Distillations podcast

Deep Dives into Science Stories, Both Serious and Eccentric
February 7, 2023 Arts & Culture

Origin Stories

The surprising scientific and religious origins of the myth of race.

Collage illustration showing clip of Systema Naturae by Carl Linnaeus, botanical illustration, crop of a cave.

It might seem as though the way we think about race now is how we’ve always thought about it—but it isn’t. Race was born out of the Enlightenment in Europe, along with the invention of modern western science. And it was tied to the politics of the age—imperialism and later slavery. This episode traces the origins of race science to the Enlightenment, examines how the Bible influenced racial theories, and considers how we still have a hard time letting go of the idea of race.

About Innate: How Science Invented the Myth of Race

“Origin Stories” is Episode 1 of Innate: How Science Invented the Myth of Racea podcast and magazine project that explores the historical roots and persistent legacies of racism in American science and medicine. Published through Distillations, the Science History Institute’s highly acclaimed digital content platform, the project examines the scientific origins of support for racist theories, practices, and policies. Innate is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

Credits

Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago
Senior Producer: Mariel Carr
Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Associate Producer: Padmini Raghunath
Audio Engineer: Jonathan Pfeffer
“Innate Theme” composed by Jonathan Pfeffer. Additional music by Blue Dot Sessions.
Special thanks to our colleagues Jacqueline Boytim and James Voelkel for their help with this episode.

Resource List

Archaeology under the Blinding Light of Race, by Michael Blakey 

Breathing Race into the Machine: the Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics, by Lundy Braun 

Divine Variations: How Christian Thought Became Racial Science, by Terence Keel 

Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century, by Dorothy Roberts

Jesus Loves the little Children,” song by Cedarmont Kids 

Medicalizing Blackness: Making Racial Differences in the Atlantic World, 1780-1840, by Rana Hogarth

The Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartmann Schedel

Superior: The Return of Race Science, by Angela Saini

Transcript

Alexis Pedrick: Welcome to our new season, Innate: How Science Invented the Myth of Race. This is Episode One, Origin Stories. In December of 2021, in the middle of a pandemic, the distillations team put on our face masks and went into the library at the Science History Institute.

Lisa Berry Drago: That’s a big book!

Alexis Pedrick: That’s a big book. Oh my gosh.

Lisa Berry Drago: Yeah, please, tell us about the big book.

Jim Voelkel: This is the Nuremberg Chronicle.

Alexis Pedrick: We were there because we had a question, and our library with its huge collection of rare old books seemed like a good place to start.

Jim Voelkel: It is a chronicle of the history of the world.

Alexis Pedrick: We wanted to know where racism in science began. Straight forward question.

Jim Voelkel: In the beginning was God. God separated the light and the darkness.

Alexis Pedrick: We were naïve enough to think that we might be able to isolate the origins of race to science, that there was a clear line in the sand. So when our colleague, Jim, pulled out a version of the Nuremberg Chronicle that was published in 1493, we were a little surprise by what we found.

Jim Voelkel: These are the races of the world. These are adapted from Pliny’s, Natural History.

Alexis Pedrick: Pliny the Elder was an author, a naturalist, and a natural philosopher in the early Roman Empire.

Jim Voelkel: The people who live in distant parts of the world who have these strange characteristics, like this person who has no head and his face is in his chest.

Alexis Pedrick: He died in the year ’79.

Jim Voelkel: And this person who has one large foot, which he uses to shade himself from the heat of the sun.

Alexis Pedrick: Which means that this illustration of the races of the world has been around since the first century and was still getting printed in the 15th century.

Jim Voelkel: And this guy with-

Lisa Berry Drago: And this person-

Jim Voelkel: … gigantic ears.

Alexis Pedrick: Yeah.

Lisa Berry Drago: And, and this person who’s in constant war with storks.

“Different,” for 2000 years, minimum. So there was no date that race scientists snuck into the field and started tricking everyone into believing that race was real, it was there from the beginning.

Lisa Berry Drago: Just the expectation that if you leave your own community, you’re like, “Well, it’s gonna be weird out there, will not be recognizable. It needs to be studied because it won’t be immediately recognizable.”

Alexis Pedrick: Hi, I’m Alexis Pedrick and I’m back with my co-host and partner in crime, Lisa Berry Drago.

Lisa Berry Drago: Hi, Alexis. I’m so happy to be here sitting across from you.

Alexis Pedrick: It’s been a while, right? What’s it been? A year, a thousand years.

Lisa Berry Drago: Sometime has passed let’s say. We received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of its sustaining the humanities through the American Rescue Plan funding. That’s what’s allowed us to be away from your feeds, but hard at work on a project that our whole team has spent months researching, interviewing, and putting together.

Alexis Pedrick: We first got the idea for this season back in 2018. Then in 2020, the pandemic hit, time passed, and every question we asked led to more questions. We watched the murder of George Floyd with our hearts in our throats. We rung our hands and worried about the world and how we could help make it a more just place. And one area we thought we could contribute was by investigating how science has been complicit in a harmful foundational lie.

Lisa Berry Drago: We’ve been taught that race is real, that the color of our skin is an external sign of an internal biological difference, and that that difference says something about how we think, how we act and what we’re capable of. But that idea of innate biological difference, it’s a story, it’s a myth.

Alexis Pedrick: The truth is that human beings are all 99.9% genetically the same. Skin pigmentation, it’s actually a very trivial difference between humans, inside we’re basically the same. And the differences between us don’t fall neatly into racial categories.

Lisa Berry Drago: And this tracks with what we know about human evolution. There’s always been a constant movement of people all over the world. It’s not as though some people left Africa and then stayed put over there for a hundred thousand years. And then now we just recently started moving again. We’ve always been moving. Today we’re one of the most homogenous species on the planet. Humans are more genetically homogenous than any other primate.

Alexis Pedrick: The myth of innate racial difference was baked into society using science. The same tool that told us truths about the stars in the sky and the air we breathe. We used that science to prop this myth up because it gave it legitimacy. It wasn’t a fairytale or hearsay or even just a religious interpretation. It was backed up by rationality, reason and evidence, except that it wasn’t really.

Lisa Berry Drago: Now, don’t get us wrong, we love science, but it’s not some standalone, impartial entity never was. Science is done by people, and people are a species driven by culture, societal pressures, politics, and yes, bias. We want to be moral, we wanna believe things are the way they are because it was meant to be that way because there was a natural order, not because of greed or because of violence. So we made up a story, and when evidence pointed in another direction, we rewrote the story and we did it again and again and again.

Alexis Pedrick: Over the next 10 episodes, we’re gonna peel back the layers of history to find out how science became the tool for inventing this myth and how it’s still going today, even after science has done so much work to tell us it isn’t true.

Lisa Berry Drago: Each of our following episodes are gonna zoom in on one story around science and race. But in this first episode, we wanted to go back to the beginning to set the stage for the rest of the season.

Alexis Pedrick: That’s right. We’re gonna cruise through about 2000 years to show you how race science has evolved over time. It’s used different tools, but it always relies on the same faulty logic that there are deep innate differences between racial groups. Lisa’s gonna sign off for now, but she’ll be back in a few episodes.

Lisa Berry Drago: See you soon, Alexis.

Alexis Pedrick: See you soon.

Alexis Pedrick: Chapter one, Race As Folklore.

Dorothy Roberts: I describe race as a religion and like folklore because people tend to believe in it despite the evidence that it isn’t a real natural division between human beings.

Alexis Pedrick: Dorothy Roberts is a legal scholar and the author of Fatal Invention, How Science, Politics and Big Business Recreate Race in the 21st Century.

Dorothy Roberts: So it’s a faith that they have in this myth that for many people, even giving them scientific evidence, historical evidence, legal evidence, sociological evidence that race was invented by human beings in order to justify oppressing other human beings. Many people still clinging to this faith that they have in the natural creation of races. And that idea that some force in nature divided all human beings into these big categories that we call races is just completely made up. It’s a myth.

Alexis Pedrick: Our understanding of race goes back to the 15th century when European explorers started going around the world and conquering and enslaving people. We’d categorize people before this point in time. Remember those plenty illustrations from the first century. But this is when our modern idea of race begins.

Dorothy Roberts: And actually, it’s not only like folklore or like a religion, we can trace the origins to the idea that race was naturally created in the human species back to a distortion of Christian theology.

Alexis Pedrick: At first, people tried to justify enslaving Africans by characterizing it as saving their souls. They were christianizing these African converts. But what happens when someone converts to Christianity? Well, you can’t enslave them anymore. So enslavers needed a justification for permanent bondage.

Michael Blakey: Human beings are bound by moral codes. We’d like to think that we’re doing the right thing, society would fall apart if we did not have these codes. But slavery was, uh, dehumanizing, it objectified human beings as property.

Alexis Pedrick: This is Michael Blakey, an anthropologist who’s working on a book about the history of race and racism in science and society.

Michael Blakey: It violated all of Christian morality, but whether the Portuguese or the English or the Americans, they wanted it to produce their wealth. Greed drove them. And so they needed a way to reframe it, to deny its immorality.

Dorothy Roberts: And so Christian theologians who wanted to support this genocide and dispossession and conquest and slavery had to come up with some explanation why it was consistent with Christian principles. And the explanation they came up with was that God divided human beings into racists. God created the races and they added to that, that God created white people in God’s image. And everybody else was descended from this perfect white man who was like God.

Alexis Pedrick: One of the theories that European conquerors used to rationalize slavery relied on a biblical story from the Book of Genesis. Noah, the guy with the ark and all the animals, he also had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth who were supposed to repopulate the planet after the great flood. Now one day, Noah was drunk in his tent and his son Ham saw him naked. Ham told his brothers who went and covered Noah without looking at him. But Noah found out what happened and curses Ham, telling him that he will be, quote, “A servant of the servants.”

Paul Wolff Mitchell: On the basis of this dishonor that Ham and his descendants were cursed with darker skin. Ham was then supposed to be the progenitor of all people from, of Africa or any, he’s dark-skinned people. And in the same telling, usually the other two sons, Japheth and Shem are supposed to be the progenitors of Europe and Asia, respectively.

Alexis Pedrick: This is Paul Wolff Mitchell, a post-doctoral researcher in the anthropology department at the University of Amsterdam. The Bible never mentions Ham’s skin color. It was only later that white people were like, “Oh. It was specifically the curse of being dark-skinned.” It was reverse engineered to justify enslaving black people because who is quote, the servant of the servant? An enslaved person. This story became known as the curse of Ham. And it did its job, it wrote race into the Bible. But as time went on, people wanted more evidence.

Rana Hogarth: And what I have found though, is that scientists will actually point to that story and say, “Oh, we have a better way of knowing race now.”

Alexis Pedrick: This is Rana Hogarth, historian of medicine and author of Medicalizing Blackness.

Rana Hogarth: What they tell us in the Bible is fine, but now we can see for our own eyes why their races are the way that they are. You don’t need to rely on these stories anymore.

Alexis Pedrick: In 1684, Francois Bernier, a French doctor who had traveled the world, published a book called A New Division of the Earth. He claimed that you could divide people into groups by their physical features, their skin color, lip shape, and hair texture.

Rana Hogarth: I think what Bernier gives us in 1684 is more like a, “I traveled, I saw groups of people, they have a different language, they have a different culture, they look differently.” So maybe like soft, physical anthropology, but with no measuring the actual [inaudible 00:12:40] like seeing different groups of people. But he does use their bodies, their physical appearance as a way to mark difference at that point.

Alexis Pedrick: Just a few years later, the enlightenment movement really kicked off and what we think of as modern science was born. Objectivity and rationality became the rule. Scientists started using evidence as the way of making sense of the universe instead of basing everything on religious doctrine, at least this is what happened in theory.

Dorothy Roberts: But what the enlightenment scientist did was simply incorporate in their concepts of race this theological folklore, pre-modern folklore that was a distortion of Christianity and the Bible, and they adopted it practically wholesale. But instead of saying, “God created the races with white men in God’s image,” they said, “You know, some force of nature divided all human beings into races and made white people superior.”

Alexis Pedrick: As Europeans colonized the globe, they encountered countless new things and became obsessed with categorizing them. They even made a whole new field of science taxonomy. And the father of taxonomy, the guy responsible for how we see the whole natural world. That was a Swedish botanist and doctor named Carl Linnaeus. He published his catalog of living things, Systema Naturae in 1735. In the 10th edition, he broke down homo-sapiens into four categories, Americanus, Asiatic, Afer, and Europaeus. And he color coded them red, yellow, black, and white. According to Dorothy Roberts, some American school children still sing a song about this in Sunday School.

Jesus loves the little children song: Jesus loves the little children….

Alexis Pedrick: So what kind of evidence did Linnaeus use to come up with these four categories?

Dorothy Roberts: Linnaeus described Europeans and Africans and indigenous peoples of the Americas and Asians by their physical traits that he could observe or he read about, you know, he saw pictures of. So he focused on the hair texture and the color of their skin. And the scientists always also add on certain personality traits. African people are supposed to be lazy, and they have dark skin and they have kinky hair. And white people are supposed to be [laughs] non-violent and rational, and they have blonde flowing hair and white skin.

Alexis Pedrick: Because it wasn’t just a matter of categorizing, there was a hierarchy with white at the top, an Afer or black at the bottom. And the personality traits, Linnaeus added on, not factual. It’s no mistake that they were based on the same biases that justified the slave trade. Linnaeus wasn’t working in a vacuum, he was swimming in the same societal goop as everyone else, one that had a lot of stereotypes and assumptions floating in it. And one of those cultural assumptions was that Europe was the pinnacle of civilization. This is Angela Saini, the author of Superior: The Return of Race Science.

Angela Saini: They framed it not just as kind of a historical fact, but as a natural fact that, “We are better than everybody else and we have the right to go into other countries and colonize them because we are more civilized than them. We are a force and we have the right to do this. And that idea then inevitably becomes woven into the way that people think about human difference. If you tie your cultural or economic superiority to skin color, for instance, then what you are basically saying is that anybody who’s not white cannot do this. Not that they have not done that, or they will not do it, but they cannot do it.

Alexis Pedrick: Chapter two, One Origin or Many.

Alexis Pedrick: Johann Friedrich Blumenbach was a German physician and naturalist who picked up where Linnaeus left off, except Blumenbach didn’t just base his theories on skin deep looks. He base them on the human skulls he collected. And one of his endeavors was revisiting the biblical account of the curse of Ham and looking at it with a scientific eye.

Terence Keel: Blumenbach really wanted to use empirical observation to say, it is entirely true that there are only three primary racial groups. And he comes to a different numeration and discovers that in fact, it’s not simply three, there are in fact five races.

Alexis Pedrick: This is Terence Keel, the author of Divine Variations: How Christian Thought Became Racial Science. He says, the five racists Blumenbach came up with were Caucasian, Mongolian, Malayan, Ethiopian and American.

Terence Keel: But it’s important for him to acknowledge that the first human groups he believed were Caucasians. And he thought this for a whole host of reasons.

Alexis Pedrick: One of those reasons was that he thought the skulls of people from the caucus mountains were the most beautiful and symmetrical and therefore the best and the first, which of course doesn’t actually sound all that scientific. Here was another reason.

Terence Keel: In his mind the white color was capable of turning into other color variations, which was not true for black skin or brown skin.

Alexis Pedrick: And then there was this, there was a new theory circulating at the time, a bit of biblical fan fiction if you ask me. But it said that Noah’s arc actually landed not in Mesopotamia, but in the caucus mountains.

Terence Keel: And that the first humans that come from the arc and then go and populate the earth were the ones responsible for creating the Caucasian. He has now modernized this biblical story and given it the details of modern empirical observation.

Alexis Pedrick: You hear that? He rewrote one of the biggest origin stories of all Noah’s arc, to give credibility to his racial theory that all humans descended from Caucasians and degenerated into different races. In other words, Caucasians were the purest form of humans, and other races were a corrupted form of white. This fit into a theory called monogenism.

Terence Keel: So monogenism is simply a way of saying that humans all share common ancestor and that we all are, uh, members of the same human family.

Alexis Pedrick: Monogenist thought that our outward physical differences were caused by the environment.

Paul Wolff Mitchell: It’s about things like the Ray of the sun and the food that you eat in different areas where the, that food is available. And it’s about all these different factors outside and ping on the body in the skin. And the external appearance of the body is, you know, it’s exposed.

Alexis Pedrick: Opposite monogenism was polygenism.

Terence Keel: Polygenism believes we don’t share anything in common, but the races themselves do share one person in common.

Alexis Pedrick: Polygenists believed that different races were actually distinct species. One problem though, polygenism contradicted the scientifically established criteria for what determined a species. It’s called the Buffon Rule. And it says that two different animal species might be able to procreate, but their offspring will be sterile. Think of a mule. They can’t make little mules of their own. If Polygenists applied the Buffon rule to humans, they would’ve surely seen that mixed race people could and indeed did have children of their own. But they didn’t change their minds, they changed the logic. They said, “Okay, maybe people of mixed races aren’t sterile, just less fertile.” And Polygenism continued on.

Michael Blakey: The big dissemination of these ideas of polygenists, that is that Blacks are not even members of the human species was, published in a book called Types of Mankind in 1854 in the US. And of all people, uh, the great abolitionist intellectual Frederick Douglass responds to it in the year it was published in a commencement speech in which he calls it for what it is an attempt to make as he put it, the Negro into something other than a man in order to justify slavery.

Alexis Pedrick: In 1859, just five years after types of mankind came out, Charles Darwin published on The Origin of Species. And then in 1871, The Dissent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. These books were where he theorized that all biological organisms are the product of evolution.

Angela Saini: So with natural selection and evolutionary theory, you get this idea that humans, we have common origins, which goes a long way to cementing this idea that we are one species.

Alexis Pedrick: This should have been the end of Polygenism, but that’s not what happened. In fact, Darwin’s ideas gave birth to a whole different kind of movement.

Alexis Pedrick: Chapter three, Social Darwinism.

Alexis Pedrick: I’d love to tell you that Darwin’s theory turned things around, but what actually happened is that race scientists, and to some degree Darwin himself, couldn’t shake their beliefs about white superiority.

Angela Saini: Darwin couldn’t let go of this idea that there was a kind of hierarchy within humans, that some humans were more involved than others. There was also this other enlightenment idea of progress, that there was this kind of natural human progress towards civilization, that some races were further behind in that endeavor. Some races were further ahead. And when you combine that with the theory of natural selection, what you get is Darwin’s belief, which was that some races were more evolved than others, that they were lower down the scale, and that perhaps some of them were even doomed to die out. During his travels, he encountered certain groups of people that he thought were just so savage and barbaric that they, they must be right at the bottom of the evolutionary scale, and they were likely to die out in the way that people believed that Neanderthals had died out.

Alexis Pedrick: Darwin’s ideas did not end racism. There’s a term we’ve all heard, Social Darwinism, and it’s catchy, but it’s also horrifying. Social Darwinists took the theory of survival of the fittest and applied it to race science. They said, “Black people are going to become extinct and white men are going to come out on top.” And they cast themselves as doing the world a favor by helping to quote, speed up natural selection.

Angela Saini: And again, you know, this all served this belief that some people were better than others, which is a social and political belief, but it was no more rooted in science than the original idea of race was rooted in science. What is shocking to me is that even after we knew better, we still retained those ideas [laughs].

Alexis Pedrick: Here’s an example. In 1896, a statistician named Frederick Hoffman wanted to prove that black people were going extinct. He gathered extensive data on disease mortality and birth rates for white and non-white people.

Lundy Braun: Frederick Hoffman was just not any old statistician, he was the chief statistician of a Prudential insurance company for 40 years.

Alexis Pedrick: This is Lundy Braun, a professor at Brown University who researches the history of racial health disparities.

Lundy Braun: What is interesting about him though, is that he actually cared about the health of white workers. And it’s, that contrast is pretty striking. He was critical of many of the factories where conditions were quite terrible. But for the most part, those factories were factories that employed white workers.

Alexis Pedrick: So he thought working class white people deserved humane conditions. But in his book, Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro, he displays an obvious bias against black workers.

Lundy Braun: He dismissed black people as human beings, and it’s right there in print.

Alexis Pedrick: His data came from the United States Sanitary Commission, but it was flawed. It came from populations without reliable access to food or healthcare. And when you place them next to healthy, housed, well-fed white people, it’s not a one-to-one comparison. And some people recognize that, and they pushed back.

Lundy Braun: In fact, in the 19th century, there was more contestation than there was in the 20th century.

Alexis Pedrick: Black intellectuals openly challenged Frederick Hoffman, including Kelly Miller, the first African American to receive a PhD in math. And sociologist, historian and civil rights activist, W.E.B Du Bois.

Lundy Braun: Kelly Miller, authored an incredible critique of race traits and tendencies of the American Negro. I mean, the point is they saw this as a dangerous book and that it was important for them to address.

Alexis Pedrick: Miller and Du Bois pointed out something obvious, but truly radical at the time that social and environmental conditions contribute to the poor health of African Americans. And contesting Hoffman wasn’t easy because he claimed his arguments were unimpeachable. Why? Because they were scientific. He was using statistics, numbers had no bias, they became the truth. So here we are at the end of the 19th century, racist ideas have a new tool, statistics, and coupled with Social Darwinism, they gave birth to a new form of destructive race science known as Eugenics.

Alexis Pedrick: Chapter four, Eugenics.

Alexis Pedrick: The man who got the ball rolling on eugenics was actually Charles Darwin’s half cousin, a man named Francis Galton. Subhadra Das is a writer and historian who specializes in race science and eugenics. We talked to her about how Galton built upon the origin of species.

Subhadra Das: Galton added his own genius idea, which is we’ve been selectively breeding domestic species for millennia, right? Like cows and sheep and other animals. We make them fatter to make them tastier. We make them so that they can give us more milk. We make their wool curls so that the wool is, you know, warmer for us to take off them and turn into jumpers and things. And if that is the case, then surely we should be able to do that to humans as well.

Alexis Pedrick: Subhadra used to curate the Francis Galton collection at the University College London, where he set up the first eugenics lab in the world and developed statistical theories and methods of measuring human difference in what he would call objective ways.

Subhadra Das: The definition that you’ll read about eugenics in most places is that it’s an idea of selective breeding applied to humans.

Alexis Pedrick: Unlike Darwin, who believed that natural selection would just play out organically, Galton thought that the government should intervene to speed up the process. He wrote quote, “What nature does blindly, slowly and ruthlessly man may do providently quickly and kindly.”

Subhadra Das: You know, eugenics would be a fairly banal thing if there was an equal power structure in, within our society. You know, sometimes people argue that eugenics happens anyway, because if you exercise even any kind of agency in choosing your life partner for the purpose of reproduction. Some people argue that that’s eugenics. It isn’t. Eugenics is very much about the state, it’s about the state using scientific information to determine who should and shouldn’t get to have children.

Alexis Pedrick: In the 1920s and ’30s, eugenics found sympathetic ears both here in the US and of course in Germany with the Nazis.

Angela Saini: Eugenics, of course now we associate it with, with Nazi Germany because what the Nazis did through their program of racial hygiene was carry through with this idea that if we could exterminate or get rid of those who we think are genetically weak, then we improve the health of the German race. It was always flawed scientifically, and of course, morally. This is what happens when scientism or the kind of scientific ideas are taken and pulled into these kind of dark social spaces without much moral reflection.

Alexis Pedrick: The horrors of the Nazis actions led scientists to reassess whether race was a valid biological category. And then in 1950, UNESCO, an arm of the UN gathered a group of scientists to draft a statement on race. The declaration said that the likenesses among men are far greater than their differences. That race was a social construct, not a biological category. So race science was over, right? I mean, you probably know the answer. We’ve got nine more episodes to go.

Alexis Pedrick: We’ve just breezed through a couple thousand years of history in one podcast episode. So if your head is spinning, that’s okay. We’re gonna get into it and come back to a lot of these ideas over the course of this season. The one thing to remember is that race science always relies on this faulty logic, that racial difference is innate and that white people are at the top of the social hierarchy because they are meant to be. And over time, we’ve used different tools to perpetuate these ideas. Here’s Rana Hogarth again.

Rana Hogarth: All of these things give us a kind of language, a vocabulary to make sense of difference. The Bible gives us a language to make sense of difference. Using taxonomy, biology, genetics, these are all vocabularies embedded with each of these specific fields that allow us to use precision to talk about race. And I think that each time, as time goes on, we think we’re getting closer and closer to being more precise. So people are saying, “Okay, no more Noah, let’s dissect a body and that’ll do it. Or, okay, you know, we don’t need to dissect these bodies now. And the whole human body is the same. But we notice that one group of people doesn’t live as long or they don’t have as good health outcomes,” right? What we’re see, using here are new technologies for parsing difference. Vocabularies change for parsing difference. And that’s what we’re kind of seeing over time. What we can say is that the end result is not this triumph, it is that we’re still seeing a clear pattern of marginalization.

Alexis Pedrick: This whole season revolves around the word innate, how there’s no real innate racial difference. But Terence Keel got us thinking about this word in a different way, and his perspective gives us some hope.

Terence Keel: And the ultimate point, I think, is to get us to consider, do we need to live in a world where we need to know definitively where we come from racially? Is that a necessary idea? Is it a natural idea or, or, we, are humans innately designed to know this? And I would say no. I would say that this very desire is, is cultured, it’s shaped, it’s influenced by our religion and our traditions. And because of this, it’s also possible to, for this to be reshaped, to be pushed in a different direction, for us to imagine a world and a society where your humanity and my ability to treat you as a human, is not predicated on whether or not I can give an account of us sharing a common ancestor. I think that we have to design theories that treat humans with dignity without a science that validates their humanity.

Alexis Pedrick: Innate, How Science Invented the Myth of Race was made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Democracy Demands Wisdom.

Lisa: This episode was produced and reported by Rigoberto Hernandez and Mariel Carr with additional production by Padmini Raghunath.

Alexis Pedrick: It was mixed by Jonathan Pfeffer, who also composed our Innate theme music.

Lisa Berry Drago: Check out sciencehistory.org/innate for more information about the project. For distillations, I’m Lisa Berry Drago.

Alexis Pedrick: And I’m Alexis Pedrick. Thanks for listening.

Alexis and Lisa: Thanks for listening.


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