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The myth of human races

Alain F. Corcos

Publication Year: 1997

The idea that human races exist is a socially constructed myth that has no grounding in science. Regardless of skin, hair, or eye color, stature or physiognomy, we are all of one species. Nonetheless, scientists, social scientists, and pseudo-scientists have, for three centuries, tried vainly to prove that distinctive and separate "races" of humanity exist. These protagonists of race theory have based their flawed research on one or more of five specious assumptions:  
 - humanity can be classified into groups using identifiable physical characteristics  - human characteristics are transmitted "through the blood,"  - distinct human physical characteristics are inherited together, - physical features can be linked to human behavior, - human groups or "races" are by their very nature unequal and, therefore, they can be ranked in order of intellectual, moral, and cultural superiority.  
     The Myth of Human Races systematically dispels these fallacies and unravels the web of flawed research that has been woven to demonstrate the superiority of one group of people over another.  

Published by: Michigan State University Press

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pp. xi-xii

I wish to thank Evelyn Rivera, Charles Scarborough, Keith Williams, Manfred Englemann, Lonnie Eiland, and my wife, Joanne, for their In addition, I want to thank Evelyn Rivera, and Wayne and Nancy Claflin for their patience in reading parts of the manuscript; Floyd Monaghan for reading the work in its entirety many times; Harry...

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A Word to the Reader

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pp. xiii-xvi

I am sitting in the living room of our cottage on the edge of Wiggins Lake, near Gladwin, Michigan. I am admiring one of those beautiful sunsets that generally soothe the mind, but in the background I am lis tening to a radio broadcast informing me that there is a resurgence of Nazism in Germany as skinheads are roaming the city streets and set...

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pp. 1-6

Historically, race thinking2 assumes at least five things: 1. That humanity can be classified into groups using identifiable physical characteristics; 2. That these characteristics are transmitted "through the blood"; 3. That they are inherited together; 4. That physical features are linked to behavior; 5. That these groups are by nature unequal and therefore can be ranked in order of intellectual, moral, and cultural superiority. My objective in this book is to refute the notion that human...

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Part One: Introduction

You may think you are not qualified to decide whether or not many hu man races exist, or whether we are all part of a single race. You may be lieve that answering these questions should be left to scientists and others who have more information. Specialists have, after all, spent many years classifying humanity into racial groups; many have written scholarly...

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1. Race is a Slippery Word

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pp. 9-14

Peter I. Rose is indeed correct. Race, as applied to human beings, is vague and ambiguous. In common speech, it has a whole range of meanings. To focus on the issue, dictionaries offer little help. For example, the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language gives numerous and contradictory definitions of the word "race":...

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2. Race Classification: An Impossible Task

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pp. 15-22

What Fernand Corcos, my uncle, meant was that the two hypothetical men were more alike than they were different. As a matter of fact it would have been impossible for anyone, except the two of them, to know which one was a Jew and which one was an Arab; their "differences" would be purely cultural, not physical...

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3. Skulls, Women, and Savages: The Art of Craniology

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pp. 23-32

Charles Darwin, though highly intelligent and an original thinker, shared a belief that brain size was highly correlated with intelligence; that is, the larger the skull and the bigger the brain, the more intelligent the person. Darwin and his colleagues also firmly believed in the existence of human races. Many thought that these...

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4. Full Blood, Half-Blood, and Tainted Blood

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pp. 33-44

I am spending a weekend on Wiggins Lake, in northern Michigan. It is cold, but I feel fortunate that I am not in the eastern United States, which is being battered by what the press calls the worst storm of the century. Inside our cottage I am warm and watching a "thrilling" movie called...

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5. Racial Traits: More Fiction Than Fact

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pp. 45-48

Alexander Alland, like many who are not familiar with African populations, had a stereotypical view of an African as a man or a woman with a dark skin, a jaw that projects forward, curly black hair, a flat nose, slight chin, thick lips and small brows. His view was shattered when he had the opportunity to live for some time among the members of a particular African tribe. There, contrary to what he expected, he found that not all of the members of that population had similar skin color, hair...

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6. You Cannot Judge a Book by its Cover

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pp. 49-60

This is what Pee Wee Reese said! when he learned that, on August 28, 1945, Jackie Robinson had signed a contract with Branch Rickey, which led him two years later to be the first black to play major league baseball. Reese, like most "white" people at the time, believed that "blacks" were athletically inferior to them. Sure, they could box, so...

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Part Two: Introduction

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pp. 61-64

In Part One, I have demonstrated the false assumptions on which race thinking is based. Yet race thinking has inhibited and undermined so- cial cooperation and harmony by assuming that some human groups, as defined by physical appearance, are intellectually inferior to others. Hence, so their reasoning goes, people in these groups have to be...

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7. Did We Evolve From Apes, and If So, from How Many?

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pp. 65-70

That is what the wife of the Bishop of Worcester exclaimed when her husband told her what Professor Huxley had said at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, on that fateful Saturday, June 3D, 1860. The exchange occurred just seven months after the publication of Darwin's controversial but scholarly...

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8. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Fittest of Us All?

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pp. 71-78

Then will the world enter upon a new stage of its history-the final competition of races for which the Anglo Saxon is being schooled ... This powerful race will move down upon Central and South America, out upon the islands of the sea, over upon Africa and beyond. And can any doubt that the result of this compe What Josiah Strong alluded to in the last sentence above was natural ...

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9. Adaptive or not Adaptive, That is the Question

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pp. 79-82

The question anthropologists of earlier generations never asked about what they called racial traits is a simple one: Are they adaptive or not adaptive? Not only have they assumed, and in some cases still assume, that racial traits exist, but they concluded that each trait had an adaptive value. What do scientists mean when they use the phrase...

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10. Why Different Skin Colors?

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pp. 83-90

It is yet to be demonstrated that the average Arab, for example, has too much skin pigmentation to thrive in Helsinki or too little for Dakar. Why does human skin color vary from very dark to very light? A clue to the answer for this question lies in the observation that, before the great era of human migration that followed the European voyages of...

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11. Why Different Shapes of Noses? Why So Much or So Little Hair on the Body or the Head?

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pp. 91-96

One of my friends has a large, convex, highly bridged and curved nose. When he was a graduate student years ago, he visited a biochemical laboratory in Detroit. The man who was in charge of the laboratory was a Jew who seemed to have a stereotypic view of what Jews are supposed to look like, for at the end of the visit, pointing to his own...

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12. Why Different Color of Eye and Hair?

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pp. 97-102

That is what the priest-detective Father Dowling said to the resourceful Sister Steve in a recent episode of the television series The Father Dowling Mysteries. Though Father Dowling's deduction led him to find the murderer, it was not scientifically sound. The inheritance of eye color is far more complex than is generally assumed. However, we cannot blame Father Dowling or his script writers for repeating common folk wisdom, which has been taught for years, even...

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13. Race: Geneticists Led Astray

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pp. 103-110

We have seen that during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries,

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14. Race and IQ: A Pseudo-Problem

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pp. 111-124

A wrong assumption that leads science astray may only delay its progress. It may have no other consequence. This was the case of the phlogiston theory in chemistry or the case of the theory of spontaneous generation in biology. However, the assumption that human races exist not only led science astray for quite a while but also had very...

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15. Race and Disease: Another Pseudo-Problem

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pp. 125-132

We have seen in previous chapters that the assumption that human races exist has led science astray for quite a while. Unfortunately this assumption still persists unchallenged today in the field of medicine. While the physical differences among us, such as shape of nose and hair, are not important, our differences in susceptibility to diseases...

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16. How The U.S. Government Classifies Its Citizens: A Real Problem

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pp. 133-138

If scientists have for the most part abandoned the concept of race, the U.S. Government, like the public at large, has not. Today, the ques tion, what race do you belong to? is asked by all types of institutions in the United States, because the federal government wants to know if they are complying with the famous Article Nine, which deals with...

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Part Three: Introduction

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pp. 139-141

In parts 1 and 2 of this book I have attempted to develop the idea that there is no scientific evidence to support the assumption that human races exist. I have emphasized that this assumption has led scientists astray for a long time. It is only in the last few years that scientists have really begun to reverse their thinking. By abandoning the idea that human races exist, they are now in a far...

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17. Of Species and Races: A Modern View

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pp. 141-148

In the eighteenth century, opponents to slavery in Britain's American colonies accused slave owners of not considering blacks to be human beings, but as members of another species. This accusation was not entirely deserved. Though most planters treated slaves as animals, they did not necessarily believe that they were not human beings; among...

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18. Each One of Us Is Unique

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pp. 149-154

Most Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant groups teach their congregations to accept people on their individual worth regardless of their name, color, religion, or occupation. This moral advice is not only excellent but agrees with what biology has taught us for years. We are each bio- logically unique; the basic reason can be summarized in a few words...

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19. Of Genes and Chromosomes: No One is Like You

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pp. 155-162

He does not realize that, instead of conceiving him, his parents might have conceived anyone of a hundred thousand other children, all unlike each other and In chapter four, we mentioned that the thrilling movie Tainted Blood was based on three false assumptions, one being that there was some thing "special" about a boy and a girl who were twins. But the twins...

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20. Myths About Ancestry

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pp. 163-168

Many people, like Reginald, still believe that blood is involved in inheritance. According to this notion, the blood of our ancestors, which carries their characteristics, somehow mingles and is poured into us. Our inheritance is a half-and-half blend of blood from our fathers and mothers, and hence a quarter each from our grandparents, one eighth...

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21. Of DNA and Proteins, or No One is Like You

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pp. 169-174

We are alike, yet we are all different. If a Martian landed on Earth, he or she would have no problem in distinguishing humans as belonging to the same species. He or she would be struck by our erect posture which permits us to walk fast and steadily on the surface of the ground and to use our arms for things other than ambulation; he or she would...

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22. Except for A Very Few of Us, We Are All Colored

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pp. 175-178

People of browner complexions simply have more melanin in their skin .... It is not an all-or-nothing difference; it is a difference in proportion. Skin color has been and is still used to physically describe people. It is easy to understand why. Skin color is one of the most striking human traits. All other distinctions fade before this one. A very dark-skinned...

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23. Can We Change Our Skin Color?

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pp. 179-186

William James said once that there is no way to explain the experience of being in love to someone who has not had the experience. In a similar way "black" people generally tell their "white" friends that no matter how they try there is no way for them to know how a black person feels when discriminated against since they are not...

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24. Nothing Under the Sun Is Just Black or White

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pp. 187-192

If we bring up a dark-skinned child born in Africa in northern France, or if we bring up a light-skinned child, born in France, in equatorial Africa, they will remain, respectively, dark and light. Something fundamental, therefore, must exist in their genetic makeup that determines their basic pigmentation. Scientists call this basic pigmentation...

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25. Genes and Skin Color: The More the Merrier

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pp. 193-200

The number of genes determining skin color inheritance in humans cannot be Skin color is undoubtedly inherited, but misconceptions about it are many and have been repeated in literature. For instance, in one of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes adventures, a little girl wears a yellow mask. The reason for this strange behavior is that the mother is...

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Concluding Thoughts

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pp. 201-206

Most people believe that human races exist and that their belief has been supported by scientific evidence. Nothing could be further from the truth. In spite of efforts, scientists have failed to demonstrate that humanity can be divided into races, i.e., groups of human beings that can be distinguished biologically. The reason for this failure is that...


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pp. 207-210


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pp. 211-214

E-ISBN-13: 9780870139031
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870134395

Page Count: 210
Publication Year: 1997