Part 1: What are the factors that led to the formation of racial groups?
Anthropology has always been the study of human from inside and outside. Its like the very soul of anthropology are the living organisms. From whichever aspect we connect to or approach to, it has got us to go through that it’s always been about the humans and their origin. If we see particularly the origin of life on Earth, we find that it was the creation of Biological Sciences in a manner that it’s like the oeuvre of physical phenomenon which has created different forms of species living on Earth. But what has shaped the human species is actually the Social phenomena and this is the first and most important thing that differs human from all the other living beings on the planet.
Well, species have evolved over time and it finally gave us the present form of ourselves, i.e. humans, the Orthograde animal. We humans are the evolved form of the same species that was behind us and with each living and breathing movement we all are evolving, taking a step forward towards being the upgraded version of living organisms.
But as said earlier what shapes us is the social phenomena and with it came the social obligations as we humans had had created in the past and are creating it with each passing movement. Among those social phenomena and application, one of them is Racism. We often misinterpret our race to be the social difference between humans but it actually is not a social difference. Instead, it’s a biological phenomena which is natural and no one has a upper hand over it other than the biological science itself. So, it is pointless to fight over our Race. Racism is a man-made term used for personal vendetta. We humans should understand the difference and accept the reality that we are one, our home is one and we are bounded by one and only bond and that is humanity.
We human beings, all belong to the species sapiens. It includes a number of groups, whether large or small, which may or may not be similar. The similarities and differences are not only seen in the context of culture but also in the context of physical or biological characteristics. These groups or populations which differ from each other in physical or biological characteristics, together constitute the species sapiens, and can be termed as races.
Earlier, people used to relate race with mental characteristics and used terms such as ‘pure’ races, based on false facts. This concept of racial superiority also led to the rise of human slavery and a number of other societal problems. Even the Greek philosopher Aristotle opined that some people are by nature free from birth while others slaves. And when travellers, missionaries and people in general migrated or travelled to different parts of the world, they couldn’t fit with the native people’s culture. So, they started thinking that their culture was superior and imposed it on the natives. But this was a wrong concept because each culture has is own unique values, which sets it apart from other cultures. And so Otto Klineberg quotes, “The scientist knows no relation between race and psychology”.
Having said that, the term race has still been a matter of controversy in this 21st century world. Even though we belong to the same species yet throughout the course of time, we have evolved in such a way that phenotypically we are totally different. We have inhabited this planet for millions and millions of years and we have succeeded to survive. As a result, today we are everywhere on this planet. The wide-spread of our population resulted in ownership of land and gradually we divided ourselves on the basis of geography. In this systematic arrangement of population, one might confuse race with national groups, geographical groups, religious groups and linguistic groups. But from anthropological perspective, Indians, Americans, Chinese, etc. are national groups, while Buddhists, Christians, Sanatanis, etc. are religious groups and Aryans, Dravidians are not races but linguistic groups.
To clarify the prejudice that exists against races in our world, UNESCO has given 4 official statements on race. A group of thinkers, scientists, sociologists and anthropologists, etc. came together to define what race exactly is. The publication of the statements marked the emergence of a new scientific orthodoxy that continues till today.
•The first official Statement on race was put forwarded in Paris in the year 1950. Although the group of propounders advocated that the term race should be replaced by “ethnic”, the statement of 1950 was primarily sociological because they were mainly sociologists and socio-cultural anthropologists. Hence, this statement faced many criticism.
•The second was the Statement on the nature of race and race differences(1951). This statement was more effective and recognised that race mixture existed “for an indefinite but a considerable time” and argued that the process of racial differentiation is unknown.
•The third statement was made on the biological aspects of race in Moscow in the year 1964. In this statement, they agreed that all humans belong to the same species Homo sapiens. There is a great genetic diversity among all humans and a physical difference between humans exists due to geographical living.
•The final Statement on race and racial prejudice was made in Paris in the year 1967. In the final statement, it was agreed that all humans are equal and every person has every right to live freely. “All men are born free and equal in both for dignity and right”. The statement of 1967 focused on the doctrines of race and found that it lacks scientific basis.
Yet the question of whether race is a biological phenomena or a social construct was and remains controversial and unanswered. So, the above statements of race can’t be taken fully into consideration because they were incapable of answering the one unanswered question about race.
Now the question arises that how does racial formation take place? How exactly did racial groups come into being?
The modern human, Homo sapiens sapiens had not just suddenly appeared on earth. It took a long process of what we call ‘evolution’ today to become the present day human beings from the first primates and hominids. Natural selection favoured the formation and variation and made it to reach that point which now comprises of a number of varieties or racial groups. The formation of a racial group is, thus, a complex process which has been attributed with several factors. These factors are-
• Gene Mutation
The theory of mutation was put forwarded by Hugo De Vries in the year 1901. When sudden changes occur in our genetic material, it alters the phenotype of an individual, i.e., the external characters of that individual. This process is called mutation. And when these changes occur in a particular gene, it is called gene mutation.
Based on the place of occurrence of these changes, mutation is divided into two types i.e., Somatic(occurs in vegetative cells or body cells) and Germinal(occurs in reproductive cells) mutation. Since somatic mutation occurs in body cells, so, it only affects the cells descending from them, i.e., the same body but not the next generation. But germinal mutation occurs in reproductive cells. So, the changes brought about by germinal mutation are not only permanent but they also multiply as they are passed on from one generation to the next. Thus, only germinal mutation accounts for bringing about changes or introducing new traits in a particular population.
The new traits brought about by mutation face competition with the old ones. If these new traits become more adaptive than others, then they are selected by nature. This is called Natural Selection and this theory was first postulated by Charles Robert Darwin. Those traits which are selected by nature survive and the traits which are not selected get eliminated.
For example, if we suppose that early human beings had light skin colour, then other colours such as yellow and dark might have developed later as a result of mutation. Dark skin is advantageous in hot moist climatic regions because it has some protective value which protects the body from the actinic rays of the sun. So, a particular colour will adapt itself to the environment, meaning it will be selected by nature. In colder climate, dark skin becomes disadvantageous, so, it will not be selected by nature. In this manner, a particular group of people will develop a particular skin colour under a particular climatic condition. This proves that the adaptability of a particular trait is selected by nature.
Another example that can be cited is albinism. Albinism is the loss of pigment in skin. Since it has no advantages, so, it’s incidence has become rare.
• Genetic drift
Another important process of race formation is the ‘accidental’ or ‘chance fluctuations’ of genes called genetic drift. Since this was studied by Sewall Wright, so, it is also known as Sewall effect. What happens in a small isolated population is that the increase or decrease in frequency of a gene doesn’t depend on advantageous or disadvantageous conditions of life, rather it happens accidentally or by chance.
Hence, this is a random event which occurs in a population, natural selection has no place in genetic drift. And yes, the result of genetic drift is Evolution or in more Anthropological way we can say that it helps in the formation of a new racial group.
As the process of genetic drift is a little complicated to understand, so, to make it easier, let us suppose that a small group of people with some special traits migrate to a new place and lose contact with the original ancestral group, then, in course of time, the migrated group will give rise to such populations which are completely different from the original ancestral group. A good example are the American Indians, who are thought once to be the people of Asia but now have lost many traits of their Mongoloid ancestors.
To understand the process of genetic drift more clearly, we must go through bottleneck effect and founder effect.
Bottleneck Effect:- If a bottle is filled with five varieties of candy with different frequencies and that bottle is tilted upside down for a few seconds, then the candies which spill out will be random as they get out by chance. The candies which are outside the bottle are lucky enough to be spilled by the bottleneck. This is called bottle-neck effect. In the same way, it happens in case of a population. If there is an earthquake or fire in the forest, then those who will survive are by the mere chance of luck not because of survival of the fittest.
Founder Effect:- It happens due to colonisation. When some individuals migrate from one population and they are not the correct representation of original population. This displacement results in the change in gene frequencies. So, the individual who migrated to the new place are known as Founder population and they are not the real representatives of the parent population from where they came. This is called Founder effect.
Two most important things to consider in genetic drift are-
1. In Genetic drift, migration is not necessary, it can happen due to disaster effects.
2. It can happen in any population but is more effective and strong in small population.
We are all familiar with the term migration, right?! Yes, it is the movement of a group of people from one place to another and it can be both voluntarily or involuntarily. The cause of migration can be anything, whether it’s geographical factors or natural disasters or it may be done voluntarily.
The result of migration is the formation of new races or it may be extinction of the species as a whole. But how does that happen?
When a group of people move to a new location, they might not only get separated from the original group, but they also start breeding with the neighbouring populations, which results in population mixture. And then there is always genetic drift in hand.
So, the formation of races due to migration depends not only upon breeding but also upon natural selection as well as genetic drift.
Isolation means separation of one parent group into two or more groups usually by natural factors like formation of river, mountain, deserts, etc., such that the population which is scattered or completely isolated from parent group in different areas and can form a totally new population which results in impossible breeding between the divided groups. However, isolation may be geographical or social.
In such cases, breeding will take place within the isolated group. Hence, the result is the formation of totally new race.
• Sexual selection
As the name suggests, it is the process of selection of marital partner on the basis of personal preference. The sexes acquire distinct forms either because the members of one sex choose mates with particular features or because in the competition for mates among the members of one sex only those with certain traits succeed as a result of which only the preferred type becomes the dominant variety.
• Social selection
Social selection means the method of regulating marriage between artificially divided socially approved groups within a population. This process helps in isolation and in course of time, modifications are observed in that population.
Hybridisation refers to the blending of two groups of population in order to form a new type of group with the modified versions of character norm. For example, the Anglo-Indians have been formed by the hybridisation of Europeans and Indians.
Cultural hybridisation refers to the process of cultural and ethnic mixing to produce new forms.
All the above mentioned processes are seen to be directly or indirectly responsible for the formation of races. This clears the question of how different racial groups came into existence on planet Earth.
Now, it is to be kept in mind that UNESCO’s statement on race, was highly accepted as well criticised. Though the statements failed to specify race as social or biological construct, yet it can be taken into consideration in many aspects. Many renowned anthropologists and sociologists contributed their stand on race. Considering wholly from anthropological perspective, we should remember that race is a Biological Phenomenon and Racism is a Myth created by humans to satisfy their false ego because if race were to be a social construct, then all the fallacies about racism will hold true.
Article By:- Sabita Devi
Co-author:- Utkarsh Srivastava
Edited by:- Jagjeet Kaur
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© Copyright Reserved Sabita Devi