I do not know about you but I have mixed emotions whenever I am forced to check a box in the frequent surveys, including the national census, asking me to what “race,” I consider myself. As a biologist I know that there is only one human race. As someone who has studied sociology I know that there are different ethnic groups, but, as a humanistic realist, I know that we do not live in a perfect world and an individual’s ethnic identity is important. Unfortunately, discrimination against women, a person’s religious preferences, their sexual orientation, language or the pigmentation of skin, still divides our culture.
When you think about it, we all came “Out of Africa,” we just left during different times over the relatively short course of homo sapiens history. That is if you use common sense and scientifically based logic in your thinking. A few religions think differently but there exists no evidence to back up their claims. The evidence for modern human evolution is overwhelming.
We know that primates and human beings share common ancestors, and they first lived in Africa. Sharing a common ancestor means we have a lot more in common than one might think. Human beings, on so many levels, have just left the caves, physiologically, sociologically and psychologically.
Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford University neuroscientist, primatologist and writer, recently gave a wonderful lecture to a taped live audience for the TED lecture series: http://www.ted.com/speakers/robert_sapolsky.html, entitled: ” The Uniqueness of Humans.” Quick summation, we are not so unique from the baboons who kill one another for sport. Stress ramps up the hormones that drives aggressive behavior. With no stress even the pit bull breed of dog is a docile animal. Humans are no different.
Distinguished Professor Mario Capecchi, Nobel Prize winning scientist from the University of Utah was my undergraduate and graduate professor in biochemistry. He was quoted to have said when asked; “Which in your opinion is biggest impediment to human evolution?” He quickly said, “The Y chromosome!”
The very same chromosome that makes us all so tribal. There is no race other than the human race and we just took our time getting established as ethnic groups throughout the world. Isolated from others, we developed our superficial unique features. There is more individual variation between people within a particular ethnic population than between ethnic groups.
But modern homo sapiens came originally from Africa as far back as 2.4 million years. That is a long time to wander around the globe seeking “greener” pastures. Six billion and climbing homo sapiens are scrambling for the remaining resources of the planet and raging testosterone and stress hormones have got us at each other’s throats throughout the world. Women certainly play a role but correct me if I am wrong; bands of Amazonian Warrior Women are not a major factor. Hormones, stress and ethnic identity are a toxic brew.
A National Geographic Special featuring Professor Sapolsky entitled, “Killer Stress,” first aired on PBS on September 24, 2008. Excerpts from the excellent documentary are available at: http://www.pbs.org/stress/. The Stanford Professor states,
“The stress response: in the beginning it saved our lives, making us run from predators and enabling us to take down prey. Today, human beings are turning on the same life-saving physical reaction to cope with 30-year mortgages, $4 a gallon gasoline, final exams, difficult bosses and even traffic jams — we can’t seem to turn it off. So, we’re constantly marinating in corrosive hormones triggered by the stress response.”
Our immigration issue and our “black” president have ignited a powder keg of anger fueled by this same stress driven aggression. Ironically we are all one family and we all came “Out of Africa.”