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The Study of Man: New Light on the Races of Man

- Abstract

Until a few years ago, a book on race was more likely to deal with politics than biology. Even those whose sole concern was the scientific study of the varieties of mankind were drawn into the battle against the political misuse, by chauvinist and fascist forces, of real or presumed racial differences. Today, the danger is far less serious than it has been for the last seventy-five years. Which leaves us, still, with the scientific problem itself: what does it mean to speak of the races of man?

Of late, substantial progress has been made toward answering the question. We now understand, in large measure, why previous approaches to the problem of race classification resulted in confusion; and we are coming to see the way to a comprehensive and consistent understanding of the physical variations in man. The “races of man” now takes on a new meaning. For it has been possible to establish that there are reliable differences among groups, differences in the degree to which they possess certain genes, those basic hereditary constituents that biologically determine man’s characteristics. These are not hard and fast or absolute differences; it is a matter, rather, of relative frequencies of a few genes. And fortunately for those of us who are understandably anxious about the possible political misuse of race, these differences, distinct as they are, and, as we shall see, useful as they are as clues to the unraveling of the history of man, have only the most infinitesimal bearing, if any, on human nature in society.

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