Paul Lehman, Race,Confronting Myths

January 24, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Posted in American Racism | Leave a comment
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One reason America cannot deal adequately with its race problem is the fact that it is not yet willing to let go of many of the myths it has come to hold as facts or truth. Many of these myths have been a part of America’s legacy for so long that they seem imbedded in the psyche of many people. With the imbedding of the myths comes the refusal to entertain information contrary to their belief regardless of the sources be they legal, religious, or scientific. Several of these beliefs include the idea of there being many races since the beginning of time or the creation; another is the belief that race is biologically or genetically based; a third belief centers on the idea of subhuman races.

The idea or belief that races of humans goes back in time immemorial has been a key element in the problem of America freeing itself from the myth. Actually, the concept of race, as we know it, is fairly modern. American language acquired the word from the English, who acquired it from the French, who acquired it from the Latin. In Latin the word radix, from which the word race comes means root. In reading early English history we discover that the connotation of the word race had nothing to do with skin completion or physical traits in general, but with cultural differences. The English, for example thought the Brits to be reprehensible, and wanted no association, whatsoever, with them. The English felt so strongly in their convictions that they began identifying the Brits as a different race. What the English brought to the usage of the word race was a belief in an inherent difference between themselves and other Europeans they viewed as inferior to them based on cultural differences. Later in America, Cotton Mather would comment that his ancestors were despised by the English because they were Brits. Although other elements concerning race such physical, and intellectual differences would come into play in America, the idea of races with unique genetic differences is relatively new.

One of the most powerful myths concerning race today is the belief that groups of humans exists and that they have distinguishing genetic differences. What makes this myth so powerful is the fact that many prominent people worked very diligently in attempting to make it a fact. Men of note from 1600’s to today have tried to prove that many races of humans exist. Many publications by men such as John R. Baker, Arthur R. Jensen, Josiah Nott, and Robert Shufeldt in the areas of education, religion and science attest to this campaign. Fortunately, all have been proven wrong. The results of the human genome DNA study show unequivocally that all human beings belong to the same race. The fact that this information has not been fully appreciated by many Americans underscore the fact that some myths are extremely difficult to debunk. The problem becomes somewhat more complex when the idea of human subspecies is introduced.

In their efforts to convince society that some humans were not genetically the same as others, that is, that some subspecies of human beings exist, some institutions joined in the effort to show unique differences among the ethnic American population to prove their point. For example, one of the so-called genetic differences of races focused on intelligence. African Americans were said to not have an intelligence capacity comparable to that of European Americans. That being the case, African Americans must belong to a subspecies of humans. Of course time and experiences have proven this myth to be bogus. However, when we look at society today for some proof that we as a society are ready and willing to dispel this and other myths, we discover that like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, too many Americans belief that the loss to them in giving up these myths is too much to bear.

For a more detailed discussion of this topic, see my book, America’s Race Problem, A Practical Guide to Understanding Race in America.

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