We examine the origins of racism, or the notion that the human species can be subdivided into distinct and observable biological categories. The notion of human “races” began as a strategy for dividing and controlling workers in European colonies, particularly 17th-century Virginia. We consider the basic logical incoherence of belief in race, and compare it against the new information that we are gaining from genetics, which shows a fairly closely interrelated human species, with all people living today sharing the same set of ancestors as of about 3,400 years ago. Finally we consider the recent flare-up of controversy over the difference in average IQ between “racial” groups in the US, which neuroscientist Sam Harris helped to spark on his podcast earlier this year. Suggested Further Reading: Barbara Fields, “Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the United States of America”; Edmund Morgan, “American Slavery, American Freedom”; Nicholas Wade, “A Troublesome Inheritance.”
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