Anti-Racism 101

01 What is Race?


The first human genome project, completed in 2003, showed that human beings are 99.9% genetically the same. “There is more genetic variation in a flock of penguins than there is in the human race. There is more genetic variation within groups that have come to be called races than there is across groups that have come to be called races…. Anthropologists finally say, and it is way past due, that race is anthropological nonsense.

Is that the same thing as saying it’s not real? No. No, because it’s real. It is powerfully real. It’s politically and socially real. So how did we get it? We constructed it.” –Suzanne Plichik

Race is a social construction that describes people who share physical and cultural traits as well as a common ancestry or common history. But it’s something that is really about historically-conditioned perceptions of human differences.” –James D. Anderson


There are not multiple biological groups called ‘races.’  However, race is real and it impacts us all.  What we call ‘race’ are social categories.  They play a role in our lives, histories and futures. We talk about race, or avoid talking about it, all the time…but few of us really stop and think about what race really is, and importantly, what it is not.

There is currently one biological race in our species: Homo sapiens sapiens. However, that does not mean that what we call ‘races’ (our society’s way of dividing people up) don’t exist.  Societies, like the USA, construct racial classifications, not as units of biology, but as ways to lump together groups of people with varying historical, linguistic, ethnic, religious, or other backgrounds. These categories are not static, they change over time as societies grow and diversify and alter their social, political and historical make-ups….”

Even something thought to be so ubiquitous as skin color works only in a limited way as dark or light skin tells us only about a human’s amount of ancestry relative to the equator, not anything about the specific population or part of the planet they might be descended from.

While race is not biology, racism can certainly affect our biology, especially our health.  Recent work has clearly demonstrated that racial social structures, from access to health care to one’s own racialized self-image, can impact the ways our bodies and immune systems develop. This means that race, while not a biological unit, can have important biological implications because of the effects of racism. This is extremely important for those of us interested in cognition, development, education, and health: anyone who wants to use knowledge to make a difference in their own and in others’ lives. Solutions to racial inequalities and the problems of race relations in the USA are not going to emerge as long as a large percentage of the public holds on to the myth of biological races.” –Agustin Fuentes

In the early 1800s, Dr. Samuel Morton conducted research to demonstrate biological differences between races. His extraordinarily flawed and biased findings have since been used to justify hundreds of years of horrors like slavery and genocide. Since then, science has unequivocally demonstrated that race isn’t biologically real. The genetic diversity that exists across the entire human race is very, very small, and race isn’t even a good proxy for what diversity does exist. That’s why we say race is a social construct: it’s a human-invented classification system. It was invented as a way to define physical differences between people, but has more often been used as a tool for oppression and violence. –Sarah McAfee

“Race has no genetic basis. Race justified social inequalities as natural.” –PBS “What is Race? Is Race for Real?”

“Whiteness and white supremacy were invented to justify slavery and by extension other forms of exploitation.” –John Biewen

“After more than a century of an enlightened study we know that race is not just something that falls from the sky; it is, as the anthropologists say, a fabricated idea. But that doesn’t mean that race doesn’t have material consequence and empirical weight. It simply means that if we constructed it, we can get about the business of deconstructing it.

And there is a paradox that many of you refuse to see: to get to a point where race won’t make a difference, we have to wrestle, first, with the difference that race makes. The idea that whiteness should be abolished, an idea that some white antiracist thinkers have put forth, disturbs a lot of you – especially when you argue that whiteness is not all murder and mayhem.

Historian David Roediger has questioned if there is a ‘white culture outside of domination.’ At the University of Minnesota, where he taught for five years, conservative white kids on campus said there was a need for a white cultural center if a Black cultural Center existed. When he asked his class what they’d put in a white cultural center, he said ‘there was the longest silence that I have ever experienced in a classroom.’” –Michael Eric Dyson

In the mid 1400s, Portuguese Christians portrayed slavery as an improvement over freedom in Africa, where they “live like beasts.“ Slave traders invented the codified idea of black people and, implicitly, of white people. By the time British colonists came to the US, they were steeped in racist ideas that were the foundation of our justifications for slavery.

During the enlightenment the categorizing of “nature” began in earnest, with human beings attempting to fit humanity into distinct groups.

The Genome Project showed that everyone on the planet is no more than 50th cousins with everyone else on the planet.

(Drawn from Ibram Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning, The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, and Nell Irvin Painter’s The history of white people.

“Peoples who live in areas where there’s malaria have developed this mutation [for sickle cell anemia], or have a higher prevalence of this mutation, because it protects against malaria. But it’s not confined to Africa, it’s not present in all of Africa, and so it simply is not a ‘Black’ disease. It just says nothing about race whatsoever. It’s linked to groups that developed in areas where there’s a lot of malaria, that’s all.”

People with ancestors from Zimbabwe are very genetically different from people with ancestors from Somalia, for example. And that difference is greater than the difference between someone from Somalia and someone from some part of Europe.” –Dorothy Roberts

“It’s important that we see this creation [race] was for the upliftment of white people, primarily the white people at the top.” –Suzanne Plichik

“If a lot more people understood these things in their bones, what a different conversation we could be having about race.” –John Biewen

When someone (usually white) mentions why are you always ‘pulling the race card,’ answer with the fact that if he wants to talk about ‘race cards,’ then he’d better be willing to talk about ‘who built the deck,’ on top of ‘who dealt the cards’ in the first place.

–Johnny Silvercloud

Like it or not, Black humanity has been, and continues to be, the only salvation white American humanity has.” –Michael Eric Dyson

Some essays by scientists: