ONE of the many delightful things about visiting Malaysia is that every woman and man knows who he or she is.
When I visit Universiti Malaya, the Malay, Chinese and Indian students eat separately.
But that’s not the whole story. Malaysia is a successful multinational society. Three women visited me here in Bali at my villa a few years ago, one of them a former student, and the three of them were close friends: a Malay, Chinese and an Indian.
Different races evolved to their geographic surroundings.
Now, the following may sound ridiculous or preposterous to a Malaysian, but in American and European universities, especially departments of anthropology, it is politically incorrect to admit that there is a concept called race.
Now to be sure, many people of the world are mixed, but at international airports, I guess I am stupid, because I have no difficulty distinguishing between Africans, Caucasians and Chinese.
The fact of race is impossible to extinguish. I have spent considerable time in Africa, America, Europe and Southeast Asia. There are differences among these peoples that only an idiot does not see. It may be the height or the colour of the Africans. It may be the aggressiveness of Americans — though that is more cultural than racial. It may be the persistence of Chinese doing deals with their counterparts on their computers, but the eyelids give it away in any case. Does anybody know a Norwegian with Chinese eyes, unless a grandmother happened to be Chinese?
The argument has now been turned upside down. Nicholas Wade, the longtime, now retired, science editor of the New York Times, has a new book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History.
He shows that not just culture creates differences among peoples, but genomic inheritance. Left-leaning and even Marxist predisposition have made academia in America utterly blind to their prejudices. It is, of course, true that the Nazis in Germany used race not just for ideological reasons, but to exterminate the Jews of Europe. So, that’s on the right side of the spectrum.
But academia forgets the genocide on the left in Cambodia, and the 30 million or so killed in the great cultural revolution in China — in the name of the left.
Wade is very clear about the differences that genomic factors are at issue, especially since DNA gave us the capacity to trace their evolution. It’s just a matter of measurement that east Asians have the largest brains (though this is not itself a measurement of IQ) and Africans the smallest, although other measurements are in the reverse.
Malay and Caucasian people are somewhat in the middle. Malay peoples, those from Easter Island to 20,000km away on Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa, all are variants of a non-Han Chinese group emigrating through Taiwan, or so Jared Diamond would have it in his celebrated Guns, Germs, and Steel, a best-selling book of layman-friendly anthropology, 15 years ago. Tagalog, Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Batak share the same syntax and grammar, with many identical words — anak, sakit, kanan, just to name three basic ones.
I guess Caucasians come out all right. The United States from its rich and almost unlimited frontier, and now the happily increasing multiracialism since the 1964 immigration reforms. Half the chief executive officers of Silicon Valley are Indian or Chinese.
So, we can be thankful that somebody has put-paid to the received wisdom of American social science. Race exists and we are all the better for it.
The human genome was only decoded 11 years ago. Since then, the study of race has been upended. The fact that it’s politically sensitive makes it no less susceptible to scientific inquiry than, say, sex.
Humans set out on their migration from northeast Africa only about 50,000 years ago, emerging into east Asian, Caucasian and African races.
To say we can’t study this division because of its political sensitivity is ideological, not scientific. A man named Barack Obama may be “mixed”, but since 2003, we can separate his 50 per cent Caucasian genes and the 50 per cent African. To me, this isn’t rocket science, it’s merely science.
Evolution moves on. We know that only 5,000 years ago Tibetans developed high-altitude genes. Kenyans and Ethiopians seem to win all marathons. Coincidence? Yup, it’s dangerous to refer to African athletic prowess. But it’s a fact. There are genetic reasons for it.
Wade is emphatic that no group of people is morally superior: that would be anti-science. But organised states, like China or Germany and France, have artistic and scientific achievements that tribal kin-organised groups can’t possibly show.
So, different races have evolved in response to differing geography.
“In each of these races, a different set of genes has been changed by natural selection. The genes specially affected by natural selection control not only expected traits, like skin colour and nutritional metabolism, but also some aspects of brain function.”
This book is written for us laymen in clear prose. Get it. Then we can say bye-bye to American social science, dominated as it is by a “cultural” group that has much suffered from racism: racism isn’t race. I can’t wait to learn the DNA of the Japanese emperor, or Vladimir Putin!