One Finite Planet

One Finite Planet

Race, Racism and Skin Colour: what do ‘race’ and racism mean?

Date Published:

Synopsis: Race reveals little, but ‘labelled’ race reveals far too much.

The proposal is that race is not even real, and characteristics such as skin colour often thought related to race, can acquired from the environment by different groups without those group necessarily sharing genes.

Despite race not even being real, it is human behaviour even common to other species to make associations even without evidence that factors such as skin colour also determine other characteristics of people and thus ‘race’, and it has been proposed that evolution determines we will naturally discriminate in favour of those we feel are our closer relatives. If true, it almost seems racism is natural.

Natual or not, it is also clear that racism would lead to disadvantage to member of minority ‘racial groups’, and it very likely the best measure of whether ‘racial groups’ feel disadvantaged it that this would lead to increased crime within those racial groups.

What does ‘Race’ determine, if anything?

What is ‘race’? 11 ways race isn’t real.

Firstly, I suggest the concept of ‘race’ is too simplistic anyway.  There is no single genetic marker for race, although analysis of genes can statistically place any individual within one or more racial groups, .

But being identified as within a racial group, does not ensure any one specific gene will be present, and it is more that certain genes are present most often within specific groups. Further, the impact of these genes that vary, is in most cases, almost insignificant.  So, we have a continuum of small, mostly cosmetic differences, which are more likely to be present depending on ‘race’ but can be very misleading!

Colour: False Assumptions of Genetic links.

I recall a documentary tracing the long-term ancestry of three Australians: the famous Olympian Ian Thorpe, French-born Australian television presenter Julia Zemiro, and Indigenous Australian actor Ernie Dingo. The story is well explained here, but in summary, three visited the Hadza people in Tanzania who are believed to be living closest to way of the original humans, and perhaps with as close to the original human genome as possible.  But it was revealed that despite the Indigenous Australian, with dark skin and heritage of living in a similar way to the Hadza, had no greater link in DNA to the Hadza, and in fact was genetically far more similar to the ‘Europeans’.

Bottom line:

It is great to see Julia, and hopefully many viewers, replace their assumptions that “all brown people must be genetically similar” with a better understanding of science.

the conversation: DNA raises tough questions.

The reality is there are many groups with similar skin colour and other aspects of appearance, but with very difference DNA.  All skin colour alone reveals, is a clue to a recent ancestry near the tropics.  Pick three people at random and the two with the similar skin colour may actually be the most genetically different from each other.

Racial Purity?

Almost no-one has only the genes of a single origin. It has been said that President Obama is the first ‘black’ president of the USA, but isn’t he half ‘white’ which would make that half true?  Certainly, he is not the first president with genes from Africa, with the only question being how recent a link to Africa existed with past presidents and we just do not know. But if Obama is not ‘fully black’ has any previous president ever been ‘fully white’ given that almost certainly all had Neanderthal DNA in the mix.  In fact, genes spread so rapidly that is it thought that every one in Europe would have some DNA from Charlemagne and in fact from every other person living in Europe at the time, which would have included many races! So, all ‘Europeans’ or ‘Caucasians’ are in fact, a racial mix.

OK, so what about the Olympics?

So why did everyone in the 100m sprint final in 2016 have dark skin? Firstly, while ‘not all brown skin people are genetically similar’, we can be certain of many similarities between the competitors for the 100m sprint in the Olympics.  They are all professional athletes in peak physical condition within a limited age range who spends many hours every week training.  We can also assume some genetically similarity in regard to muscle type and body shape, but could there be a set of especially advantageous genes present with a racial sub-group?

A Racial Sub-group or winners?

Looking at the final in question, yes, they all have dark skin, and not only are there two athletes from Jamaican, but at least one other of Caribbean ancestry (De Grasse).  In fact, when you consider how many medal winners over the past 30 years from Jamaica, a country with has less than 3 million people, the strongest link to success in this event would be to Jamaica.

Other Explanations: Environment.


International tennis in the 1960s and 1970s was dominated by Australia.  With players of varied European ancestries and an Indigenous Australian, it is just not possible that this domination was in any way related to race. But here was another case of a country dominating a sport well beyond what could be expected on the basis of population.  This proves that domination such we see in various sports may not even be about genetics at all. In fact, cultural differences can outweigh any genetic difference.

How big might be the racial differences be?

Assume for the moment, that there is some difference linked to genetics within a ‘racial’ group. From a science perspective as there are no ‘maker’ genes for race, and only increased statistical probability of specific genes, then differences themselves can only be statistical differences. Just as genetically men being taller than women does not mean all men are taller than all women, if one ‘race’ can outperform another in some way, it would not mean all individuals of that ‘race’ could outperform all those of the other ‘race’.

Just how much difference are we contemplating?

Well, consider that the French runner in the final was actually of mixed race, and just from the information I have, a Japanese runner came 5th to Usain Bolt in the semi-final, and about 13th overall for Olympics, and that was not the fastest ever time for a Japanese runner.  The Japanese runner was within 1/4 of a second of the world record time only beaten by how many people in the world?  So, if there is a clear race-based advantage, perhaps it only creates a clear superiority for about 10 people of that race in the entire world.  And that is ‘if’. A very small statistical difference could have highly significant implications for the very small subgroup specifically selected for the Olympics, but no real significance for the general population. The extreme performance levels result from genes present in very few individuals, and even then create very marginal differences that matter in the Olympics but have little bearing in normal life.

Edit: note an Italian of mix race was the Olympic champion in 2020.

A key question: Race and crime.

In various countries around the world, crime rates vary between racial groups. While some may argue that this confirms there are differences between races, it is also clear that there are other factors than genetics impacting crime rates. Lead in the environment is one clear example.

If crimes rates reflect ‘crime genes’, or can indicate one groups have a genetic basis for a pre-disposition to crime, what does that say about Caucasians in the USA who exhibit a higher crime rate than those in Canada? Consider that “black people” in Canada have lower crime rates than all-population crime rates in the USA.

Clearly, the environment plays a huge role in determining crime rates, and key factor in crime rates is happiness. As the correlation between happiness and population size would suggest, since Canada normally performs above the USA on national happiness evaluations, and happiness correlates with lower crime rates. Indeed, looking at data on rates of offending by race for different countries, it is very clear that rates of offending are not consistent for any racial group from country to country. The clearest pattern seems to be that in countries where some racial groups are considered disadvantages, that is where crime rates for those groups rise. Rather than race correlating with crime, it is very possible that the correlation is to racism, or at least racial disadvantage, rather than to race itself.

The seeds of racism.

Race and Skinners Superstitious Pigeons.

In the Summer of 1947, renowned behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner published his study on a group of pigeons that showed even animals are susceptible to the human condition that is superstition.

Psychologistworld: superstition

Even other species share the same behaviour pattern that resulted in ancient tribes believing behaviours could please the gods who would then provide rainfall for crops and can lead football fans to believe their team will play best when they are wearing a certain shirt. The need to associate cause and effect even when it is illogical can even mean a football fan feel them wearing certain clothes may affect the result of a football game they are watching on television, they may even still follow the behaviour when watching the game on replay!

From this inbuilt need to assign cause and effect even when there is no evidence it logically follows that people with associate factors with characteristics such as skin colour even when there is no logic.

Evolution: The selfish gene?

From the gene-centred view, it follows that the more two individuals are genetically related, the more sense (at the level of the genes) it makes for them to behave cooperatively with each other.

Wikipedia: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.

If there is any truth to the theories of Richard Dawkins, the any believe of being more closely related to one individual over another will logically result in discrimination in favour of those perceived to be more closely related.

Difference Views of Racism

Different people actually have different ideas of what it means to be racist. I recall once finding myself in a debate with a woman who clearly perceived my views as racists, while I perceived her views as racist. Can both be right?

My Definition of racist: prejudging characteristics of an individual or a group of individuals on the basis of race.

Her alternate view: failing to recognise racial differences especially unique positive attributes as being of characteristic of minority groups and negative attributes as being characteristics of majority groups.

She believed that Indigenous Australians had a society more humane than western society, and this was because different genes of Indigenous Australians inherently made them more humane. In her view, the different races exhibit different behaviour due to genetics, and, effectively, the indigenous Australians could be said to be genetically superior, and to not recognise that recognise superiority was being racist. My view that race is not even real, and by assuming the behaviour she determined more humane as being linked to race, was itself being racist. For her, the only possible way I could not recognise specific ‘racial strengths’ and racial difference was due to my bias in believe racial differences inconsequential all people equal. From that perspective, one must be biased to not see the differences as being due to race.

In contracts, I believe that attributing either ‘racial strengths’ or ‘racial weaknesses’ to a group of people is itself racist. To me, cultures can be superior, but there is no superior race.  For me, even declaring a race which is a minority and has been oppressed as ‘superior’ is problematic, no matter how well intentioned. Any basis to argue one group is superior to another is just fuelling the problem.

However, view the starting line at the Olympics of the 100m sprint, and then the 100m freestyle swim, and the view could certainly give the appearance that some ‘strengths’ can be attributed on the basis of race!  As already explained, while the genes resulting in exceptional results may be present within individuals of one racial group, the nature of race is that not everyone of that race will have those same genes, as evidenced by the fact that only a very, very, small number of individuals outperform the best from any other race.

My definition of racism requires some analysis of what characteristics, if any, can be described on the basis of race. But it is clear different people see ‘racists’ in different ways.


It is possible that there is some minute marginal contribution to human performance which can be attributed to race, but whatever contribution there is pales into insignificance outside of highly selective environment such as the Olympics.  In the normal world, if eight runners are about to race, then age, weight, height range, general confidence are all significant, but skin colour is not.

The are many visual clues we discern when trying to predict if a person is athletic, intelligent, of a kind nature or any other characteristic.  But to try and judge any attribute by skin colour is completely misguided.


  • 2023 April 19 th: reformat and added crime and superstition and an updated synopsis.
  • 2016 August 17 th: Initial post

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