We live in interesting times. The global rise in populist politics has led to a growth in overt racism. Despite the fact that the last US president was a black man, violence against black people in the USA continues, often perpetrated by the police, surprising those of us lucky enough to be unaffected by racial prejudice. Nor is the UK free of discrimination against various minorities.
But what is race and why it is considered to be so significant? Many people cling to a biological view of race, believing that there are clear, innate differences between groups. This idea originated far back in the history of science and culture and has been propounded by otherwise antiracist scientists such as Charles Darwin, as well as by those who have sought to ‘purify’ nations through eugenics.
In Superior and Skin Deep, the science journalist Angela Saini and the academic Gavin Evans aim to popularise the scientific understanding of race, emphasising that it is a social construct. In 2020 these works will be joined by the geneticist Adam Rutherford’s pugnaciously titled How to Argue with a Racist. Anyone wanting to shut down a drunk uncle, to mix it in internet chatrooms or, more honestly, to challenge their own prejudices will find plenty of material in these pages.
The essential point is well made by Saini: ‘There is no gene or variant of any gene that has been found to exist in everyone of one “race” and not in another.’ This statement immediately undermines any claim that distinct races are a biological reality. For decades, scientists