The role of genetics in racial categorisation of humans

Bardien-Kruger, Soraya ; Muller-Nedebock, Amica (2020)

CITATION: Bardien-Kruger, S. & Muller-Nedebock, A. 2020. The role of genetics in racial categorisation of humans, in Jansen, J. & Walters, C. (eds). 2020. Fault lines : a primer on race, science and society. Stellenbosch: SUN PReSS, doi:10.18820/9781928480495/01.

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Chapters in Books

Only very recently in the history of modern humans have we learned how to read the stories hidden in our DNA. The ability to read and interpret DNA has revealed that many things are not as they are perceived to be. For instance, physical features between two people may be strikingly different and therefore be taken to mean that the individuals are fundamentally different, when in fact the DNA of any two humans is almost identical (99.9% the same) on a genetic level. Given the physical differences apparent between populations, much research has gone into studying what makes them different. This type of research, no matter how well intentioned, has led to the pseudoscientific arguments used to justify movements such as the slave trade, the eugenics movement and apartheid in South Africa. Scientists at Stellenbosch University have also played a significant role in highlighting the ‘racial’ differences in the South African population. One such study is the nowretracted Sport Science article.1 In this study, the authors, albeit unwittingly, reinforce racial stereotyping by concluding that so‑called ‘coloured’ women in South Africa have lower cognitive functioning when compared to American age-standardised norms, and that this is due to exposure to a variety of factors with known negative effects on cognitive function. In an attempt to shed some light on the inaccuracies of the assumptions on which this article is based, this chapter will provide some background to racial categorisation from a genetic perspective. It will start with basic concepts in genetics and then expand into some of the more complex concepts and theories supporting the fact that there is no genetic basis for race in humans.

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