizations because he was absolutely looking at different people that earlier people did not look at all. He introduces two new categorizations, I’m very grateful they didn’t catch on, Xanthrochroi and Melanochroi. Melanochroi to account for North African Africans who have paler skin. Now part of the reasoning for this was the introduction of a fictionalized anthropological categorization of people called the Hamites, which is made up in the 19th century, the descendants of Ham, the son of Noah who were, according to a single line in the Talmud, were cursed with blackness. So the Melanochroi have input from this made up tribe of people, and this becomes standard, accepted wisdom during the 19th century. Now that is of historical interest, but also of profound contemporary interest, because this is also the root of the Rwandan Genocide in the 1990s, via the colonisation by Germans and subsequently Belgian colonisers. Both of those colonisers had better relations with the Tutsis than with the Hutus. The Tutsi have slightly paler skin, and they asserted that the Melanochroi had input from this made up tribe of people, the Hamites, descendants of Noah. The results of that by the 1930, they instigate racial ethnicity/identity cards, and during the course of the 20th century, it continues to grow into what becomes civil war after the Belgians leave in 1958. And by 1994, there is the Genocide, the first time the UN recognizes rape as a weapon of war. One of the reasons I mention this, is because this is modern history. This is during my lifetime; I was at university in 1994 studying population genetics when this occurred. The roots of it are in pseudoscience enforced by pseudoscientists, in a time of racism. It is impossible to separate contemporary racialized history, racism, from its history. The two things are absolutely bound together. That’s what chapter 1 of this book is about. Let me just finish by saying, we are an African species, almost all human evolution occurred within Africa. We know this in great detail, we’re going through a revolution in our understanding of human evolution in the moment, but these are now the norms of science. Homosapiens emerged in Africa over the past half a million years, the majority of non-recently descended African people emerged out of Africa in the past 70k or so. What I mean is that from a fascinating point of view, from a biological point of view, is that there is more biological diversity within African than with the rest of the world put together. Now we only have discovered this really in the last 5 or 10 years because almost all population genetics has been based on European samples or westernized samples of European descent samples and we’ve basically ignored 1.3 billion people in Africa despite the fact that- 1. Most human evolution occurred within Africa and despite the fact that due to engrained cultural, structural, and personal racism, African people have constantly suffered the most as a result of this pseudoscience. So we must know our own history. This is a scaled map of the world according to biological diversity. Basically it’s a recapitulation of human migratory history. Almost all of the diversity in the world occurs in Africa. Everywhere else is in proportion to how distant those countries are from Africa. One more thing to finish, here is a summary of the biological diversity of Africa, which is an ongoing project. There is actually more pigmentation diversity in Africa than in the rest of the world put together. So it’s not simply that when we talk about black people, it is a meaningless thing to say scientifically, it has absolutely no bearing on either pigmentation or overall genetic diversity. There is more genetic diversity overall in Africa as well which means you could take two people from neighbouring tribes in southern Africa, from the sand populations or Khoisan or Khoikhoi and they would be more different to each other than either one of them would be to anyone else on the rest of the planet, including an aboriginal Australian, a Chinese person, or a native American. And that is just the nature of human evolution. These are biological facts. But were only really beginning to discover these things, and we’ve certainly failed to convey biodiversity outside the confines of biology. These things are not controversial in biology, when I have conversations with my colleagues, these things are taken as read because we’ve known these things for 10-20 years. The reason Ive wrote this book is because I feel that we have failed to convey these ideas beyond the walls of the academy. And these conversations need to occur in public, in Parliament, so that if you are a racist, you can’t have science as a tool. The whole basis of racism we endure today is pseudoscience from the 16th century onwards. And now we know that, you cannot have science as an ally if you are a racist. My final line in the book is a quote from Angela Davis, which I think is important. “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, you have to be anti-racist,” and I’ll stop right there.

Janet Daby MP:

Lovely, let’s show our appreciation. I’ve learned a few things there, and I’m sure everybody in this room has as well. And I can imagine there are lots of questions or comments that people would like to make. But before we do that, we do have Dr. Rakib Ehsan with us as well, and I just want him to introduce himself and then we’re going to go straight into questions and answers.

Dr. Rakib Ehsan:

First I’d like to thank Dr. Adam Rutherford for accepting our invitation and actually speaking on that, that was very informative and useful. I would just like to make a couple of points before we enter the Q&A. I am concerned about looking at the growth of the far-right and exploring the far-right ideological narratives, particularly in the online space. I do know there is a growth in eugenicist tendencies and certain ethnicities are inherently more intellectually superior. So for example, we recently have the far-right recent terrorist attacks in Hanau in Germany, and the following day I did a critical analysis of the preattack manifesto which was published by the terrorist on that occasion. And there were those ideas of genetic essentialism, this idea of Germanic people being inherently more intelligent than any other ethnicity in the world. This is very much pseudoscience on steroids really and I do think an important part of challenging those far-right ideological narratives are to really meet head on those pseudoscientific narratives, which really do not have any scientific grounding whatsoever. And I do think even more broadly, when looking at forms of racial or ethnic inequalities, I do think we need to explore the more structural factors related to that. Education attainment, I think even go as far back as patterns of migratory background. Which part of the world did you come from, what I mean by that, is that economic and political culture, when looking at where specific migrant groups originated from. So for example, I’m aware of the view that people of Indian origin, for example in the UK, have managed to integrate better in the social and economic sense than other south Asian groups. But that’s not to say that I believe that people of Indian ethnic ancestry are inherently more entrepreneurial or they know how to manage a business better. A lot of that is the fact that much of the Indian British population, actually the east African Asians who very much represented the backbone of those east African companies. For example, in Uganda, after they were expelled, the economy crumbled. Well if you look at people of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, well I’m a mix of Bangladeshi and Indian, I’d say that much of the migratory patterns involved with Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin migration is very much from rural, deprived parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh, and I do think that naturally puts you on a backward footing when you are migrating to a new country, especially a competitive market economy such as ours. It is useful to have that entrepreneurial background to begin with even in a different national context. So I’m hoping the Q&A session can tap into those things. Thank you.

Question:

When you were tracking the expansion of homosapiens through the world, did you use mitochondria DNA?

Dr. Adam Rutherford:

We do use mitochondrial DNA, which is maternal inherently, which is a small proportion of our genomes, we’re well beyond that now and we use whole genomes. So we can use many hundreds of thousands of different locations within the genome so you get a much broader picture. Mitochondrial DNA is about 0.01% of our total genomic information. It is very useful, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Question:

You addressed something when you were talking about the way perceptions of race have changed overtime. Do you ever think racism in any form will ever disappear, because it’ll just change to suit the times? And then you brought up one thing about the Khoi, those are probably the most different people in the world, is there any similarity between anybody else and them? Just because they are very localized to southern Africa and they are quite the unique people in a way.

Dr. Adam Rutherford:

I think I sort of alluded to that in the British Attitudes Survey statement at the beginning, which is that, the othering of people and the subjugation of people is the human condition apparently, I’m not a historian. I think the fact that our current racial stereotypes and racialization of people are only current, but many people assume that they’re permanent because we have very short term memories and our culture is imbedded with 500 years of Eurocentric expansionism and empire. I think that all these things are always transient, and they’re demonstrably transient if you look through history. Will ethnocentrism ever disappear? I doubt it. Will our current racial stereotypes ever disappear? I guess so. I just think they change with the prevailing culture. Cultural racism is a slightly different subcategory. What I address in the book is that, when people say you can’t be racist against Muslims because Islam is not a race, it’s a religion. Well that is true in a literal sense, it’s also not a very informative thing to say. It’s perfectly possible for Nigel Farage to be racist against Romanians specifically. No one would categorize Romanian as a race, but you can be culturally racist against a group of people. As for the Khoi, the answer to that is we’re only beginning to do this work. Everyone in the African continent is remarkably different from each other. The Khoi and various San and Bushmen tribes, that’s their name, they prefer to be called that, have different ancestral population structures than other people who are nearby. I don’t think they’re particularly unusual within South Africa, or within Sub-Saharan Africa. I think the real answer is we’re just beginning to do this work.

Question:

The topic today was how to debate a racist. This particularly stands out, I remember being given this spiel, it said “It is only a mistake, and is unacceptable to expect our state, our country, to voluntarily subvert our own sovereign existence and our nationalist identity and become a minority, within what was once its own territory and country.” So how would you answer this quote?

[Dr. Adam Rutherford asks for the source of that quote, and audience member claims it was “The Anti-Defamation League, sponsored by Israel”]

[Interjection by another audience member stating that the Anti-Defamation League is an American organization]

Dr. Adam Rutherford:

I’m going to interpret that in a specific way, which is to do with concepts of racial purity and sovereignty. Which is to say that the two things humans are good at, is moving and sex. Those are the definitional characteristics of humans for more than 500 thousand years. Now what that means in real terms, is that the norm of human behaviour over short term and long term migration is movement and admixtures. There are no racially pure people, the physical characteristics that people identify as separating people by race, are superficial at best. How that relates to sovereignty in terms of borders, well politics is much less stable than evolutionary biology. All of those things are, any sort of border definitions, are transient and ephemeral. I talk about British identity in the book a lot, and the notion that in our current mythical climate, we have extracted ourselves, we’ve left the European Union, we haven’t extracted ourselves, but the notion that there is an indigenous people is just scientific illiteracy. The notion that this country has racial purity for white people is a fiction as well. We have been invaded, taken over, integrated, continuously for 900 thousand years. There may be dominant prevailing cultures, but the Germans were replaced with a 98% turnover within 50 years by a population from Europe.

Response: So I could turn around to an Israeli that wants to maintain majority and say, “look you’re not a separate identity, you have no right to claim that…”

Dr. Adam Rutherford:

Let me answer that in a very scientific way, because you’re asking a political question and it’s overlapped with science, and I’m not qualified to answer that question. There are no racially pure groups. If you are relying on biology, genetics, in order to assert racial purity or ethnocentrism, then you are making a scientifically illiterate statement. The politics of that are entirely different, but you can’t have genetics to issue state boundaries or to politicize boundaries. That is the boundary of my views on that subject.

Question:

I call myself a passionate anti-racist no question, but for me it’s more of a feels thing, almost a spiritual thing, I’m not religious. I meet the total diversity of human beings due to my job in London. I just worry about your argument a bit because you’re hitting it so closely to science, and when you say that there are no racial categories, just racial continua, I don’t think that’s enough to impress racists. Racial continua are real, that’ll do it for them. I’m a fan of Jordan Peterson, and I was intrigued by his suggestion that natural rights or human rights that have emerged in European countries are predicated on a Christian idea that human beings are godlike.

Dr. Adam Rutherford:

It is a pugnacious book, and I am quite a pugnacious person when it comes to certain issues. The title, it’s not meant to be misleading, in the sense that it is a toolkit for arguing with people with different racialized views. I can completely see your point because race as a social taxonomic categorization system is very powerful and I’m not saying race doesn’t exist because science says it doesn’t exist. I’m not saying that racism doesn’t exist because we enact it. What I’m basically saying is genetics doesn’t capitulate social stratification that we have as part of our racial taxonomies. I rely on science as my basic toolkit, and the overall message is that, here’s a series of facts and arguments that remove the crutches, the pseudoscientific crutches, of racialized arguments without necessarily saying that those categorizations aren’t important. So for example, African Americanism is an extremely well-defined cultural identity. Genetically, it is almost meaningless. There are several reasons for the origins of this, which have to do with enslavement for several hundreds of years from west Africa. African American from a genetic point of view is not a meaningful thing to identify people by. And in America, there are different issues with being black in America, novel ones such as recent Nigerian migrants who do not have the same historical narrative, they don’t have the same experience as the enslaved and are a highly social mobile group of people in the 21st century. So these are complex personal experience situations to try and analyse, which is not to deny the social identities that are important to groups of people. The panel itself is quite interesting in the sense that I’ve never met either of these two people, but we’ve just established that you are of Bengali and Indian descent, you are of British Guyanese and Jamaican descent, and I am Indo-Guyanese descent via Yorkshire. So how do we culturally define ourselves, well, I wasn’t raised by my indo-Guyanese parents, I was raised by someone from Essex. So I have no indo-Guyanese cultural input, yet biologically, I’m more similar to Janet than I am to you. Isn’t that weird?

Question:

There was one example you gave of something on an ancient Egyptian tomb, which you said was not in any way pejorative. a few years ago, Cairo Museum, I saw a sarcophagus and really I was taken aback because it did look pejorative. I don’t have any reference to the actual tomb unfortunately, but it was of a victory by the Egyptians and there were two vanquished types of tribes or peoples on either side of the sarcophagus. One looked like what we would regard as the typical anti-semitic caricature of people with big hooked noses. And the other side, there was a caricature of the African looking people, of what your description was like, wide lips, wide nose, etcetera. The Egyptians themselves looked remarkably Aryan, so it was very strange.

Dr. Adam Rutherford:

I’m very close to the limit of my understanding of ancient Egyptian history in relation to race, and by very close I mean well beyond it. I can comment on one particular hieroglyph or pictogram. In modern interpretations of racialized characteristics, I also can’t comment on that, but I think I can’t comment on your question at all. This is really important though because one thing that science relies on, the most important three words a scientist can say is “I don’t know”. And I’m sorry to say, politicians aren’t allowed to say that really.

Question:

Going back to the start of the talk when you spoke about sports, and the apparent representations of the particular populations in for example, running and swimming, you can understand why people without the background would make inferences as they do, maybe due to heuristic or bias. So my question to you is, how do you explain to the layperson what the actual reason is for those apparent representations in a way they can understand easily and not perpetuate those myths?

Dr. Adam Rutherford:

Man, its complex. Because the statistics are appealing if you are very superficial in your analysis. But again, both historical analysis and genetic analysis are good tools for completely dismantling those arguments pretty quickly. So one of the key things about the book is, I’m not a “blank slate-ist” people are different, we are different all over the world, we have regional differences we have different pigmentation, we have different behavioural characteristics, we have different genetically coded characteristics. Do those characteristics segregate with our traditional and colloquial descriptions of race? No they do not, ever. Sport is interesting, because it looks like they do superficially. But they are very transient, and they are much more easily explained by cultural differences. The reason swimming and short distance running is because they are effectively using the same psychological basis and yet you have absolute polar distribution of racialized success. What’s really interesting about this, is that the racialization of how we think about race and sport is so baked into our culture that when we talk about elite success in African American sportsmen, in 70% of cases, we refer to (commentators) innate and physical ability. And when we talk about sporting capabilities in white or European descendant elite athletes, in 70% of cases, we talk about industriousness and intelligence. That is what Linnaeus was saying, that is what Voltaire was saying. These things are baked into our culture. This is why I think even if you’re not into sports, sport is a really important domain in which both historical and contemporary pseudoscientific racialization occurs. In July, the winner of the 100 meters will be a man of recent African American descent. I have no doubt about that. Who were the best long distance runners before the second World War? The Finns. They have the most records in long distance running by far. The best basketball players in America were Jews until the 1960s. These things, again, are incredibly transient. There is a biological basis for sporting success, but it never segregates with racial categorizations.

Question:

Do you deal in your book at all with any parallel sources of racism as being related to pigmentation, such as what’s often spoken of as the Arabic word “abeed” for “slave” being associated with the pejorative word for black?

Dr. Adam Rutherford:

In a minor way, and I forgot to give my standard caveat in the beginning which is that I’m talking about Eurocentric racism. For two reasons- One is that it’s my culture, I’m British. And secondly, because most of our understanding of scientific racism is based on European expansion, age of empire, and age of plunder. I’m not saying that racism doesn’t exist in other areas of the world, in other countries in between different people, sometimes to do with pigmentation, and sometimes to do with other things. The Hutu and the Tutsi are one small example of it, caste in India is another example of that. I don’t go too deep into that, but it is in the book.

Janet Daby MP:

So on that note, I know people are anxious to ask questions still, but when I look at the time, there are two minutes to go. I would have liked to take more questions but unfortunately we’re not able to do that. If you are pressed and you do want to really speak to him, then please do catch him in the corridor. Thank you all for your patience, thank you all for your questions as well and for attending this session this afternoon.

HJS



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