The Race Question: Wikis


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The Race Question is a UNESCO statement issued on 18 July 1950 following World War II. The statement included both a scientific debunking of race theories and a moral condemnation of racism. It suggested in particular to "drop the term 'race' altogether and speak of "ethnic groups."

Signed by some of the leading researchers of the time, in the field of psychology, biology, cultural anthropology and ethnology, it questioned the foundations of scientific racist theories which had become very popular at the turn of the 20th century, alongside eugenics.

These racist theories had been a main influence of the Nazi racial policies and eugenics programme. The original statement was drafted by Ernest Beaglehole, Juan Comas, L. A. Costa Pinto, Franklin Frazier, sociologist specialised in race relations studies, Morris Ginsberg, founding chairperson of the British Sociological Association, Humayun Kabir, writer, philosopher and Education Minister of India twice, Claude Lévi-Strauss, one of the founders of ethnology and leading theorist of cultural relativism, and Ashley Montagu, anthropologist and author of The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity, who was the rapporteur.

The text was then revised by Ashley Montagu following criticisms submitted by Hadley Cantril, E. G. Conklin, Gunnar Dahlberg, Theodosius Dobzhansky, author of Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937), L. C. Dunn, Donald Hager, Julian Huxley, first director of UNESCO and one of the many key contributors to neo-Darwinian synthesis, Otto Klineberg, Wilbert Moore, H. J. Muller, Gunnar Myrdal, author of An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944), Joseph Needham, a biochemist specialist of Chinese science, and geneticist Curt Stern.



A series of articles on
Main topics
Race and genetics
Human genetic variation
Population groups in biomedicine
Ancestry and health
Ethnicity and health
Race and intelligence
Historical definitions
The Race Question (1950)
Social interpretations of race
Race in the United States
Race in Brazil
Ethnic group
Human evolution
Racism topics
Category: Race

The Race Question first recalled the recent World War and, interestingly, made no direct reference to the Holocaust. The Constitution of the UNESCO stated that:

The great and terrible war that has now ended was a war made possible by the denial of the democratic principles of the dignity, equality and mutual respect of men, and by the propagation, in their place, through ignorance and prejudice, of the doctrine of the inequality of men and races.

A 1948 UNESCO resolution called upon the world organisation to consider the timeliness "of proposing and recommending the general adoption of a programme of dissemination of scientific facts designed to bring about the disappearance of that which is commonly called race prejudice." Thus, following the philosophy of the Enlightenment, the UNESCO aimed at struggling against popular racism through the vulgarisation of scientific facts, which demonstrated the inanity of race theories. In 1949, the UNESCO adopted three other similar resolutions, recommending the institution to

  • "study and collect scientific materials concerning questions of race,"
  • "to give wide diffusion to the scientific material collected"
  • and "to prepare an education campaign based on this information."

Furthermore, the statement recalled that by these resolutions, the UNESCO was taking...

up again, after a lapse of fifteen years, a project which the International Institute for Intellectual Co-operation has wished to carry through but which it had to abandon in deference to the appeasement policy of the pre-war period. The race question had become one of the pivots of Nazi ideology and policy. Masaryk and Beneš took the initiative of calling for a conference to re-establish in the minds and consciences of men everywhere the truth about race... Nazi propaganda was able to continue its baleful work unopposed by the authority of an international organisation.

The aim was clear. However, the UNESCO was not so naive to believe that science alone could convince humanity to let aside racial prejuidices which were deeply rooted in emotional factors:

Knowledge of the truth does not always help change emotional attitudes that draw their real strength from the subconscious or from factors beside the real issue." But it could "however, prevent rationalizations of reprehensive acts or behaviour prompted by feelings that men will not easily avow openly.

The UNESCO statement condemned any attempt, on both scientific and moral grounds, to relate intelligence to racial factors, stating that "At the moment, it is impossible to demonstrate that there exist between 'races' differences of intelligence and temperament other than those produced by cultural environment." It considered racism as a "particularly vicious and mean expression of the caste spirit," thus paying close attention to theories issued for example by eugenicist Georges Vacher de Lapouge (1854-1936), who equated race with social class.[1]

The Race Question asserted that...

Concern for human dignity demands that all citizens be equal before the law... no matter what their physical or intellectual differences may be... The conscience of all mankind demand that this be true for all the peoples of the earth. It matters little, therefore, whether the diversity of men's gift be the result of biological or cultural factors.

Not only scientific racist theories were thoroughly disqualified by modern research, but racist ideology in itself was adamantly criticized as contrary to the humanist foundations which had laid the groundworks for the creation of the United Nations at the June 1945 San Francisco Conference. The nature versus nurture debate was thus rejected as irrelevant to politicals or legal conce .rns

The statement

The statement itself was composed of various points:

  • Scientists agree that "mankind is one: that all men belong to the same species: Homo sapiens..."
  • "From the biological standpoint, the species Homo Sapiens is made up of a number of populations..." defined by genetic factors. However, the genes "responsible for the hereditary differences between men are always few when compared to the whole genetic constitution of man and to the vast number of genes common to all human beings... This means that the likeliness among men are far greater than their differences."
  • "A race, from the biological standpoint, may therefore be defined as one of the group of populations constituting the species Homo sapiens... These represent variations, as it were, on a common theme." Differences are attributed to "somewhat different biological histories."
  • "In short, the term 'race' designates a group or population characterised by some concentrations, relative as to frequency and distribution, of hereditary particles (genes) or physical characters, which appear, fluctuate, and often disappear in the course of time by reason of geographic and or cultural isolation..."
  • The fifth point criticised the layperson use of the term "race": "To most people, a race is any group which they choose to describe as a race. Thus, many national, religious, geographic, linguistic or cultural groups have, in such loose usage, been called 'race', when obviously Americans are not a race, nor are Englishmen, nor are Frenchmen, nor any other national group. Catholics, Protestants, Moslems and Jews are not races... People who live in Iceland or England or India are not races; nor are people who are culturally Turkish or Chinese..."
  • UNESCO also advocated that: "National, religious, geographic, linguistic and cultural groups do not necessarily coincide with racial groups: and the cultural traits of such groups have no demonstrated genetic connection with racial traits. Because serious errors of this kind are habitually committed when the term "race" is used in popular parlance, it would be better when speaking of human races to drop the term "race" altogether and speak of 'ethnic groups'."
  • Further points stressed the "educability" and "plasticity" of the human being and the variability of biological populations, which evolved and interbred together. It adamantly rejected any "degeneration" theory claiming that such miscegenation "produces biologically bad effects." "There is, therefore, no biological justification for prohibiting inter-marriage.."
  • The 14th point asserted that : "The biological fact of race and the myth of 'race' should be distinguished. For all practical social purposes, 'race' is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth" which has "created an enormous amount of human and social damage." It "deprives civilisation of the effective co-operation of productive minds." The UNESCO cited Charles Darwin's praise of cosmopolitanism in The Descent of Man (2nd ed., 1875, pp.187-8). It criticised theories of psychological egoism, underlining that "the whole of human history show that a co-operative spirit is not only natural to men, but more deeply rooted than any self-seeking tendencies. If this were not so we should not see the growth of integration and organisation of his communities which the centuries and the millennia plainly exhibits."
  • The last points underlined that equality was a moral principle that had nothing to do with any biological or cultural differences. It recalled that "scientific evidence indicates that the range of mental capacities in all ethnic groups is much the same." It underlines the difference and non-correspondence between great "social changes" and change in the constitution of ethnic groups.

The 1950 UNESCO statement concluded by asserting once more that "biological differences as exist between members of different ethnic groups have no relevance to problems of social and political organisations, moral life and communication between human beings" and implicitly referred to Aristotle's definition of humankind by stating that "Man is born a social being."

Legacy and Others UNESCO statements

The UNESCO later published other similar statements on racism. In Race and History (1952), the ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss argued in favour of cultural relativism, through the famous metaphor of cultures as different trains crossing each other in various directions and speeds, thus each one seeming to progress to himself while others supposedly kept immobile.[2]

UNESCO later published Cyril Bibby's monograph Race, Prejudice, and Education (1959), and Lévi-Strauss Race and Culture (1971). Others books published by renowned scholars, on the influence of Alfred Métraux, anthropologist at the UN, included titles such as Race and Psychology, Race and Biology, Race Mixture, Racial Myths, The Roots of Prejudice, and The Concept of Race: Results of an Inquiry.[3]

In 2005, Claude Lévi-Strauss, then 97 years old, declared at the 60th anniversary of the UNESCO :

In the wake of the Second World War and the horror inspired by the racist doctrines that gave rise to the massacre of entire populations and concentration camps, it was only normal that UNESCO give top priority to the scientific critique and moral condemnation of the notion of race,

While the director-general Koïchiro Matsuura recalled that since 1951 UNESCO had prepared several declarations on race, Claude Levi-Strauss praised the work of the UNESCO, stating in response to Matsuura:

A task made all the more necessary by certain recent and worrying publications from biologists attempting to give new recognition to the notion of race – albeit with a different interpretation than in the past – but which nonetheless must be handled delicately.[4]

The 1950 UNESCO statement contributed to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court desegregation decision in "Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka".[5]

See also


  1. ^ Matsuo Takeshi (University of Shimane, Japan). L'Anthropologie de Georges Vacher de Lapouge: Race, classe et eugénisme (Georges Vacher de Lapouge anthropology) in Etudes de langue et littérature françaises 2001, n°79, pp. 47-57. ISSN 0425-4929 ; INIST-CNRS, Cote INIST : 25320, 35400010021625.0050 (Abstract resume on the INIST-CNRS) (French)
  2. ^ Extract of "Race and History" from Claude Lévi-Strauss (English)
  3. ^ "Toward a World without Evil: Alfred Métraux as UNESCO Anthropologist (1946-1962)", by Harald E.L. Prins and Edgar Krebs, UNESCO
  4. ^ UNESCO at 60: More necessary than ever, 2005.
  5. ^ "Toward a World without Evil: Alfred Métraux as UNESCO Anthropologist (1946-1962)", by Harald E.L. Prins and Edgardo Krebs, UNESCO

External links


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

The Race Question
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Information about this edition
From The Heart Of Happy Hollow, a collection of short stories reprinted in 1904 by Dodd, Mead and Company, New York.


Scene—Race track. Enter old coloured man, seating himself.

"Oomph, oomph. De work of de devil sho' do p'ospah. How 'do, suh? Des tol'able, thankee, suh. How you come on? Oh, I was des a-sayin' how de wo'k of de ol' boy do p'ospah. Doesn't I frequent the racetrack? No, suh; no, suh. I's Baptis' myse'f, an' I 'low hit's all devil's doin's. Wouldn't 'a' be'n hyeah to-day, but I got a boy named Jim dat's long gone in sin an' he gwine ride one dem hosses. Oomph, dat boy! I sut'ny has talked to him and labohed wid him night an' day, but it was allers in vain, an' I's feahed dat de day of his reckonin' is at han'.

"Ain't I nevah been intrusted in racin'? Humph, you don't s'pose I been dead all my life, does you? What you laffin' at? Oh, scuse me, scuse me, you unnerstan' what I means. You don' give a ol' man time to splain hisse'f. What I means is dat dey has been days when I walked in de counsels of de on-gawdly and set in de seats of sinnahs; and long erbout dem times I did tek most ovahly strong to racin'.

"How long dat been? Oh, dat's way long back, 'fo' I got religion, mo'n thuty years ago, dough I got to own I has fell from grace several times sense.

"Yes, suh, I ust to ride. Ki-yi! I nevah furgit de day dat my ol' Mas' Jack put me on 'June Boy,' his black geldin', an' say to me, 'Si,' says he, 'if you don' ride de tail offen Cunnel Scott's mare, "No Quit," I's gwine to larrup you twell you cain't set in de saddle no mo'.' Hyah, hyah. My ol' Mas' was a mighty han' fu' a joke. I knowed he wan't gwine to do nuffin' to me.

"Did I win? Why, whut you spec' I's doin' hyeah ef I hadn' winned? W'y, ef I'd 'a' let dat Scott maih beat my 'June Boy' I'd 'a' drowned myse'f in Bull Skin Crick.

"Yes, suh, I winned; w'y, at de finish I come down dat track lak hit was de Jedgment Day an' I was de las' one up! Ef I didn't race dat maih's tail clean off, I 'low I made hit do a lot o' switchin'. An' aftah dat my wife Mandy she ma'ed me. Hyah, hyah, I ain't bin much on hol'in' de reins sence.

"Sh! dey comin' in to wa'm up. Dat Jim, dat Jim, dat my boy; you nasty putrid little rascal. Des a hundred an' eight, suh, des a hundred an' eight. Yas, suh, dat's my Jim; I don't know whaih he gits his dev'ment at.

"What's de mattah wid dat boy? Whyn't he hunch hisse'f up on dat saddle right? Jim, Jim, whyn't you limber up, boy; hunch yo'se'f up on dat hoss lak you belonged to him and knowed you was dah. What I done showed you? De black raskil, goin' out dah tryin' to disgrace his own daddy. Hyeah he come back. Dat's bettah, you scoun'ril.

"Dat's a right smaht-lookin' hoss he's a-ridin', but I ain't a-trustin' dat bay wid de white feet—dat is, not altogethah. She's a favourwright too; but dey's sumpin' else in dis worl' sides playin' favourwrights. Jim bettah had win dis race. His hoss ain't a five to one shot, but I spec's to go way fum hyeah wid money ernuff to mek a donation on de pa'sonage.

"Does I bet? Well, I don' des call hit bettin'; but I resks a little w'en I t'inks I kin he'p de cause. 'Tain't gamblin', o' co'se; I wouldn't gamble fu nothin', dough my ol' Mastah did ust to say dat a honest gamblah was ez good ez a hones' preachah an' mos' nigh ez skace.

"Look out dah, man, dey's off, dat nasty bay maih wid de white feet leadin' right fu'm 'de pos'. I knowed it! I knowed it! I had my eye on huh all de time. Oh, Jim, Jim, why didn't you git in bettah, way back dah fouf? Dah go de gong! I knowed dat wasn't no staht. Troop back dah, you raskils, hyah, hyah.

"I wush dat boy wouldn't do so much jummying erroun' wid dat hoss. Fust t'ing he know he ain't gwine to know whaih he's at.

"Dah, dah dey go ag'in. Hit's a sho' t'ing dis time. Bettah, Jim, bettah. Dey didn't leave you dis time. Hug dat bay mare, hug her close, boy. Don't press dat hoss yit. He holdin' back a lot o' t'ings.

"He's gainin'! doggone my cats, he's gainin'! an' dat hoss o' his'n gwine des ez stiddy ez a rockin'-chair. Jim allus was a good boy.

"Confound these spec's, I cain't see 'em skacely; huh, you say dey's neck an' neck; now I see 'em! now I see 'em! and Jimmy's a-ridin' like——Huh, huh, I laik to said sumpin'.

"De bay maih's done huh bes', she's done huh bes'! Dey's turned into the stretch an' still see-sawin'. Let him out, Jimmy, let him out! Dat boy done th'owed de reins away. Come on, Jimmy, come on! He's leadin' by a nose. Come on, I tell you, you black rapscallion, come on! Give 'em hell, Jimmy! give 'em hell! Under de wire an' a len'th ahead. Doggone my cats! wake me up w'en dat othah hoss comes in.

"No, suh, I ain't gwine stay no longah, I don't app'ove o' racin', I's gwine 'roun' an' see dis hyeah bookmakah an' den I's gwine dreckly home, suh, dreckly home. I's Baptis' myse'f, an' I don't app'ove o' no sich doin's!"

PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


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