1. Mankind collectively, humanity

2. A part of humanity with certain common inherited characteristics

A human race is defined as a group of people with certain common inherited features that distinguish them from other groups of people. (Creation Ex Nihilo, 1980)

Pure races in the sense of genetically homogeneous populations do not exist in the human species, nor is there evidence that they have ever existed in the past history of the human family. (UNESCO)

It all started with Linnaeus, the scientist who sought to record and classify all species. Or perhaps with Darwin, who wanted to find out why there was such a variation in the world. Maybe it was Buffon... Or maybe the origin of the concept of human race is more than a little hazy. But then, so is the concept itself. What is race? Is it important? Should it be spoken of, researched on, or denied? Is humanity one race under God, as the athletes might say, or several small groups making up a greater whole? And if there is a subdivision, is it hierarchial or equal; is it relevant, or better ignored?

Because of the many historical wrongdoings related to race among humans, anyone wishing to deal with it must tread carefully. This node steps with the softness of elephant feet.

Genera - species - subspecies - subsubspecies?

All humans belong to the species homo sapiens, with an extra sapiens sometimes added to single us out from our now dead primitive relatives. The question about human race is whether we can be divided into distinct subspecies after that. Humans obviously look different, depending on where their ancestors came from. But they don't look very different, and any attempt to define discrete classifications will conclude that there are no strict borders.

Skin colour, the most common characteristic of race, follows a spectrum rather than a checkerboard pattern: people are not ebony or ivory, but a whole range, including the white of a fish underbelly, the pink of a rose, the tan of deerskin, the brown of dark chocolate. Humans cannot be purebred for a certain trait like dogs, and so there is no human equivalent of the Alsatian or the Pomeranian - anyone who has met people from Alsatia or Pomerania will assert that they look and behave no different from other people.

Despite the inherent problem in definition, a lot of serious research has taken place trying to define the races scientifically. Craniums, hair, noses and arms have all been examined and categorised. Simple and complex systems have been proposed and worked their way into our thinking, before being debunked. One old, wellknown system was the one of the four colours: white, black, red and yellow, which were based as much on the imagined qualities of the people it described as on their skin colour. The version many current terms are based on sorts humanity into six races: Negroid, Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Australoid, American Indian, and Polynesian. When race thinking was at its highest, names were also made for the most common mixtures of these races (such as Mulatto, Métiz, Quadroon), and efforts were made to erase or assimilate the lesser-valued races into the better.

Pride and prejudice

In earlier times, many people read the Bible to indicate that God separated humanity into races - slavery in America was justified by saying that he had punished Noah's son Ham by making his skin dark and condemning him to always work for others. Today, even creationists will agree that the looks of humanity have changed over time. There never has been an 'ideal shape' for man, and any classification of races will be based on the current appearances of different people, not on some divine separation.

The Haitian scholar Anténor Firmin was among the first who discussed the equality of the human races, an equality most of us accept as a given today. In the latter half of the 20th century this came to be the dominant view, but because of a long history of atrocities based on racial thinking, all races are not quite equal yet.

In the United States of America, the country with the most diverse population in the world, race is still very much an issue. On several official forms, one is asked to tick the box of one's race. The boxes in the forms seem to reflect an American society still somewhat divided into races. African-American groups believe in speaking loudly about their cultural (and, implicitly, racial) heritage, Aryanism-inspired groups speak more quietly about their purity and greatness. People tend to date or at least marry people within their box - although "interracial marriages" are not illegal anymore, they are far from being the norm.

In South Africa, the keeping apart of races became an ideology for the ruling class. There, whites were believed to be the superior ones, blacks the lowest, and an intermediate group of Indians and mulattoes - Coloured - somewhere in between. The three groups were formally divided and treated according to their estimated worth. With the fall of this inhuman race system, one big problem was how to spread the land and riches equally among all the people again. In both the United States and South Africa, people of previously disadvantaged races are sometimes offered special treatment in an attempt to correct the balance. This admirable thought is criticised, however, both because it seems to maintain the old discrimination lines, and because it is only to the advantage of a few of the previously downtrodden ones - and genereally doesn't seem to help those who really need it.

The crowning glory of race thinking came with the Aryan dream of Adolf Hitler, which soon turned into a nightmare for all the world. He firmly believed that his select group of Germanic people were superhuman; that various people groups who mainly distinguished themselves with their differentness were subhuman scum, and that the rest were ordinary mortals. When the world realised just what he had done, it started thinking, and so we can thank Hitler for pushing the serious discussions about human race to the outermost confines of darkness. In the following decennia, the world battled and threw off most of the old ideas about race hygiene.

That's when all the trouble around ethnicity began...

I'd argue that the very process of dividing humans into races is tantamount to racism. The best option seems to be to boycott the concept of race entirely. If a form demands I declare a "race," I either write "human" or check all of them (can you disprove that, after all?) (Anark)

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