Racial Differences May Be Nonexistent 

USA Today Magazine (1999)

Source: USA Today Magazine, April 1999, p. 12.


Race doesn't matter. In fact, it does not even exist in humans, maintains Alan R. Templeton, an evolutionary and population biologist at Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.), who has analyzed DNA from global human populations that reveal the patterns of human evolution over the past 1,000,000 years. It shows that, while there is plenty of genetic variation in humans, most is individual variation.

"Race is a real cultural, political, and economic concept in society, but it is not a biological concept, and that unfortunately is what many people wrongfully consider to be the essence of race in humans--genetic differences."

He argues that there is more genetic similarity between Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans and between Europeans and Melanesians, inhabitants of islands northeast of Australia, than there is between Africans and Melanesians. Yet, sub-Saharan Africans and Melanesians share dark skin, hair texture, and cranial-facial features, traits commonly used to classify people into races. According to Templeton, this example shows that "racial traits" are grossly incompatible with overall genetic differences between human populations.

His analysis gives impetus to the trellis model of evolutionary lineages, as opposed to the candelabra model, still popular among many anthropologists. The candelabra model generally holds that humanity first evolved in Africa and then spread out of Africa into different populations in Europe and Asia. Picture a candelabra, then imagine three distinct populations emerging from a single stem, each of them separate genetic entities that have not mixed genes, and thus are distinct, biological races.

The trellis model pictures humanity as a latticework, each part having a connection with all other parts. It recognizes that modern humans started in Africa about 100,000,000 years ago, but, as humans spread, they also could, and did, come back into Africa, and genes were interchanged globally by adjacent populations.

"If you look down at any one part of a trellis, you see that all parts are interconnected," Templeton explains. "Similarly, with modern molecular evolutionary techniques, we can find over time genes in any one local area of humanity that are shared by all of humanity throughout time. There are no distinct branches, no distinct lineages. By this modern definition for race, there are no races in humanity."

The candelabra model often is used to justify the "out of Africa" replacement theory, whereby modern humans descended from a single African population, expanding out of Africa and replacing the less advanced Old World humans in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Templeton's analysis suggests a less hostile scenario. "Traits can spread out of Africa to all of humanity because all of humanity is genetically interconnected. Spreading traits doesn't require spreading out and killing off all the earlier people. They're spread by reproducing with people--it's make love, not war."