Racism and the City

Posted on 2015 May 21


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Sometimes I get these really odd ideas that are so confronting, they manage to tick off nearly everyone. I’ve got one of them now.

It’s about racism. By the time I’ve explained it, almost every reader on both Left and Right will have turned away in disgust. And for opposite reasons. (I know, I know — it’s a gift.)

Here it is: Racism was, in the past, the morally correct stance. (Sounds of people yelling at their computer screens.) But wait, there’s more! Today, racism is no longer the correct approach — in fact, the best thing for society and the human gene pool might be mixed races. 

(Sounds of laptops slamming shut.)

For those of you still reading, here’s why:

Back in the day, humans lived in small tribal groups made up of people who shared a common race, language, religion, food, etc. Outsiders were treated with suspicion, and rightly so. They could bring disruption, diseases, and — if they were spying for invaders — destruction.

A tribe did not want to mishandle this. Those who failed could end up ruined or dead.

The Incas encountered Pizarro’s visiting soldiers and palavered instead of killing them on sight, and within weeks their ancient empire lay in ruins at the Spaniards’ feet. When the Aztec rulers first learned of the landing of Cortez and his troops, they stalled because they had never heard of anything remotely like his sailing ships and misread them as the wings of a returning god. Their capital city, Tenochtitlan, was utterly destroyed by several hundred foreign soldiers, while hundreds of thousands of Aztecs were slain. Within decades, most of the population of the Western Hemisphere, upwards of eighty million people, lay dead of European diseases.

Like I said, you did not want to get this wrong.

Those Europeans, dreaming of New World riches from gold mines and plantations, suddenly found themselves lacking a native population they could dragoon into servitude. So they traveled to Africa in search of slaves. The local chieftains made the same mistake as the Incas and Aztecs, parleying with the mysterious white folks who landed on their shores instead of exterminating them. Thus millions of Africans were enslaved or killed.

Let’s not forget the Mongol invaders, who in the 1300s managed to conquer nearly all of Eurasia, slaughtering tens of millions in the process. The moment they appeared on the horizon, your town was doomed. And in classical times a Greek or Roman army could slice through your territory to conquer, kill or enslave everyone.

We can see that, for most of human history, a stranger’s very presence was a lethal threat. Foreigners were bad and dangerous. It was right and correct to distrust, even despise, them. A village’s continued existence relied on a strict form of racism. It was virtuous to hate outsiders: your life depended on it.

This rule of thumb worked for thousands of years, more than enough time for survivors of cross-cultural meetings to pass down genes for suspicion of, and contempt for, strangers. We inherit that suspicion. It’s encoded into our DNA.

Today, most of Earth’s billions live crammed together in huge cities filled with people of various races and religions and languages and beliefs. The diseases and wars of first encounter have long since settled down, so that we’re no longer afraid of strangers — they’re around us all the time! — but instead we trade and work and play with them.

What’s more, distinctive racial traits — light skin in the north and dark in the tropics, noses and hair adapted to local temperatures and humidities, fast- or slow-twitch muscle favored in different environments — no longer serve the same purpose and might even hinder us. Humans of various stripes travel and work all over the planet, and one skin type or muscle type or hair type simply won’t work in every locale. Or, with modern shelter and nutrition, perhaps those differences just don’t matter anymore.

Meanwhile, a given racial gene pool will contain recessives for protein coding against a local disease — Malaria in Africa, Plague in Europe, tuberculosis among Ashkenazi and Cajuns, etc — which sometimes burden populations with side effects.

But the children of mixed-race couples tend to have more robust DNA, adaptable to the wider variety of environments used by us today. These offspring embody the best physical and mental traits of their parents without the drawbacks. Theirs is a kind of “hybrid vigor” that bodes well for health and vitality in an urban age of wide travel and constantly changing opportunities and challenges.

Maybe the times have swung the other way. Maybe the racism that was a life-and-death virtue in the past is now a positive liability for our descendants. Maybe the humans most able to meet the challenges of the future will be those of mixed race.

…And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you alienate both sides at once! I’ve declared that racism was correct in the past, which offends the Left, and that it fails in the present, which offends the hard Right. The Left hates the idea of any racism whatsoever, believing inclusiveness has always been correct in every age, and that anyone who even suggests there are qualitative differences between people should be banned from polite society. For their part, the hard Right takes deep offense at the very idea of combining races, believing this would merely dilute their superior whiteness.

But times change, whether we like it or not. And the genetic competition always goes to the most fit in any situation. Natural selection will winnow out the less adaptive while rewarding individuals who fit well into the new state of affairs.

Whether the future belongs to the old pure races or to a gene pool that produces caramel-colored humans with mildly epicanthic eyes, we simply don’t yet know. Our descendents will discover this destiny for themselves.

One way or another, it will be interesting. And as it begins to unfold, I’ll be on the sidelines watching … all by myself, having alienated everyone with my annoying ideas.