Mind Matters: Races

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Most people look at others and see races: black, white, yellow, and so on. I have never understood the colours. To me, most "white" people look beige. Donald Trump looks orangish. Albino individuals look white, but there are few of them, and some are members of the "black" race.

Not many "black" people look black to me, although some do. Asian individuals do not look yellow. "Red men" do not look red.

The black race in Australia is not the same as the black race in the US, is it?

Either I cannot see or societies have made up a bunch of colour nonsense.

One white woman in the US, Rachel Dolezal, passed as black for many years before famously being outed by her family. Some black people pass as white.

I don't know if members of the other colour groups pass as a different colour. It would not surprise me.

Sometimes racial colours get a capital letter at the start. I am ignorant of such rules.

Biologists do not believe in race. Why not? Here are three reasons.

Humans are very closely related to each other genetically - closer than chimps are to other chimps.

Genes vary as much within human racial groups as between groups. We all have ancestors who lived in Africa.

So what's the deal with race? Social psychologists say that belief in race is like a socially transmitted disease. The belief spreads from person to person.

We learn about race as children, and we never question the concept.

We use the idea to explain human behaviour. Whites are law-abiding. Blacks make good athletes. Yellows work hard. We throw in ethnic and religious groups as if they were races: Jews are clever.

Of course, we also apply negative characteristics to races and groups other than our own.

The only negative concept I can think of at the moment for my group is that white men can't jump. I enjoyed the movie by that name.

What would happen if we said goodbye to the concept of race, as biologists have? Might our thinking focus on individuals rather than groups? That seems like a good idea.

So, if you watch me play basketball and see that I can't jump, think: John Malouff can't jump. You need not say that out loud.

Maybe you will see me doing something clever one day. Go ahead and comment on that.

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Psychology, University of New England.

This story Biologists do not believe in race, why do we? first appeared on The Canberra Times.