Why Your Race Isn’t Genetic

Why Your Race Isn’t Genetic

Pacific Standard

Michael White, Assistant Professor of Genetics
Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri

DNA doesn’t determine race. Society does.

If you glanced around the room at a conference of geneticists, it would be easy to guess where in the world all the attendees’ ancestors came from. Using skin color, hair, facial features, and other physical traits, you could distinguish the East Asians from the South Asians and the Africans from the Europeans. Our broad racial categories appear to be founded on genuine biological differences between people from different geographical regions. And these differences seem to define a set of natural human groups, the product of the last 70,000 years or so when modern humans emerged from Africa to colonize the other continents, acquiring distinct physical traits as they adapted to new environments.

The concept of human races appears to be solidly grounded in present-day biology and our evolutionary history. But if you asked that conference of geneticists to give you a genetic definition of race, they wouldn’t be able to do it. Human races are not natural genetic groups; they are socially constructed categories…

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