races is a hope of liberal sentimentality probably squashed by the hard realities of history.They are wrong.This column can be summarized in a single phrase, a motto if you will:
Human equality is acontingent fact of history
. Equality is not given a priori; it is neither an ethical principle(though equal treatment may be) nor a statement about norms of social action. It just workedout that way. A hundred different and plausible scenarios for human history would haveyielded other results (and moral dilemmas of enormous magnitude). They didn't happen.The history of Western views on race is a tale of denial--a long series of progressive retreatsfrom initial claims for strict separation and ranking by intrinsic worth toward an admissionof the trivial differences revealed by this contingent history. In this column, I shall discuss just two main stages of retreat for each of two major themes: genealogy; or the extent of separation between races as a function of their geological age; and geography, or our placeof origin. I shall then summarize the three major arguments from modem biology for thesurprisingly small extent of human racial differences.
Genealogy, the first argument
. Before evolutionary theory redefined the issue irrevocably,early to mid-nineteenth-century anthropology was split by a debate between the schools of monogeny and polygeny. Monogenists espoused a common origin for all people in the primeval couple, Adam and Eve (lower races, they then argued, had degenerated further from original perfection). Polygenists held that Adam and Eve were ancestors of white folksonly, and that other--and lower--races had been separately created. Either argument couldfuel a social doctrine of inequality, but polygeny surely held the edge as a compelling justification for slavery and domination at home and colonialism abroad. "The benevolentmind," wrote Samuel George Morton (a leading American polygenist) in 1839, "may regretthe inaptitude of the Indian for civilization. . . . The structure of his mind appears to bedifferent from that of the white man. . . .They are not only averse to the restraints of education, but for the most part are incapable of a continued process of reasoning on abstractsubjects."
Genealogy, the second argument.
Evolutionary theory required a common origin for humanraces, but many post-Darwinian anthropologists found a way to preserve the spirit of polygeny. They argued, in a minimal retreat from permanent separation, that the division of our lineage into modern races occurred so long ago that differences, accumulating slowlythrough time, have now built unbridgeable chasms. Though once alike in an apish dawn,human races are now separate and unequal.We cannot understand much of the history of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuryanthropology, with its plethora of taxonomic names proposed for nearly every scrap of fossil bone, unless we appreciate its obsession with the identification and ranking of races. For many schemes of classification sought to tag the various fossils as ancestors of modern racesand to use their relative age and apishness as a criterion for racial superiority. Piltdown, for example, continued to fool generations of professionals partly because it fit so comfortablywith ideas of white superiority. After all, this "ancient" man with a brain as big as ours (the product, we now know, of a hoax constructed with a modern cranium) lived in England--anobvious ancestor for whites--while such apish (and genuine) fossils as
inhabited Java and China as putative sources for Orientals and other peoples of color.This theory of ancient separation had its last prominent defense in 1962, when CarletonCoon published his
Origin of Races.
Coon divided humanity into five major races--caucasoids, mongoloids, australoids, and, among African blacks, congoids and capoids. Heclaimed that these five groups were already distinct subspecies during the reign of our ancestor,
Homo erectus. H. erectus
then evolved toward
in five parallel streams,each traversing the same path toward increased consciousness. But whites and yellows, who"occupied the most favorable of the earth's zoological regions," crossed the
threshold first, while dark peoples lagged behind and have paid for their sluggishness ever