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IUAES Statement on 'Race' and Racism (July 8, 2011)

PREAMBLE: As scientists who study human evolution, the physical, social and cultural diversity of humankind, we believe that we have an obligation to share with other scientists, politicians and the general public our current understanding of human variation. Nineteenth and early twentieth century categories of 'race', which today have little or no scientific merit, have often been used to support racist doctrines. Yet the concept persists as a social convention that all too often fosters institutional and uncoordinated discrimination. Expression of prejudice may or may not undermine material well-being, but it inevitably involves the maltreatment of people and is thus often psychologically distressing, socially damaging and culturally destructive. Scientists should endeavour to prevent their research results being used in a biased way that serves destructively discriminatory ends.

  1. All humans living today belong to a single species, Homo sapiens, and share a common descent. All living human populations have evolved from one common ancestral group over the same period of time. Much of the biological variation among populations involves modest degrees of diversity in the frequency of shared traits. Human populations have at times been isolated, but have never genetically diverged enough to produce any barriers to reproduction of the species. Internal diversity often exceeds the differences between populations.
  2. Biological differences between human beings reflect both hereditary factors and the influence of natural and social environments. In most cases, these differences are due to the interaction of both. The degree to which environment or heredity affects any particular trait varies greatly.
  3. There is great genetic diversity within all human populations. Neither pure nor mixed 'races', in the sense of genetically homogeneous populations, exist in the human species; nor is there evidence that they have ever existed. Therefore usage of the term 'race' has been unscientific and no longer has any value in scholarly discourse. However, 'race' does exist as a commonsense model – a social construct that has been instrumental in the making of racist ideologies, theories and practices.
  4. There are obvious physical differences between and within populations living in different geographical parts of the world. Some such differences are strongly inherited; others, such as body size, shape and skin colour are strongly influenced by nutrition, way of life and other environmental determinants. Genetic differences between populations reflect differences in the frequencies with which hereditary characteristics occur.
  5. For centuries, scholars have sought to comprehend patterns in nature by classifying living things. Attempts to categorise human populations in this manner have been wholly misplaced. Homo sapiens has become highly diversified across the globe and the geographic pattern of human genetic variation is complex. However it presents no major discontinuity. Consequently humanity cannot be classified into discrete geographic categories on the basis of biological differences. Indeed, the complexities of human history make a nonsense of efforts to categorise particular populations in terms of biological differences. Similarly creating multiplicities of sub-categories cannot correct the inadequacies of those efforts. That is because, generally, the traits that have been used to characterize a population are either independently inherited or show only varying degrees of association with one another within each population. The combination of these traits in most individuals does not therefore correspond to any typological 'racial' characterizations. This fact renders untenable the idea of discrete 'races' made up chiefly of typical representatives.
  6. In humankind the genetic composition of each population is subject over time to the modifying influence of diverse factors. These include natural selection tending towards adaptation to the environment; mutations involving modifications of genetic material; and random changes in the frequencies of genetic characteristics. The human characteristics which have a universal biological value for the survival of the species are not found more frequently in any one population than in any other. Therefore it is not possible, from the biological point of view, to speak in any way whatsoever of a general inferiority or superiority of any particular population.
  7. The human species has a past rich in migrations, in territorial expansions and in contractions. As a consequence, we are adapted to many of the earth's environments in general but not exclusively to just one. For many millennia, human achievements in any field have been based on culture and not on genetic improvement. Migrations have resulted in encounters of previously separated populations, while whole areas of cultural interaction emerged giving birth to new populations and cultures.

    Procreation involving members of different human populations tends to reduce the extent of acquired differences, and has played a very important role in human history. Wherever different human populations have come into contact, they have interbred. The obstacles to such interbreeding have been social and cultural, not biological. The global process of urbanization, coupled with intercontinental migrations, has the potential to reduce the differences between all human populations.
  8. The hereditary characteristics of human populations are in a state of perpetual flux and distinctive local populations are continually coming into and passing out of existence. Such populations cannot in any way be compared to breeds of domestic animals, which have been produced by artificial selection for specific human purposes.
  9. It has never been shown that interbreeding has biological disadvantages for humanity as a whole. The biological consequences of procreation depend only on the individual genetic make-up of each couple. Therefore, no biological justification exists for prohibiting intermarriage between persons of different classifications.
  10. There is no necessary concordance between biological characteristics and culturally defined groups. On every continent, there are diverse populations that differ in language, economy, and culture. There is no national, religious, geographic, linguistic, cultural cohort, or economic class that constitutes what is popularly called a 'race'. However, human beings who speak the same language and share the same culture frequently select each other as procreative partners, with the result that there is often some degree of correspondence between the distribution of physical traits on the one hand, and that of linguistic and cultural traits on the other. But there is no known causal linkage between these physical and behavioural traits, and therefore it is not justifiable to attribute cultural characteristics to the influence of genetic inheritance. Those who do insist on such causal links are guided by unscientific motives and in fact promote racism, an unjustified form of discrimination which is always profoundly hurtful to its targets whether or not it is expressed in physically violent forms.
  11. Physical, cultural, and social environments influence the behavioural differences among individuals in society. Although heredity influences the behavioural variability of individuals within a given population, it does not affect the ability of members of any such population to function in a social setting. The genetic capacity for intellectual development is one of the biological traits of our species essential for its survival. This genetic capacity is known to differ among individuals. The peoples of the world today possess equal biological potential for assimilating any human culture. Hereditary potentials for overall intelligence and cultural development do not differ among modern human populations, and there is no hereditary justification for considering one population superior to another. Racist political doctrines find no foundation in scientific knowledge concerning modern or past human populations.
  12. Racism has over time acquired many faces. It is no longer definable in terms of culture being determined by physical characteristics, but has been translated into an idiom of ethnicity, culture, and exaggerations of cultural relativism. Migration from poor countries and regions into richer ones has brought back racism as an explanation of poverty – through asserting the determinant role of the migrants' innate characteristics. Governments that promote settlement of predominant populations into sparsely populated regions cause demographic aggression and in effect suppress or marginalise local culture, language, religion, etc. When governments perpetuate divisions into autochthonous and allochthonous populations to marginalise or oppress them, those governments' actions constitute institutional racism. Ethnocide, i.e. eradication of autochthonous cultures, leads in extreme cases to physical extermination or calls for it. Genocide is an heinous crime against humanity and as such is abhorrent to anthropology and ethnology. Anthropologists and ethnologists must therefore oblige themselves to debunk and fight racism with scientific argumentation and by involvement in public debates.