Race, while drawn from the visual cues of human diversity, is an idea with a measurable past, an identifiable present, and an uncertain future. The concept of race has been at the center of both triumphs and tragedies in American history and has had a profound effect on the human experience. Race Unmasked revisits the origins of commonly held beliefs about the scientific nature of racial differences, examines the roots of the modern idea of race, and explains why race continues to generate controversy as a tool of classification even in our genomic age.
Surveying the work of some of the twentieth century's most notable scientists, Race Unmasked reveals how genetics and related biological disciplines formed and preserved ideas of race and, at times, racism. A gripping history of science and scientists, Race Unmasked elucidates the limitations of a racial worldview and throws the contours of our current and evolving understanding of human diversity into sharp relief.
Science shows that only 0.1% of nucleic acids in the human genome differ on average between individuals, yet despite such evidence, science is still used to fuel racism says Drexel University public health professor Yudell. Indeed, while geneticist J. Craig Venter gave a White House talk in 2000 noting that race has little to do with genetics, and social scientist W.E.B. DuBois penned a similar message a century before, as Yudell writes, "we are having frustratingly similar arguments about race and human difference despite the benefit of 100 years of knowing better." Venter explains in his foreword that it may once have been a selective advantage to fear the "stranger coming to your cave," though a similar condemnation of racism as an obsolete hunter-gatherer instinct was attacked as a rationalization when articulated by Pulitzer-Prize winning biologist E.O. Wilson in Sociobiology (1975). Yudell notes that "the intellectual claims of sociobiology intentionally or not could and did serve the needs of those who harbored racist ideas by giving them scientific legitimacy." From Darwin's "survivorship of the fittest," misused by eugenicists, to Linnaeus' taxonomic classifications misused by Linnaeus himself science has long played a role in perpetuating racism. This intensely deliberative book unearths many subtle and not-so-subtle examples of this complex historic relationship.