Superior | Angela Saini

Summary of: Superior: The Return of Race Science
By: Angela Saini


In ‘Superior: The Return of Race Science,’ Angela Saini invites readers to explore the history of race, the biases that have often shaped scientific research, and how they continue to impact the modern world. Delving into controversial topics such as the origin of humanity, the concept of racial superiority, and the dark history of eugenics, Saini exposes the flawed foundation upon which many of these ideas have been built. She also analyses how race science has evolved into present-day ‘race realism,’ a persistent, yet discredited paradigm. With a critical eye, this book condemns the ways in which racial bias has infiltrated science and calls for adopting a more open, inclusive perspective.

Unraveling Archaeology’s Racist Roots

The study of archaeology has contributed to racial prejudice and superiority beliefs. The out of Africa hypothesis and multiregional hypothesis theories have sparked debates and interpretation bias. While the exact origin story of humanity may never be known, it’s crucial to reject the idea of superior races and value every human being’s individual rights.

Racism in Science

Science is often thought to be impartial, but scientists are human and can have biases. This has led to the use of science to justify racism throughout history. Carl Linnaeus, the botanist who developed a system for categorizing living organisms, created a hierarchy of human “types” based on preexisting notions of superiority. Science was used to justify colonialism, with people turning to biology to prove their theories about racial superiority. Eugenics, the idea that humans can be selectively bred for desirable traits, was mainstream for some time and inspired laws allowing the involuntary sterilization of minorities. The message is clear: Racism often disguises itself as science.

The Enduring Legacy of Eugenics

The discrediting of race science and the enduring legacies of eugenics.

Race science has been largely discredited since the mid-twentieth century. Anthropologists and geneticists argued that all humans are genetically identical, with more diversity within groups than between them. Moreover, environmental adaptations and the founder effect contribute to populations looking different.

After World War II, race scientists had to couch their research in new terms – like blood types and their geographical distribution. However, some still cling to the idea of major biological differences between racial groups. Eugenics has left an enduring legacy, with the US state of Indiana repealing its involuntary sterilization law in 1974, and Japan repealing a similar law in 1996. Even so, most people have turned their backs on eugenics and race science and acknowledge that they are part of a shameful past. In 1949, UNESCO was formed to fight racism and emphasize unity among all humans. There has been a constant effort to discredit and disprove the former science of race with the proven fact that genetically speaking, humans are quite closely related. Nonetheless, despite evidence proving the absence of a biological basis for race, eugenics’ negative lasting legacy still persists, found mainly in the dark corners of the world.

Race Science: A Harmful Pseudo-Science

A journal called Mankind Quarterly, founded in 1960 by Reginald Ruggles Gates, a known race scientist, is still being published today. The contributors to the journal and others like them have branded themselves as “race realists” to make it seem like their side is supported by scientific facts. The so-called evidence is used to establish policies that reinforce inequality, while trying to create barriers to social justice where none exist. White nationalists use this harmful pseudo-science to come out of the shadows and embolden themselves.

The Evolution of Race Science

Anthropologist Jonathan Marks receives an invitation to join an email list for scientists and intellectuals who shared information about human differences. While Marks saw the term “biodiversity” as a celebration of cultural variation between human societies, many people on the email list saw it as a way to discuss supposed internal differences among human populations. The vocabulary of race science evolved from the term “race” to “population” and “racial difference” to “human variation.” Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza’s Human Genome Diversity Project aimed to identify genetic variation among human population groups to counter racial myths. While his goal was to promote unity, the project was still criticized for being reminiscent of nineteenth-century race science. To modernize the conversation around race, it is crucial to resist categorizing and separating people, even in our language.

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