You’re Probably Thinking About About Race And Racism All Wrong

robert sussman

What causes racism? And what can be done to overcome our nation’s legacy of intolerance and hatred?

Americans were struggling to answer those basic questions long before the tragic church shooting in Charleston, S.C.–and we still are. But as it turns out, those questions are based on the belief that there really are such things as different races of people–and scientists say that’s not the case.

In fact, many common notions about race and racism are based on faulty information.

To set the matter straight, HuffPost Science reached out to Dr. Robert Sussman, an eminent physical anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of The Myth of Race: The Troublesome Persistence of An Unscientific Idea. Here, lightly edited, are his answers.

Dr. Robert Sussman

Is there any scientific validity to the concept of different races?

In biology, there is a concept of sub-species, or race. Over time animals of a species may separate and develop different populations with different gene frequencies. If this happens over a very long period of time, the genetic differences will make it difficult for these populations to breed with one another, and they develop into two different species. Over this period of time, the different populations of animals would develop into different subspecies; differences would be great but during the interim they could still interbreed. Thus, for example, different populations of mammals could be very different from one another but, if brought together (in a zoo, for example), they could still breed. There are a number of subspecies or races of chimpanzees in Africa. These are separate populations with some specific biological differences and with a number of genetic differences in each population.

Biologists now have a way of measuring these biological and genetic —> Read More