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ON DISCUSSING HUMAN RACES LEIGH VAN VALEN* Since the publication ofCoon's book, The Origin ofRaces [t], a number offavorable and unfavorable comments on it have appeared. While some of the latter (notably Birdsell's [2]) are constructive, others are relevant to the pathology ofthe non-scientific attitudes that still confound the study ofhuman races. I will attempt to clarify the relevance ofCoon's book to racist arguments and to show that serious prejudice on racial matters is not restricted to racists. Coon's major theses are, briefly, that the major geographic races ofman have evolved in more or less their present locations since or before the level ofHomo erectus, and that they have reached the grade he calls Homo sapiens at different times. It is the second point that has attracted most ofthe emotional response from both sides. In this response some egalitarians have shown themselves to be quite as prejudiced as some racists. I do not equate these different prejudices as to the amount ofsocial mischiefthey engender. By prejudice I mean the influence of emotion on the judgment of an issue of fact, whether left at this level or implied in actions. We are all prejudiced on many matters, but to different degrees and with different amounts of realization and control ofthese prejudices. I will not here adequately rebut racism, which has been done often. The reverse ofthe coin is however less known. I think it is a fair short summary ofthis latter viewpoint to say that different races are known to be genetically equal in ability; because ofthis and because racists misuse statements to the contrary, any evidence to the contrary must be viewed with suspicion or rejected. I believe (1) the assumption (in a broader framework, conclusion) of equality is infirm, although possibly correct; (2) this assumption has no necessary relation either to Coon's theses or to racism; * Research Fellow, Department ofVertebrate Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History , New York, New York 10024. 377 and (3) mutually contradictory evidence, particularly from different fields of study, will lead an open-minded person to re-examine the problem at issue rather than reject one fine of evidence without adequate consideration of its merits. The assumption of equality is, and must now be from any viewpoint, based on an argument from analogy. The analogy I would emphasize is that of more easily studied characters, which are usually geographically variable to a greater or less degree in man and other animals. It would be remarkable ifa complex oftraits influenced by as many genes as must be involved in intelligence, were not geographically variable in one or more ofits genetically influenced components. It does not follow from this conclusion that we know which races are better in what respects. As far as I canjudge it is now as probable that, e.g., the average Negro is superior to the average white in the genetic basis of verbal comprehension, as the reverse. Granting, for argument, inequalities in the direction demanded by some flock or other ofracists, beliefin such inequalities is still neither necessary nor sufficient for racism. Anti-Semitism is sometimes found together with a belief in genetic superiority ofJews. Belief in average inferiority of Negroes is sometimes accompanied by a desire to help. The rationalization in racial scapegoating is clearly irrational. The overlap between groups in any measured mental character is, ofcourse, so great as to make ludicrous any justification on this basis ofdifferential treatment for entire racial or other minorities. The cause ofjustice for minorities would indeed be on shaky ground if, as some maintain, it required average intergroup equality ofgenotypes. Misuse ofthe principle of"colorblindness" by racists should not force us into the politically less ambiguous, but now still scientifically untenable, position ofdenying the possibility ofaverage racial differences in mental characters. To ignore race and treat an individual as an individual is the spring ofjustice and the river ofhope. This attitude does not exclude the use of special remedial measures to reduce the effect of economic, racial, or other discrimination; to say otherwise is equivalent to denying medical treatment to the sick. Similarly, while Coon's theses are compatible with racism (as is almost any statement on race...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 377-383
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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