Are the first humans black

Are the first humans black

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I have been doing some studies and I believe humans where black before they were white. Black has the ability to create all colors where as white derives from no color so white couldn't have been first. What do you think?

It very much depends upon what you call "first humans". Before there was any hairless hominids, the skin under the fur might have been very different from the skin colour of a human 30,000 years ago.

It appears that extant sister species of Homo sapiens sapiens tend to have a light skin under its fur according to a number of popular article I could find (e.g. this and that). Here is a picture of a hairless chimpanzee from the St-Louis (Missouri; USA) zoo

It suggests that the MRCA between humans and chimpanzees had a pale skin but please realize that this claim is based upon my research of poor quality references and it contradicts John's claim in the comments.

It sounds reasonable to me to think that humans skin evolved a darker skin when they started to lose fur and when their skin got more directly exposed to sun. Some human lineages have then "evolved back" lighter skin (see How did some humans evolve to be white?).

You can read more about the evolutionary forces controlling skin evolution in this answer.

The first (African) humans with low body hair/fur (compared to apes) almost certainly acquired black skin pretty quickly, probably in a simultaneous process with shedding of hair/fur. This is based on genetic evidence, such as the low variation in the "African black skin gene". From Jablonsky and Chaplin (2010):

The near absence in African populations of functionally significant variation in the coding region of the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R), one of the major genes regulating human eumelanin production, indicates the action of purifying selection maintaining dark pigmentation under intense selective pressure (Harding et al., 2000; John et al., 2003; Makova and Norton, 2005). The evidence of functional constraint on MC1R in African populations is unusual in light of the high levels of polymorphism observed at other loci in African populations (Makova and Norton, 2005). [… ]

The loss of body hair in humans was accompanied by enhanced barrier functions of the stratum corneum (Montagna, 1981; Elias, 2005), including the evolution of other epidermal keratins (Chimpanzee Sequencing and Analysis Consortium, 2005; Moll et al., 2008), which reduced the skin's permeability and improved its abilities to resist abrasion and microbial attack. The rapid divergence of genes responsible for epidermal differentiation was one of the most significant results to emerge from the initial comparison of human and chimpanzee genomes (Chimpanzee Sequencing and Analysis Consortium, 2005). Changes in skin pigmentation also accompanied loss of body hair, and multiple lines of evidence indicate that permanent, dark, eumelanin-based pigmentation evolved soon after the emergence of the genus Homo in Africa (Jablonski and Chaplin, 2000; Rogers et al., 2004).

How quickly this (combined process) happened is a matter of some debate, in particular because we don't know how quickly hair was shed (that also depends on the environment of ancestral hominids, which itself is somewhat contentious) or how quickly a (mostly hairless) species would die out (or evolve) because of skin cancers, in the absence of eumelanin protection. Greaves (2014) summarizes:

Early hominin evolution in East Africa at some 2-3 Ma was associated with a dramatic loss of the body hair development that is retained by our primate cousins. Hair growth was retained on the head-the most UVR-exposed part of the body of a bipedal hominin. Some exotic explanations have been entertained for this dramatic phenotypic shift, including avoidance of fur parasites or of catching fire, a response to wearing clothes or an adaptation to an aquatic way of life. But the most likely major adaptive advantage would have been for thermoregulation or facilitation of sweating and heat loss for physically active, hunter-gatherers in the savannah But what colour was the exposed skin of the first hairless hominins? Not black it would seem. The skin of our nearest primate relative, the chimpanzee, is, under the fur, essentially pale or white with melanocytes restricted to hair follicles. The exposed and relatively hairless face and hands are also white in infant chimpanzees of three Pan subspecies (but black in Pan paniscus) and they become facultatively pigmented with age. It has therefore been considered very likely, albeit not unambiguously so, that the first African hominins to discard hirsutism were also white- or pale-skinned. [… ]

Rogers et al. [2004] proposed that, around the time that humans first became hairless savannah-dwellers, the now common allele swept to fixation under the influence of potent environmental selective pressure. They calculate a minimum date for the time since that sweep occurred of approximately 1.2 Myr which is not too discordant with the time estimate of 1.7 Ma when hominins (Homo ergaster or Homo erectus) were believed to have first inhabited the savannah. The adoption of the more open savannah as a habitat may have resulted from climate change and consequential shifts in forestation and faunal species abundance.

With those estimates there's a 500,000-year gap between moving to savannah and getting black skin. What happened in between is a matter of conjecture. (Neither skin nor hair are preserved in the fossil record.) A more recent study (Tishkoff et al., 2017), which further analyzed black skin DNA variation in Africa, concludes:

Skin pigmentation is highly variable within Africa. Populations such as the San from southern Africa are almost as lightly pigmented as Asians, while the East African Nilo- Saharan populations are the most darkly pigmented in the world. Most alleles associated with light and dark pigmentation in our dataset are estimated to have originated prior to the origin of modern humans ~300 ky ago. In contrast to the lack of variation at MC1R, which is under purifying selection in Africa, our results indicate that both light and dark alleles at MFSD12, DDB1, OCA2, and HERC2 have been segregating in the hominin lineage for hundreds of thousands of years. Further, the ancestral allele is associated with light pigmentation in approximately half of the predicted causal SNPs; Neanderthal and Denisovan genome sequences, which diverged from modern human sequences 804 kya, contain the ancestral allele at all loci. These observations are consistent with the hypothesis that darker pigmentation is a derived trait that originated in the genus Homo within the past ~2 million years after human ancestors lost most of their protective body hair, though these ancestral hominins may have been moderately, rather than darkly, pigmented. Moreover, it appears that both light and dark pigmentation has continued to evolve over hominid history.

And speaking of Neanderthals, it is estimated by Lalueza-Fox et al. (2007), based on genetic evidence, that they developed an arrays of skin colors as well, by a mechanism similar to modern humans:

The melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) regulates pigmentation in humans and other vertebrates. Variants of MC1R with reduced function are associated with pale skin color and red hair in humans of primarily European origin. We amplified and sequenced a fragment of the MC1R gene (mc1r) from two Neanderthal remains. Both specimens have a mutation that was not found in approximately 3700 modern humans analyzed. Functional analyses show that this variant reduces MC1R activity to a level that alters hair and/or skin pigmentation in humans. The impaired activity of this variant suggests that Neanderthals varied in pigmentation levels, potentially on the scale observed in modern humans. Our data suggest that inactive MC1R variants evolved independently in both modern humans and Neanderthals.

And if the wide-variation of skin color within Africa (from recent studies) confuses you in relation to MC1R's [gene] lack of variation in Africa (it did baffle me for a while), Martin, Henn, et al. (2017) explain it as:

As observed previously, we find a strong correlation between absolute latitude and average skin pigmentation reflectance caused by melanin content. We also observe that populations with lighter skin have reduced variation within any given study: populations furthest from the equator have narrower distributions, while populations closest to the equator have wider distributions. These patterns suggest that selection is acting differently at different latitudes. In equatorial regions, strong directional selection for darker pigmentation has shifted the distribution means in some populations to M indices >90, but with wide variances. This is consistent with a"threshold"model (Chaplin, 2004) in which the protective benefit of melanin needs to meet some minimum threshold but with no penalty to darker pigmentation; alternatively, diversifying selection could maintain the wide variance.

In stark contrast, pigmentation in far northern European and Asian populations has been under directional selection for decreased melanin production, reflected by very narrow distributions.

African Americans in Science

African Americans have made significant contributions in various fields of science. Contributions in the field of chemistry include the development of synthetic drugs for the treatment of chronic ailments. In the field of physics, African Americans have helped to invent laser devices for the treatment of cancer patients. In the field of medicine, African Americans have developed treatments for various diseases including leprosy, cancer, and syphilis.

Early migration

Our interdisciplinary research team combined genetic and archaeological data with reconstructions of the ice sheets to investigate the earliest people of the Scandinavian peninsula. We extracted DNA for sequencing from bones and teeth of the seven individuals from the Norwegian Atlantic coast and the Baltic islands of Gotland and Stora Karlsö.

We then compared the genomic data with the genetic variation of contemporary hunter gatherers from other parts of Europe. To our surprise, hunter gatherers from the Norwegian Atlantic coast were genetically more similar to contemporaneous populations from east of the Baltic Sea, while hunter gatherers from what is Sweden today were genetically more similar to those from central and western Europe. One could say that – in Scandinavia at that time – the geographic west was the genetic east and vice versa.

This contradiction between genetics and geography can only be explained by two main migrations into Scandinavia. It would have started with an initial pulse from the south – modern day Denmark and Germany – that took place just after 11,700 years ago. Then there would have been an additional migration from the northeast, following the Atlantic coast in northern Finland and Norway becoming free of ice.

Artist’s impression of the last ice age. wikipedia, CC BY-SA

These results, published in the PLOS Biology, agree with archaeological observations that the earliest occurrences of the new stone tool technology in Scandinavia were recorded in Finland, northwest Russia and Norway – dating to about 10,300 years ago. This kind of technology only appeared in southern Sweden and Denmark later on.

The Black Box of Biology

Since the 1930s, a molecular vision has been transforming biology. Michel Morange provides an incisive and overarching history of this transformation, from the early attempts to explain organisms by the structure of their chemical components, to the birth and consolidation of genetics, to the latest technologies and discoveries enabled by the new science of life. Morange revisits A History of Molecular Biology and offers new insights from the past twenty years into his analysis.

The Black Box of Biology shows that what led to the incredible transformation of biology was not a simple accumulation of new results, but the molecularization of a large part of biology. In fact, Morange argues, the greatest biological achievements of the past few decades should still be understood within the molecular paradigm. What has happened is not the displacement of molecular biology by other techniques and avenues of research, but rather the fusion of molecular principles and concepts with those of other disciplines, including genetics, physics, structural chemistry, and computational biology. This has produced decisive changes, including the discoveries of regulatory RNAs, the development of massive scientific programs such as human genome sequencing, and the emergence of synthetic biology, systems biology, and epigenetics.

Original, persuasive, and breathtaking in its scope, The Black Box of Biology sets a new standard for the history of the ongoing molecular revolution.

Recent News

  • Amid debates over anti-racist curricula in K&ndash12 schools, Fugitive Pedagogy author Jarvis Givens highlighted, at the Atlantic, the Black teachers who since the nineteenth century have been deeply engaged in the work of challenging racial domination in American schools.
  • In the Washington Post, Eswar Prasad, author of the forthcoming The Future of Money: How the Digital Revolution Is Transforming Currencies and Finance, exploded five popular myths about cryptocurrency.
  • Stylist published an excerpt from Beronda L. Montgomery&rsquos Lessons from Plants on how the common counsel &ldquobloom where you&rsquore planted&rdquo ignores how plants, in their attempts to flourish, actively participate in and transform their environments. author Vincent Brown spoke with the Boston Globe about what an eighteenth-century rebellion can teach the twenty-first century about dismantling racism.

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

To celebrate Pride Month, we are highlighting excerpts from books that explore the lives and experiences of the LGBT+ community. This second excerpt comes from How To Be Gay, a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, in which David M. Halperin, a pioneer of LGBTQ studies, dares to suggest that gayness is a way of being that gay men must learn from one another to become who they are. &hellip


Baker, Earnest. 1950. The Politics of Aristotle. London: Oxford University Press.

Darwin, Charles. 1859. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: John Murray.

Dubner, Stephen J., and Steven D. Levitt. 2005. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. New York: HarperCollins.

Gobineau, Joseph-Arthur de. [1853] 1970. Essay on the Inequality of Human Races. In Father of Racist Ideology: The Social and Political Thought of Count Gobineau, ed. Michael D. Biddiss, p. 113. New York: Weybright and Talley.

Gould, Stephen Jay. 1996. The Mismeasure of Man. Rev. ed. New York: Norton.

Graves, Joseph L., Jr. 2005. The Race Myth: Why We Pretend Race Exists in America. New York: Plume.

Herrnstein, Richard J., and Charles Murray. 1994. The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. New York: Free Press.

Montagu, Ashley, ed. 1964. The Concept of Race. London: Collier.

Tucker, William H. 1994. The Science and Politics of Racial Research. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

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"This volume provides an up-to-date, concise synthesis of what is known about early Homo and highlights what still remains to be done.” Journal of Human Evolution, 2009

From the Back Cover

This volume addresses the origin of the human genus Homo, a major transition in human evolution and associated with major changes in brain size, locomotion, and culture, but one with many unanswered questions. How many different species of Homo were there, and how were they interrelated? Are stone tools a characteristic of early Homo? What was their function? How does the use of stone tools relate to changes in the dentition and brain size? Did adaptations for long distance running first appear with the origin of this genus? How does this relate to its diet and cultural abilities.

About the Author

Fred Grine is Professor of Anthropology and of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University. He has published over 100 articles in scientific journals dealing with the subject of human evolution, and his work on the Late Pleistocene human fossil from Hofmeyr, South Africa, was named by Time Magazine as one of the top ten science stories of 2007. He edited Evolutionary History of the ‘Robust’ Australopithecines (1988, Aldine de Gruyter), and is author of Regional Human Anatomy: a Laboratory Workbook (2002, 2005, 2007, McGraw-Hill).

John Fleagle is Distinguished Professor of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University. He has conducted paleontological field work in many parts of the world, including Argentina, Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia and India. He is the author of the textbook Primate Adaptation and Evolution (1988, 1999, Elsevier), co-editor of the Human Evolution Sourcebook (1993, 2006, Prentice Hall), and editor of the journal Evolutionary Anthropology.

Richard Leakey is Professor of Anthropology at Stony Brook University and former Director of the Kenya National Museums and the Kenya Wildlife Service. His field work around Lake Turkana, Kenya, has yielded a treasure trove of hominin fossils that has provided much of the paleontological record on which our understanding of human evolution is based. He has authored a number of books, including Origins, and most recently, The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and The Future of Humankind. He is Chairman of the Board of the Turkana Basin Institute at Stony Brook University.

The Deep-Sea Find That Changed Biology

In 1977, a small crew of oceanographers traveled to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and stumbled across a brand new form of life. The discovery was so unusual, it turned biology on its head and brought into question much of what scientists thought they knew about where life can form and what it needs in order to survive.

Today, the Smithsonian Institution houses that remarkable discovery: a pale and fleshy, 4-foot-long worm that floats in the kind of pickle jar you'd see in your neighborhood delicatessen. It might not look like much now, but Kristian Fauchald, the Smithsonian's curator of worms, says that in 1977, this worm had everyone scratching their heads. At up to 7 feet in length, he says, "these are enormous beasts compared to normal worms." And they were thriving in large numbers without any obvious source of food or light.

"This," Fauchald says, holding up the worm, "is something absolutely unique."

Researchers named the area where they found the tubeworms the "Garden of Eden" because of the abundant life around the deep-sea vents. Woods Hole Oceanographic Instution hide caption

Researchers named the area where they found the tubeworms the "Garden of Eden" because of the abundant life around the deep-sea vents.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Instution

An Unexpected Discovery

Kathy Crane and Jack Corliss weren't expecting to find anything alive when they started on their journey to explore the ocean floor. They were looking instead to answer some basic questions about the ocean's temperature and chemistry that science could not yet answer. "Saltiness was a big question," Crane says. "Students used to ask their professors, 'How did the ocean get its salt?' "

Some ocean scientists believed the answers to these questions lay in volcanic vents that they suspected peppered the ocean floor. So they put together an expedition in the Alvin, a tiny submarine operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, to go down and see for themselves.

Crane was then a 25-year-old grad student from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. From the Alvin's mother ship, she guided the Alvin to an area in the eastern Pacific known as the Galapagos Rift. Corliss, a geologist from Oregon State University, rode aboard the Alvin itself.

Hey, can you biologists tell us what these things are? And they said, 'What? We don't know what that is. Hold everything!'

Kathy Crane, recalling a conversation with Woods Hole scientists after discovering the deep-sea worms

The day of the dive, Crane assumed her position as navigator and Corliss climbed aboard the Alvin. "I slipped through the porthole," he remembers. "It wasn't much bigger around than I was."

As the Alvin began its descent, Corliss watched through the window as the world around him went from blue to black to blacker than black. "We were descending into a different world," he says. Now and again, they saw sudden flashes of light from bioluminescent creatures swimming past the sub.

Back on the mother ship, Crane navigated the team toward the areas where they believed the vents were located. She also told the Alvin's pilot to look for "white clam shells against a background of black volcanic glass." From earlier imaging, they'd caught glimpses of what they thought were clamshells on the ocean floor, which they joked were tossed overboard from a Navy ship's clambake. It never occurred to the crew inside the sub that the shells were anything special. Until .

"I was watching my temperature measurement," Corliss says, "and just that time, the pilot said, 'There's clams out here!' "

Inside The Alvin

The Alvin opened up the ocean depths to human exploration. As ocean scientist Kathy Crane explains in the audio clips below, the deep-sea sub offers an experience of our planet found nowhere else.

On A Different Sensory World

On Seeing New Species Of Life

On Undersea Communication

They'd found not just clamshells, but living, breathing clams that were a good foot-and-a-half long living alongside the hydrothermal vents. There were also mussels, anemones and brilliantly colored red-tipped worms — up to 7 feet long and anchored by slender white tubes swaying like a field of flowers.

"Absolutely stunningly beautiful," Corliss says. "The worms had white tubes and these beautiful red plumes, sort of like a three-dimensional feather. These feathers are sort of oscillating, undulating as they're pumping fluid into their body. It was amazing!"

The crew named the lush pocket of life "the Garden of Eden" and used the sub's mechanical arm to delicately gather up a bouquet of worms, mussels, clams and anemones. Once on the surface, they dropped them into containers of vodka — the only preservative they had. Then Crane picked up the phone and called Woods Hole.

"Hey," she asked, "can you biologists tell us what these things are? And they said, 'What? We don't know what that is. Hold everything!' "

'How Do They Live?'

Today, back at the Smithsonian, Kristian Fauchald opens up a pickle jar and pulls out the very first worm — Riftia pachyptilla — that Crane and her team brought up from the depths 34 years ago. "The really fun part," he says, "was trying to figure out what these animals are. How do they live?"

The key, he says, is that the worms don't use light but a "completely different energy source" in a process called chemosynthesis. The worm uses its red plume to absorb hydrogen sulfide — that nasty stuff that smells like rotten eggs — from the vent water. A colony of bacteria living inside the worm's gut gobbles up the hydrogen sulfide and uses it to create carbon compounds that feed the worm. Voila — chemosynthesis!

More Stories From The Alvin


Deep-Water Sub Dives Into The Fountain Of Youth


Dives To Gulf Seafloor Turn Up Sea Life Near Well

In the months following the discovery of life near the hydrothermal vents, Crane says the excitement was intense, and the scientific community's biggest names came steam-rolling in.

"There were cases where people were stealing samples, clams and taking them off to their institutions and hiding them," she says. "You know, scientists can be extremely aggressive people to get what they want."

Eventually, Crane left the field of vent science. Today she is a senior researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, working mostly in the Arctic.

Corliss says the discovery inspired him to change the focus of his work as he wondered whether these curious creatures, from such an inhospitable environment, might help explain how life started on Earth.

"It was quite amazing," he says. "It marked a transition in my life." Corliss has since devoted his career to studying the origins of life today, he teaches biology at the Central European University in Budapest.

In the years since the original discovery, scientists have returned to the Galapagos Rift and the hydrothermal vents. The abundant "Garden of Eden" continues to thrive, and not far away, a new vent community of chemosynthetic life has begun to grow. Scientists have named the new site "Rosebud."

Can You Believe That Black People Are An Inferior Race & Still Be A Decent Person?

White racism is the belief that there is an inherent, genetic superiority in members of the white race over members of the black and brown races.

In 1861 the principle of white racism was accepted as fact by most white person in the Confederacy.

The Cornerstone Of The Confederacy Was White Racism

A few weeks before the Civil War the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, said that the Confederacy’s cornerstone “. . . rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man that slavery — subordination [of blacks] to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world [that is] based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

The South started the Civil War to protect the principle that black people were sub-human, not people, not children of God, but were merely animals like mules and cattle that could be owned, enslaved, raped and killed at will by white people without sin.

Over 600,000 men were killed in the war the people of the South started and fought to protect the great “moral truth” of white racism.

After the Civil War the people of the South instituted and enforced the policy of segregation based on their belief that black people were sub-human, not people, not children of God, but rather a race that was so inferior to the white race that blacks should not be allowed to eat with, go to school with, ride on buses with, urinate with or in any material way associate with members their superior white race.

Many White People Still Believe That Blacks Are An Inferior Race

Today, people all over America still believe that the fundamental principle of white racism is factually true and for many of them the slogan “Make America Great Again” really means “Make America White Again.”

Many white people still believe that the principle of white racism is factually true, though they don’t usually express the idea of black racial inferiority in the extreme terms of white people being entitled to be slave owners and that black people’s genetic destiny is to be slaves.

Today it’s more subtle, more of a feeling, an assumption, that “those people” just aren’t as good as we are.

In Episode 1 of Season 4 of All In The Family, Archie Bunker was scheming to keep a Puerto Rican family from buying the empty house next door. Mike was upset about what Archie was doing and asked him:

  • You don’t call that crooked?
  • No. That’s looking out for number 1.
  • Where does that place Mr. Jefferson? [The black man already living in the neighborhood.]
  • He’s number 2.
  • Why is Jefferson number 2?
  • Because, Meathead, there can only be one number 1 and one number 2 and life made Jefferson number 2 long before I come along.
  • So then Puerto Ricans are number 3 then, huh Daddy?
  • Well not necessarily there, Little Girl. Your Puerto Ricans can be 4. Your Japs and your Chinks can be 3–3A and 3B.

Are Racists Necessarily Bad People?

I ask myself: Can people who support the foundation principle of white racism still be decent people?

It Can’t Be Wrong If It’s True

Racists say that their belief in the inferiority of the black race has nothing to do with being a good or a bad person because the inferiority of the black race is simply a factual truth, that black people are biologically inferior to white people so no moral component can be attached to their recognition of that truth.

A Self-Invented Claim

There is no genetic evidence that the brains of black people are different in any way whatsoever from those of white people. IQ tests are notoriously dependent on cultural and life-experience factors and are not able to accurately compare the native intelligence of different races, even if there were an agreement about what we mean by intelligence.

There are, in fact, different kinds of intelligence, high levels of skill and facility in different endeavors. Sheldon Cooper may be a genius at math but he’s unable to fathom even the most common social conventions. In one area he is very smart. In another, amazingly stupid.

Spare Me Your Defense Of The Principle Of White Racism

I could write an entire column on the assimilation of minorities, their employment mobility, and class cultural values the similarities and differences between the assimilation and advancement of Irish, Italian, Asian and Black lower classes the massive changes in job and educational opportunities between 1900 and today the effect of unionization and loss of unionized jobs on social mobility — all to the point that black people’s economic and social standing tells us nothing about black people as a race, so spare me your claims of inherent racial inferiority based on current earning power.

The Difference Between Racism & Other Failed Theories

A stubborn belief in a self-serving idea for which there is no reliable proof is, in itself, an indication of stupidity rather than intelligence.

But there is a crucial difference between believing the claims of white racism and espousing other discredited theories. Whether you believe most of the other nonsensical notions people cling to doesn’t usually affect anyone else.

Without any reliable evidence, you can stubbornly insist all you want that the earth is flat, that Neil Armstrong never landed on the moon, or that Elvis is still alive, and your crackpot ideas aren’t going to impact anyone other than yourself.

But when you claim that black people are an inferior race who deserve to be subordinate to white people or that Jews and Slavic people are inferior races that are like germs that should be expelled from white societies, your notions do affect others in very damaging ways.

Those People

I have friends who are in almost every way good people, but get a couple of drinks in them and give them a push in the right direction and you start to hear the phrase “those people.”

  • “You have to watch yourself around those people.”
  • “You don’t want to be involved with those people.”
  • “Those people can’t be trusted.”
  • “Those people don’t want to work”
  • “Those people are animals”
  • “Stay away from there. That place is full of those people.”

Occasionally, you’ll hear, “He’s one of the smart ones” or “He’s one of the good ones,” the implication being that this one black person is the rare exception to the rule of the inferiority of black people.

Earl Butz, Gerald Ford’s Secretary of Agriculture, famously said: “I’ll tell you what the coloreds want. It’s three things: first, a tight pussy second, loose shoes and third, a warm place to shit.”

Earl Butz and all his friends would tell you that his believing in the principle of black racial inferiority didn’t make him a bad person.

When Mr. Ego said that there were good people among the Neo-Nazis and White Nationalists in Charlottesville he was saying that believing that black people are an inferior race does not make you a bad person.

He was telling America that you can be both a racist and a good person.

What Does It Take To Tip The Scale?

At what point does one personal flaw so taint someone that you can no longer call them a good person?

How much weight do you have to put on one side of the scale before the arm tips over?

Hitler Was Nice To His Dog

There’s the old line about Hitler being nice to his dog and Ted Bundy never forgetting his mother’s birthday. Of course, we know that’s not enough to make up for what they did, not being enough to tip their personal scale back in the good-person column.

Even though the eighth-grade gym teacher may have been a wonderful man in many ways, we know that his propensity to molest one or two vulnerable boys every term would pretty much knock him out of the “good person” category.

It’s Not A Crime If They’re Not Really Human

During the ’40s, 50’s, and 60s black people were being lynched and their churches were being burned while all those God-fearing, white southerners who proclaimed that Jesus Christ was their savior closed their eyes, said nothing, continued to elect segregationist mayors and sheriffs, and acquitted the rare white person who ever saw the inside of a courtroom, all under the belief that black people were an inferior race who were not children of their God, so none of what was done to them was actually, morally wrong.

They said they believed in the Lord and swore to follow the principles of Jesus Christ then they walked out of church and looked the other way so that they couldn’t see their neighbors and their policemen beating and hanging black people because according to the principles of white racism, black people weren’t really people at all, so whatever happened to them didn’t count.

Were those white believers in the principle of white racism good and decent people?

At what point does a person’s toxic beliefs tip the moral scale over to the other side?

— David Grace (

2. Do Races Exist? Contemporary Philosophical Debates

Ron Mallon (2004, 2006, 2007) provides a nice sketch of the contemporary philosophical terrain regarding the status of the concept of race, dividing it into three valid competing schools of thought regarding the ontological status of race, along with the discarded biological conception. Racial naturalism signifies the old, biological conception of race, which depicts races as bearing &ldquobiobehavioral essences: underlying natural (and perhaps genetic) properties that (1) are heritable, biological features, (2) are shared by all and only the members of a race, and (3) explain behavioral, characterological, and cultural predispositions of individual persons and racial groups&rdquo (2006, 528&ndash529). While philosophers and scientists have reached the consensus against racial naturalism, philosophers nevertheless disagree on the possible ontological status of a different conception of race. Mallon divides such disagreements into three metaphysical camps (racial skepticism, racial constructivism, and racial population naturalism) and two normative camps (eliminativism and conservationism). We have used &lsquoconstructivism&rsquo throughout for the sake of consistency but it should be read as interchangeable with &lsquoconstructionism.&rsquo

Racial skepticism holds that because racial naturalism is false, races of any type do not exist. Racial skeptics, such as Anthony Appiah (1995, 1996) and Naomi Zack (1993, 2002) contend that the term race cannot refer to anything real in the world, since the one thing in the world to which the term could uniquely refer&mdashdiscrete, essentialist, biological races&mdashhave been proven not to exist. Zack (2002, 87&ndash88) provides an accessible summary of the racial skeptic&rsquos argument against the biological foundations for race, sequentially summarizing the scientific rejection of essences, geography, phenotypes, post-Mendelian transmission genetics, and genealogies as possible foundations for races. Aristotelian essences, thought to ground the common characteristics of distinct species, were correctly rejected by early modern philosophers. If essences cannot even ground differences among species, then they clearly cannot ground the differences among races, which even nineteenth century racial science still understood as members of the same species. Whereas folk theories rely on geography to divide humanity into African, European, Asian, and Amerindian races, contemporary population genetics reveal the vacuity of this foundation for two reasons. First, geographically based environmental stimuli lead to continuous physical adaptations in skin, hair and bone rather than the discrete differences associated with race and second, although mitochondrial DNA mutations provide evidence of the geographical origins of populations, these mutations do not correlate with the physical traits associated with racial groups. Similarly, phenotypes cannot ground folk theories of race: for instance, differences in skin tone are gradual, not discrete and blood-type variations occur independently of the more visible phenotypes associated with race, such as skin color and hair texture. Race cannot be founded upon transmission genetics, since the genes transmitted from one generation to the next lead to very specific physical traits, not general racial characteristics shared by all members of a putatively racial group. And finally, genealogy cannot ground race, since clades (populations descended from a common ancestor) may have common genetic characteristics, but these need not correlate with the visible traits associated with races. Zack concludes: &ldquoEssences, geography, phenotypes, genotypes, and genealogy are the only known candidates for physical scientific bases of race. Each fails. Therefore, there is no physical scientific basis for the social racial taxonomy&rdquo (Zack 2002, 88).

Racial skeptics like Appiah and Zack adopt normative racial eliminativism, which recommends discarding the concept of race entirely, according to the following argument. Because of its historical genealogy, the term race can only refer to one or more discrete groups of people who alone share biologically significant genetic features. Such a monopoly on certain genetic features could only emerge within a group that practices such a high level of inbreeding that it is effectively genetically isolated. Such genetic isolation might refer to the Amish in America (Appiah 1996, 73) or to Irish Protestants (Zack 2002, 69), but they clearly cannot refer to those groupings of people presently subsumed under American racial census categories. Because the concept &ldquorace&rdquo can only apply to groups not typically deemed races (Amish, Irish Protestants), and because this concept cannot apply to groups typically deemed races (African Americans, Whites, Asians, Native Americans), a mismatch occurs between the concept and its typical referent. Thus, the concept of race must be eliminated due to its logical incoherence (Mallon 2006, 526, 533).

Appiah has since modified his skepticism in such a way that softens the eliminitivist element of his position. Appiah has come to argue for racial nominalism by admitting the importance of &ldquohuman folk races,&rdquo namely, that they are forms of social identity that do in fact exist (2006, 367). The way in which they are social identities, however, is a problem because we treat them as if there were some biological underpinning to them (2006, 367). The folk theory of race, then, is false because it is based on mistaken beliefs, yet it is nonetheless true that we continue to categorize people along its lines. Appiah&rsquos nominalist view of race aims to reveal how these social identities work by analyzing the labels we use for them. According to Appiah there are three ways that we categorize using folk racial labels: ascription, identification, and treatment, and it takes all three for a given label to be a functioning social identity (2006, 368&ndash370). As a result, we come to live as these identities and look to them as a central resource for constructing our lives. Furthermore, norms of identification and authenticity arise around them (2006, 372). Since there is no biological story that can be told to ground these labels then race is not real (2006, 372). For a critique of Appiah&rsquos modified view that focuses on Appiah (1996) see Ronald R. Sundstrom (2002).

Racial constructivism refers to the argument that, even if biological race is false, races have come into existence and continue to exist through &ldquohuman culture and human decisions&rdquo (Mallon 2007, 94). Race constructivists accept the skeptics&rsquo dismissal of biological race but argue that the term still meaningfully refers to the widespread grouping of individuals into certain categories by society, indeed often by the very members of such racial ascriptions. Normatively, race constructivists argue that since society labels people according to racial categories, and since such labeling often leads to race-based differences in resources, opportunities, and well-being, the concept of race must be conserved, in order to facilitate race-based social movements or policies, such as affirmative action, that compensate for socially constructed but socially relevant racial differences. While sharing this normative commitment to race conservationism, racial constructivists can be subdivided into three groups with slightly different accounts of the ontology of race. As we will see below, however, Sally Haslanger&rsquos eliminitivist constructivism illustrates how these commitments can come apart.

Thin constructivism depicts race as a grouping of humans according to ancestry and genetically insignificant, &ldquosuperficial properties that are prototypically linked with race,&rdquo such as skin tone, hair color and hair texture (Mallon 2006, 534). In this way, thin constructivists such as Robert Gooding-Williams (1998), Lucius Outlaw (1990, 1996) and Charles Mills (1998) rely on the widespread folk theory of race while rejecting its scientific foundation upon racial naturalism. Interactive kind constructivism goes further, in arguing that being ascribed to a certain racial category causes the individuals so labeled to have certain common experiences (Mallon 2006, 535 Piper 1992). For instance, if society ascribes you as black, you are likely to experience difficulty hailing cabs in New York or are more likely to be apprehended without cause by the police (James 2004, 17). Finally, institutional constructivism emphasizes race as a social institution, whose character is specific to the society in which it is embedded and thus cannot be applied across cultures or historical epochs (Mallon 2006, 536). Michael Root (2000, 632) notes that a person ascribed as Black in the United States would likely not be considered Black in Brazil, since each country has very different social institutions regarding the division of humanity into distinct races. Similarly, Paul Taylor (2000) responds to Appiah&rsquos racial skepticism by holding that races, even if biologically unreal, remain real social objects (Mallon 2006, 536&ndash537). Indeed, in a later work Taylor (2004) argues that the term &ldquorace&rdquo has a perfectly clear referent, that being those people socially ascribed to certain racial categories within the United States, regardless of the widespread social rejection of biological racial naturalism.

Sally Haslanger&rsquos constructivism (2000, 2010, 2019) is not, however, conservationist. She understands races as racialized groups, whose membership requires three criteria. One, members are those who are &ldquoobserved or imagined&rdquo to have certain bodily features that are evidence of certain ancestry from certain geographical locations two, &ldquohaving (or being imagined to have)&rdquo those features marks members as occupying either a subordinate or privileged social position, thereby justifying that position and three, the satisfaction of the first two criteria plays a role in members&rsquo systemic subordination or privilege (2019, 25&ndash26). Racial identity in such contexts need not focus exclusively on subordination or privilege, as &ldquomany forms of racial identity are important, valuable, and in some cases even inevitable responses to racial hierarchy&rdquo (2019, 29&ndash30). She worries, however, that even though we should embrace &ldquocultural groups marked by ancestry and appearance&rdquo in the short term to fight for justice, she worries about embracing them for the long term (2019, 30).

Constructivism also cleaves along political and cultural dimensions, a distinction owed to Chike Jeffers (Jeffers, 2013, 2019). Haslanger&rsquos view is paradigmatic of political constructivism by understanding the meaning of race as determined by hierarchical relations of power by definition: &ldquorace is made real wholly or most importantly by hierarchical relations of power&rdquo (Jeffers 2019, 48). Jeffers&rsquo cultural constructivism corrects for political constructivism&rsquos inability to account for race existing after racism, including the idea of racial equality (2013, 421 2019, 71). Cultural constructivism rejects &ldquothe idea that cultural difference is less important than differences in power relations for understanding racial phenomena in the present&rdquo (2019, 65). At the extreme, political constructivism argues for, one, differential power relations bring racial difference into existence two, differential power relations are fundamental for understanding the present reality of race and three, differential power relations are essential to race, so race will cease to exist in an egalitarian society where appearance and ancestry do not correlate to certain hierarchical positions (2019, 56&ndash57). Jeffers concedes race&rsquos political origin while rejecting the two other ways that power relations define race (2013, 419 2019, 57&ndash58). The cultural significance of race can be seen in three ways. First, even the emergence of racial categories counts as a cultural shift, insofar as new social contexts are created in which those viewed as being of different races are also viewed as having different cultures. Second, there are &ldquonovel forms of cultural difference&rdquo that emerge in the wake of racial difference. And third, racial groups are shaped culturally by happenings prior to racial formation (2019, 62&ndash63). Jeffers thus writes of Blackness, &ldquoWhat it means to be a Black person, for many of us, including myself, can never be exhausted through reference to problems of stigmatization, discrimination, marginalization, and disadvantage, as real and as large-looming as these factors are in the racial landscape as we know it. There is also joy in blackness, a joy shaped by culturally distinctive situations&rdquo (2013, 422).

There are also views that challenge the broad strokes of constructivism while avoiding racial skepticism: Lionel K. McPherson&rsquos deflationary pluralism (2015), Joshua Glasgow&rsquos basic racial realism (2015, with Jonathan M. Woodward, 2019), and Michael O. Hardimon&rsquos deflationary realism (2003, 2014, 2017). McPherson argues that &ldquorace&rdquo should be replaced with his concept of socioancestry, since &ldquo&lsquorace&rsquo talk overall is too ambiguous and contested to be salvaged in the search for a dominant understanding&rdquo (2015, 676). He aims to sidestep Appiah&rsquos eliminativism by claiming that deflationary pluralism &ldquodoes not maintain that &lsquorace&rsquo talk is necessarily an error and does not take a hard line about whether races exist&rdquo (2015, 675). Socioancestry retains the possibility of &ldquocolor-conscious social identity&rdquo without the burdens of assumptions or confusions about race and racial nature (2015, 686). This is because it is &ldquovisible continental ancestry,&rdquo rather than race, which is the root of color-consciousness (2015, 690). Socioancestry, then, focuses on visible continental ancestry alone to explain social group formation. Accordingly, socioancestral identities develop &ldquowhen persons accept (or are ascribed) a social identity because they share a component of continental ancestry that distinctively shapes color-conscious social reality&rdquo (2015, 690).

Glasgow&rsquos basic racial realism aims to capture our operative meaning of race: &ldquothe meaning that governs our use of the term, even when we are unaware of it&rdquo (2019, 115). Glasgow defines his position in the following way: &ldquoRaces, by definition, are relatively large groups of people who are distinguished from other groups of people by having certain visible biological traits (such as skin color) to a disproportionate extent.&rdquo The position is therefore anti-realist, since it claims that races are neither biologically nor socially real (2019, 117). Glasgow&rsquos position is grounded in judgments about our commitments, believing that we are more willing to give up on the biological basis for race than we are to give up on the idea that there are certain &ldquocore features and identities&rdquo connected to the idea of race&rdquo (2019, 127). In other words, disbelieving in the biological reality of race doesn&rsquot lead to eliminativism. Glasgow holds, however, that it also doesn&rsquot lead to social constructivism. Race is not socially made because, &ldquono matter which social facts we attend to, we can always imagine them disappearing while race stays. And if race is conceptually able to persist across all social practices, then by definition it is not a social phenomenon&rdquo (2019, 133). This intuition is based in his focus on our ordinary usage of the term &ldquorace,&rdquo which is fully captured by visible traits.

Hardimon&rsquos deflationary realism argues that we need four interrelated race concepts to coherently answer the question of what race is to human beings: the racialist concept of race, the minimalist concept of race, the populationist concept of race, and the concept of socialrace (2017, 2&ndash3, 7). The racialist concept of race is the view that there are fixed patterns of race-based moral, intellectual, and cultural characteristics that are heritable, based in an underlying biological essence, correlate to physical characteristics, and form a distinct racial hierarchy (2017, 15&ndash16). Minimalist race &ldquosays that people differ in shape and color in ways that correspond to differences in their geographical ancestry. Essentially that is all it says&rdquo (2017, 6 see also 2003). It aims to capture in &ldquoa nonmalefic way&rdquo what the racialist concept of race says that it captures. In other words, it admits of the nonsocial and biological reality of race but in a value-neutral way (2017, 7). Populationist race aims to do the same thing in a more robust and specific way by giving a genetic underpinning to the minimalist conception based on a &ldquogeographically separated and reproductively isolated founding population&rdquo (2017, 99). This concept is distinguished from cladistic race because it does not require monophyly (2017, 110). Finally, socialrace captures race in terms of its social relations and practices. It refers to &ldquothe social groups in racist societies that appear to be racialist races as social groups that falsely appear to be biological groups&rdquo (2017, 10 see also 2014). Hardimon argues that it is only through using all four concepts, with the rejection of the first being the basis for the construction of the latter three, that we can actually understand our concept of race.

The third school of thought regarding the ontology of race is racial population naturalism. This camp suggests that, although racial naturalism falsely attributed cultural, mental, and physical characters to discrete racial groups, it is possible that genetically significant biological groupings could exist that would merit the term races. Importantly, these biological racial groupings would not be essentialist or discrete: there is no set of genetic or other biological traits that all and only all members of a racial group share that would then provide a natural biological boundary between racial groups. Thus, these thinkers confirm the strong scientific consensus that discrete, essentialist races do not exist. However, the criteria of discreteness and essentialism would also invalidate distinctions between non-human species, such as lions and tigers. As Philip Kitcher puts it, &ldquothere is no&hellipgenetic feature&hellipthat separates one species of mosquito or mushroom from another&rdquo (Kitcher 2007, 294&ndash296 Cf. Mallon 2007, 146&ndash168). Rather, biological species are differentiated by reproductive isolation, which is relative, not absolute (since hybrids sometimes appear in nature) which may have non-genetic causes (e.g., geographic separation and incompatible reproduction periods or rituals) which may generate statistically significant if not uniform genetic differences and which may express distinct phenotypes. In effect, if the failure to satisfy the condition of discreteness and essentialism requires jettisoning the concept of race, then it also requires jettisoning the concept of biological species. But because the biological species concept remains epistemologically useful, some biologists and philosophers use it to defend a racial ontology that is &ldquobiologically informed but non-essentialist,&rdquo one that is vague, non-discrete, and related to genetics, genealogy, geography, and phenotype (Sesardic 2010, 146).

There are three versions of racial population naturalism: cladistic race socially isolated race and genetically clustered race. Cladistic races are &ldquoancestor-descendant sequences of breeding populations that share a common origin&rdquo (Andreasen 2004, 425). They emerged during human evolution, as different groups of humans became geographically isolated from each other, and may be dying out, if they have not already, due to more recent human reproductive intermingling (Andreasen 1998, 214&ndash216 Cf. Andreasen 2000, S653&ndashS666). Socially isolated race refers to the fact that legal sanctions against miscegenation might have created a genetically isolated African American race in the USA (Kitcher 1999). Finally, defenders of genetically clustered race argue that although only 7% of the differences between any two individuals regarding any one specific gene can be attributed to their membership in one of the commonly recognized racial categories, the aggregation of several genes is statistically related to a small number of racial categories associated with major geographic regions and phenotypes (Sesardic 2010 Kitcher 2007, 304).

The question is whether these new biological ontologies of race avoid the conceptual mismatches that ground eliminativism. The short answer is that they can, but only through human intervention. Socially isolated race faces no mismatch when applied to African Americans, defined as the descendants of African slaves brought to the United States. However, this racial category would not encompass Black Africans. Moreover, because African American race originated in legally enforced sexual segregation, it is &ldquoboth biologically real and socially constructed&rdquo (Kitcher 2007, 298). Genetic clustering would seem to provide an objective, biological foundation for a broader racial taxonomy, but differences in clustered genes are continuous, not discrete, and thus scientists must decide where to draw the line between one genetically clustered race and another. If they program their computers to distinguish four genetic clusters, then European, Asian, Amerindian, and African groups will emerge if only two clusters are sought, then only the African and Amerindian &ldquoraces&rdquo remain (Kitcher 2007, 304). Thus, genetic clustering avoids racial mismatch only through the decisions of the scientist analyzing the data. The same problem also confronts cladistic race, since the number of races will vary from nine, at the most recent period of evolutionary reproductive isolation, to just one, if we go back to the very beginning, since all humans were originally Africans. But in addition, cladistic race faces a stronger mismatch by &ldquocross-classifying&rdquo groups that we typically think of as part of the same race, for example by linking northeast Asians more closely with Europeans than with more phenotypically similar southeast Asians. Robin Andreasen defends the cladistic race concept by correctly arguing that folk theories of race have themselves generated counter-intuitive cross-classifications, particularly with respect to the Census&rsquo Asian category, which previously excluded Asian Indians and now excludes native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. (Andreasen 2005, 100&ndash101 Andreasen 2004, 430&ndash431 Cf. Glasgow 2003, 456&ndash474 Glasgow 2009, 91&ndash108). But this hardly saves her argument, since the US Census&rsquos history of shifting racial categories and past use of ethnic and religious terms (e.g., Filipino, Hindu, and Korean) to signify races is typically taken as evidence of the social, rather than biological, foundations of race (Espiritu 1992, Chapter 5).

Quayshawn Spencer (2012, 2014, 2019) is resistant to arguments that cladistic subspecies are a viable biological candidate for race (2012, 203). Instead, he defends a version of biological racial realism that understands &ldquobiologically real&rdquo as capturing &ldquoall of the entities that are used in empirically successful biology&hellipand that adequately rules out all of the entities that are not&rdquo (2019, 77 see also 95). Spencer argues that such an entity exists and can be found in the US government&rsquos Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and its racial classifications. The basis for this claim is that population genetics has identified five distinctive &ldquohuman continental populations&rdquo that satisfy the criteria for biological reality (2019, 98 95). The OMB classifications map onto these continental populations. The importance of the OMB is that its ubiquity in our lives means that one of the primary ways that we talk about race is through its categories. Spencer highlights this centrality when he points out the ways that Americans self-report their races correspond to the parameters of the OMB classifications (2019, 83&ndash85). Spencer is pluralist about race talk, however, meaning that OMB race is just one dominant meaning of race, while there is no single dominant meaning among users of the term (2019, 213).

In each case, racial population naturalism encounters problems in trying to demarcate discrete boundaries between different biological populations. If discreteness is indispensable to a human racial taxonomy, then mismatches can only be avoided, if at all, through human intervention. But as noted above, biological species are also not genetically discrete, and thus boundaries between non-human species must also be imposed through human intervention. And just as the demarcation of non-human species is justified through its scientific usefulness, so too are human racial categories justified. For instance, Andreason contends that a cladistic race concept that divides northeastern from southeastern Asians is scientifically useful for evolutionary research, even if it conflicts with the folk concept of a unified Asian race. In turn, the concepts of genetically clustered and socially isolated race may remain useful for detecting and treating some health problems. Ian Hacking provides a careful argument in favor of the provisional use of American racial categories in medicine. Noting that racial categories do not reflect essentialist, uniform differences, he reiterates the finding that there are statistically significant genetic differences among different racial groups. As a result, an African American is more likely to find a bone marrow match from a pool of African American donors than from a pool of white donors. Thus, he defends the practice of soliciting African American bone marrow donors, even though this may provide fodder to racist groups who defend an essentialist and hierarchical conception of biological race (Hacking 2005, 102&ndash116 Cf. Kitcher 2007, 312&ndash316). Conversely, Dorothy Roberts emphasizes the dangers of using racial categories within medicine, suggesting that it not only validates egregious ideas of biological racial hierarchy but also contributes to conservative justifications for limiting race-based affirmative action and even social welfare funding, which supposedly would be wasted on genetically inferior minority populations. In effect, race-based medicine raises the specter of a new political synthesis of colorblind conservatism with biological racialism (Roberts 2008, 537&ndash545). However, Roberts&rsquo critique fails to engage the literature on the statistical significance of racial categories for genetic differences. Moreover, she herself acknowledges that many versions of colorblind conservatism do not rely at all on biological justifications.

‘Sensitive Nature of the Research’

Science teachers have had no shortage of reasons in recent decades to cede conversations on race to the humanities.

There was, for one thing, the need to repudiate the first half of the 20th century, during which science textbooks were replete with racial stereotypes and uncritical references to eugenics.

And 21st-century geneticists looking for clues to human evolution and medicine in the DNA of people from around the world took pains to note that they were not studying “race.”

“We basically decided, no, race is still a social construction, it’s not a biological thing,” Ken Miller, an author of the widely used Prentice Hall biology textbook, told the science magazine Undark of the decision to omit mention of race.

And not everyone is eager to reinsert it. Several school districts have rejected Dr. Donovan’s application to participate in the study, even when teachers have expressed interest.

“I am denying the research request based on the sensitive nature of the research,” the research supervisor for one Colorado district wrote in an email.

But Jaclyn Reeves-Pepin, executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers, said efforts to avoid lending scientific credibility to unfounded perceptions of genetic difference may themselves be sowing confusion.

“If I was a student asking about race and my teacher said, ‘Race is a social construct, we’re not going to talk about it in science class,’ well — that’s not an explanation of what students are observing in their world,” Ms. Reeves-Pepin said. In advance of the group’s annual meeting this fall, a session featuring Dr. Donovan’s curriculum received the highest score from a review panel of biology teachers of all 200 submissions, she said.

As in any experiment, the subjects will need to be informed of the risks and benefits before they consent to participate.

The benefits, a group of Midwestern 12th graders who will begin the unit this month were told, include “a research-based curriculum designed to teach complex genetics.” For the risks, the students were warned that they may feel some discomfort in science class.