It is more than obvious that we still live in a racist society. Even with an African American President, our country is still struggling with the “race issue”. It is no surprise that people of color are underrepresented in fields like science and engineering; this is merely a reflection of the fact that we live in a racist culture. From talking with friends and coworkers I have come to the conclusion that many people feel that science has been used, or is being used, to denigrate people of African descent. Additionally many religious people seem to think science, specifically the theory of evolution, takes God out of the picture.
Many folks I’ve spoken with have told me that they think the theory of evolution is racist. A friend of mine recently said to me, “Wesley, black people are tired of being called monkeys.” In the last century, incorrect concepts like “Social Darwinism” were used to justify debasing and displacing many different peoples. So it is understandable if some folks feel ambivalent about the theory of evolution. However, I must adamantly assert that the theory of evolution is not racist; in fact it is the exact opposite of racist. It is the only explanation that verifies that all people are the same species. Furthermore, the notion that science somehow takes God out of the picture is the product of disinformation and fear mongering.
It is extremely disconcerting that many religious organizations, in an attempt to attract African Americans, will quote outdated and inaccurate material that casts science as some sort of racist, God-killing, monster. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center (2009) of scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power. Specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power. While belief in God is much lower in the scientific community than in the general public, it is clear that science does not obliterate faith. An archaeology text book of mine, written by Robert L. Kelly and David Hurst Thomas, offers a perspective that I have found personally useful.
Nobody can prove or disprove claims of the nonmaterial world using a method that evaluates claims about the material world. Archaeologists (scientists) can prove only that a religious claim about the material world cannot be taken at face value. Some may think this means that the religion is false; but it might also mean that a religion’s claim about the material world, even if unsubstantiated by science, holds deeper truths. From such a perspective, science encourages one to look deeper into religious beliefs, to find significance that goes beyond issues of mere space and time.
In addition to a religious aversion to the theory of evolution, the fear that it is racist is still lingering in our culture. In the past, science has been applied to meet racist ends. This does not mean that the theory of evolution itself is racist. Even the Bible was at one time used to justify slavery, but that simply suggests that a racist will use anything to justify their bigotry. In fact, any contemporary scientist studying human evolution will tell you that race is a social construction. According to a statement released by the American Anthropological Association,
In the United States both scholars and the general public have been conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions within the human species based on visible physical differences. With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within “racial” groups than between them.
The point is that science has verified that all people are essentially equal. There have been numerous biologists and anthropologists who have attempted to prop up their racism with science. However, these “scientific” studies are always discredited and falsified by other scientists. The real problem is that the media always broadcasts the inaccurate claims, and never seems to follow up once the data has been reviewed and falsified. More education about the theory of evolution is the only way to curtail these misconceptions.
According to Dr. Arlie Petters, Professor of Duke University, “Black students are hesitant to pursue a field where no leaders of the same race have been before. You need to see faculty achieving in these fields to go into those fields. There needs to be a synergy between (increasing) black faculty and black students…which will generate more and more students.”
Statistically speaking, many African Americans in this country are suffering from systemic, multigenerational, poverty. Lack of opportunities often translates into lack of education, and this creates a cycle that is difficult to escape. While our country has come a long way in the past several decades, white privilege is still prevalent, expressing itself even in a supposedly objective field like science. Historically, the face of all academic fields has been very white and very male. These are facts, but these facts are merely a reflection of our culture rather than an indication of some biological predisposition. For example: Uganda, Iceland, Iraq, Afghanistan and The United Kingdom all have higher percentages of women in government than the United States. This does not mean that women in the United States are biologically predisposed to have an aversion to serving in public office. It simply suggests that our culture here in the United States has not yet come to terms with many of its sexist conceptions. In the same way, our culture still struggles with racism, and all of the factors that contribute to its perpetuation.
According to Dr. Donna J. Nelson, Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma, “Underrepresented minorities are projected to constitute almost 32% of the American population by 2020, outnumbering White males (30.1%). Therefore, proactive steps should be taken now in order to insure the proportionate inclusion of such a large part of the U.S. population in science and engineering, throughout all levels of academia.”
More education about evolutionary science would help people overcome racist ideals. The theory of evolution, as it stands in the twenty first century, in no way validates racist concepts. Understanding the nature of social pressure, and how it affects people, is the only way to overcome its negative aspects. A true understanding of the development and trajectory of human society and culture is dependent upon an evolutionary model; a model that is intrinsically bound to the theory of evolution. While there are still many unanswered questions about our ancient history, there are a few things that are quite clear: all humans are biologically the same race and only the theory of evolution has given us a way to verify this.