Thursday, August 29, 2013

One Big Family

While intolerance is alive and well throughout our world today, there seem to be remarkable efforts to spread information around the planet in the hope of dismantling the prolific hatred that has been born of our fear and ignorance.  As global economic distress escalates, indirectly threatening the education of our young, and self-righteous fundamentalists, bullies, and extremists waive their flags as prominently as ever, the future of our species hangs in the balance.  

How do we stop fearing, hating and destroying each other?  The most obvious place to begin is by learning how to relate to ourselves and those around us in a more loving and constructive fashion.  Subsequently, it seems we'd all be served by broadening our knowledge base and finding the courage and willingness to familiarize ourselves with people we don't understand - people who are strange and foreign to us.  How do we educate ourselves, as such, without slipping into the convenient and comfortable lie that we are "better than?" 

I'd like to focus on one of these convenient and comfortable lies we call "racism."  Perhaps we can work toward getting rid of the term altogether.  I suppose we must first come to an agreement that the word "race", itself, is a fairly useless and increasingly outdated distinction.  I'm irritated every time I'm asked to check the box next to my "race" when filling out various personal information forms over the years.  Am I white? 

Certainly not...ever see anyone truly white or black? - of course not.  Am I Caucasian or Caucasoid?  Note the following  Wikipedia entry:

The term "Caucasian race" was coined by the German philosopher Christoph Meiners in his The Outline of History of Mankind (1785).   In Meiners's unique racial classification, there were only two racial divisions (Rassen): Caucasians and Mongolians. These terms were used as a collective representation of individuals he personally regarded as either good looking or less attractive, based solely on facial appearance. For example, he considered Germans and Tatars more attractive, and thus Caucasian, while he found Jews, Slavs and Native Americans less attractive, and thus Mongolian.

I appreciate that it can be valuable to note various ethnic and demographic differences for myriad reasons. Still, can't we do better than "White, Black, Asian, Native American, and Latino" to describe the remarkably diverse, yet closely related modern human family?

So, enter the work of Spencer Wells, one of my modern day heroes:(again, I cite Wikipedia):

Spencer Wells wrote the book The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey (2002), which explains how genetic data has been used to trace human migrations over the past 50,000 years, when modern humans first migrated outside of Africa. According to Wells, one group took a southern route and populated southern India and southeast Asia, then Australia. The other group, accounting for 90% of the world's non-African population (some 5 billion people as of late 2006), took a northern route, eventually peopling most of Eurasia (largely displacing the aboriginals in southern India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia in the process), North Africa and the Americas. Wells also wrote and presented the PBS/National Geographic documentary of the same name. By analyzing DNA from people in all regions of the world, Wells has concluded that all humans alive today are descended from a single man who lived in Africa around 60,000 - 90,000 years ago, a man also known as Y-chromosomal Adam.

Since 2005, Wells has headed The Genographic Project, undertaken by the National Geographic SocietyIBM, and the Waitt Family Foundation, which aims to creating a picture of how our ancestors populated the planet by analyzing DNA samples from around the world. He presents the knowledge gained from the project around the world, including at the 2007 TED conference, where he spoke specifically about human diversity.

In short, Spencer Wells' conclusions have corroborated various other scientific disciplines, including archaeology and paleontology,  to suggest that all modern humans are very closely related and that we all share a common African ancestor as recently as 50,000 years ago.  Wells, and others, seem to have provided much of the scientific evidence we've needed to "do away" with the concept of "race" altogether.  Granted, we will always have a natural tendency to fear that which we don't understand.  

I'm reminded of several remote tribes I studied as part of my anthropology curriculum many years ago.  I recall one instance in which it was customary for strangers, when encountering one another in the jungle, to try to figure out what remote, familial relationship they might have to each other.  If they could't determine any relationship, they would fight until one man was dead.

If we were to find that we are all close family, perhaps we wouldn't be so quick to kill each other off... 

Wouldn't it be nice to refer to someone as "brother" or "sister" and actually mean it?

What would it look like if we could move in the direction of sharing, respecting, and celebrating our differences?  The Genographic Project seems to do just that.  More importantly, it explains how we are all so closely demonstrates how we are, in fact, one human family.  

Perhaps our real challenge is to be able to equally value both our remarkable differences as well as our amazing similarities to each other across the planet.  In reality, I've never seen a truly white, black, yellow, or red person.  I asked my seven year old daughter what color my "Caucasian"skin was...she is a very creative young artist, and she has an unusual appreciation for color...she saw some brown, yellow, purple, green, yellow, and lots of pink.  Neither of us could see a drop of white.

David Lader

August 29, 2013 - Tucson

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