Skin Color and Race

Origins of the word "race"

The concept of "race" generates the most tenacious kind of prejudice in relations between human groups and is the main cause of their clashes.

The concept of race remains unclear to many people who confuse the terms of race, colour, and even ethnic or national origin, and culture. This confusion stems from the heavy baggage accumulated by the concept of race, from misconceptions about human nature perpetuated by philosophers, biologists and anthropologists over the centuries.

In its old definition, the term "race" meant a group of individuals sharing externally visible physical traits (phenotypes) whose origin was considered genetic.

Skin, hair and eye colour, size, shape of lips and head were the criteria most often applied to classify humanity into distinct races.


Racist doctrines are based on reasoning, express or implied, of the superiority of one human group over others and the belief that biological, social and cultural differences between human groups are transmitted hereditarily.

Racism is also a colonial ideology invented to promote the conquest of other continents by Europeans. The best way to exclude human beings to exploit them, sometimes as slaves, was to say they were not quite human. Therefore, the dominators had no moral obligation to face the dominated.

Racist ideology is sometimes manifested openly, in insults, malicious jokes, acts of hatred, inequality. Nevertheless, in many cases, it is deeply rooted in values, beliefs and stereotypical attitudes.

Racism is also associated with power - institutional, political, economic and social - wielded by the dominant group in society. Thus, in Nazi Germany and South Africa under apartheid, State racism was official.

Also in Europe, since the 1990s, many populist and xenophobic parties openly declare themselves racist (the Front National in France, British Party in the United Kingdom, Vlaams Blok in Belgium, etc.).

Definitions of race and species

In the general classification of living things, we use the word “species” to describe all interbreeding populations (that is, which can reproduce together) and whose progeny can also reproduce and perpetuate morphological and physiological characteristics.

We use the expression species and subspecies in the plural to refer to wild animals and to (there are thousands of species), breed for domestic animals and varieties for domesticated plants.

The concept of "human race" was abandoned about fifty years ago by scientists, because there is no genetic subdivision within the human species. Humans are too genetically similar (99.9%) for us to be able to speak of different "races" among the species, as the decoding of the human genome demonstrated in 2001.

Clearly, the notion of human "races" cannot accurately be applied, for the incredible diversity of human societies does not lend itself to any simple or scientifically acceptable classification.

The minor differences that we perceive between an Asian and a European, for example, are a fairly strong expression of common genes and secondary elements that reflect a process of environmental or dietary adaptation (skin colour varies according to the degree of sunlight; the number of red blood cells increases in higher altitudes; immunization against certain viruses and predisposition to certain diseases vary according to region, and so on).

These differences do not define "races" and do not justify racism! However, the "sorcerer's apprentices" persist in using DNA testing to restore old racial categories that could be used to demonstrate differences in intelligence and criminality.