Excerpts from the Jena Declaration
[This text has been translated electronically.]
The concept of race is the result of racism and not its precondition
On the occasion of the 112th annual meeting of the German Zoological Society in Jena, the Institute of Zoology and Evolutionary Research at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena hosted a public evening event on the topic "Jena, Haeckel and the question of human races: how racism makes races". This joint statement is intended to inform.
From the very beginning, the idea of the existence of human races was linked to an evaluation of these supposed races; indeed, the notion of the different valence of human groups preceded the supposed scientific preoccupation. The primarily biological justification of groups of people as races - on the basis of skin color, eye shape, or skull shape, for example - led to the persecution, enslavement, and murder of millions and millions of people. Even today, the term race is widely used in connection with human groups. However, there is no biological justification for this and, in fact, there never has been. The concept of race is the result of racism, not its precondition.
Despite or precisely because of the close link between racism and supposedly existing races, it is the task of science, and thus also of a scientific professional society such as the German Zoological Society, to ask about a possible reality of human races.
The question is whether races in general and human races in particular are a biological reality, or whether they are pure constructs of the human mind. For the influential biological systematist Ernst Mayr, the existence of human races was a »biological fact« (Mayr 2002), at least before the conquest of the world by Europeans. The reasoning is consistent with what is still the most common view of the existence of races today. Human races correspond in so many criteria to the »geographical races« of other species that an alternative did not seem possible to him, although Mayr clearly spoke out against any racism.
The division of human beings into races was and is first of all a social and political type formation, followed and supported by an anthropological construction based on arbitrarily chosen characteristics such as hair and skin colour
This construction served and still serves to justify open and latent racism with alleged natural conditions and thus to create a moral justification.
It was only through scientific research into the genetic diversity of human beings that racial concepts were finally exposed as typological constructs. In humans, by far the greatest proportion of genetic differences is not between geographical populations, but within such groups. Even today, the highest genetic diversity is found among people on the African continent. That is where the roots and most of the branches in the human family tree lie. On one of these branches, the people of East Africa and all non-Africans fall together. People outside Africa are thus more closely related to people from East Africa, such as the Hadza, than they are to people from South Africa, such as the Khoisan. From a tribal point of view, therefore, all people are Africans. It is therefore almost paradoxical to speak of »the African« or, for whatever reason, of »black Africans«. This is a relic of colonial language and thinking and it is true again: racism makes races. The skin color of a Khoisan from South Africa is less pigmented than that of people living in Southeast Asia or in South America along the equator. Skin color mainly reflects a biological adaptation to the degree of solar radiation and, accordingly, varies continuously with the intensity of radiation on earth.
The supposed human races also do not trace back to separate evolutionary lines (following a different conception of the reality of races, the so-called cladistic races). Anatomically modern humans originated in Africa over 250,000 years ago, and from there spread in small groups of people across the rest of the world. The non-Africans branched off from the people of eastern Africa about 60,000 years ago and colonized much of the world.
The linking of characteristics such as skin color with traits or even supposedly genetically fixed personality traits and behaviors, as used in the heyday of anthropological racism, has now been clearly refuted.
To still use this line of reasoning today as supposedly scientific is false and scurrilous. There is also no scientifically proven link between intelligence and geographic origin, but there is a clear one with social origin. Again, racism in the form of exclusion and discrimination creates the supposed races.
However, racism among people persists. Racial research, racial science and racial hygiene or eugenics in the 20th century as seemingly scientific disciplines were only a few outgrowths of racist thinking and acting.
Merely deleting the word »race« from our linguistic usage will not prevent intolerance and racism. A characteristic of today's forms of racism is already the avoidance of the term »race«, especially in radical right-wing and xenophobic milieus. Racist thinking is perpetuated with terms such as selection, purity or ethnopluralism. However, the concept of ethnopluralism is nothing more than a reformulation of the ideas of apartheid. The labelling of »the African« as a supposed threat to Europe and the attribution of certain biological characteristics are also in the direct tradition of the worst racism of the past. So let's make sure that people are never again discriminated against on seemingly biological grounds and remind ourselves and others that it is racism that created races and that zoology/anthropology has ingloriously engaged in supposedly biological justifications. Not using the term race should be part of scientific probity today and in the future.
Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Martin S. Fischer, Institute of Zoology and Evolutionary Research, Friedrich Schiller University, Jena,
Prof. Dr. Uwe Hoßfeld, Institute of Zoology and Evolutionary Research, Biology Didactics Group, Friedrich Schiller University Jena,
Prof. Dr. Johannes Krause, Director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Man, Jena / Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Prof. Dr. Stefan Richter, General and Special Zoology, Institute of Biosciences, University of Rostock