Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
We all have run into people who dismissed others on the basis of their obsession with physical characteristics that differed from one human group to another. Regular readers here will know that I focus on the unity of the human race (the one, single race of homo sapiens sapiens), while investigating the cultural differences among us and exploring ways to better communicate across the great chasms of cultural differences. A related discussion concerning genetics has arisen out of reader interest and questions, complemented by my own longstanding keen interest in human genetics.
To understand cultures and peoples, we must note differences that distinguish some group from another. Each group's own self-identity is critical in understanding that culture. Just looking out on the world, or next door, we are struck by the differences among us. But just as important are the similarities. Recent genetic studies have clarified and emphasized the similarities among all humans, confirming our unity of origin and kinship.
While avidly reading and following developments in scientific studies of genetics and DNA, I am careful to reference the dedicated international specialists in various fields who carefully report and analyze what they have discovered. Since about 2004 or so various researchers and analysts have published volumes on the discoveries of DNA, mapping out our human history, migrating out of Africa to the rest of the land masses of our planet.
These writers attempt to correlate all we have discovered from history, oral traditions and literature with the story of human lineage and history now told by our genetic markers. I point out continually in many essays the migratory nature of the human race worldwide. The genetic focus helps us to understand better who we are. Most people are intrigued with their own personal family heritage and origins. The DNA studies provide an objective, non-emotional basis for understanding our differences and similarities.
I am committed to disabusing people of any obsessive focus on differing characteristics as a point of separating humans into different valuation categories. Humans are of value as humans. We are common kin across the cultures, languages and geographical distances.
On the other hand these amazing variations of characteristics and even more varied cultural characteristics are a continuing source of fascination for people in general. Matters of curiosity you might say. They are likewise legitimate targets of investigation by the hard sciences and social sciences.
These are valid interests in who we are as humans. It does not help to ignore differences, which denies an inherent part of us. But rather we can affirm these physical differences, just as we can our cultural differences.
In my research and writings I try to shift focus to a wider vista of reality for those who wish to enquire. The terms used to characterize people are usually gross oversimplifications based on stereotypes for the very purpose of isolating various groups of people into exclusive categories that often bear no relation to objective reality. It is obvious that no one can, in this life, get beyond our own existence to attain any objective view from the perspective of the Universe.
On the other hand the great differences in human cultures are found in the infinite variety of social organization and cultural worldviews, which is what my website focuses on. So the Resources on my site are focused on encouraging and enabling cross-cultural understanding and communication, based on a life of doing just that in various real-life field settings.
The origin and focus of many of my essays on the Resource site is to answer various questions that come in from readers. These represent various different perspectives. One obvious variation in characteristics that fosters continual fascination and interest is the amazing range of color of hair and eyes in some populations.
Injustice and Oppression
I have likewise observed that the tendency among human societies to use skin color as a dividing point of groups of humans is not common throughout the world, but is an uncommon approach to our existence. I am concerned about any instance of the abuse of concepts and terms by some people to gain control over others. I state in one essay that skin colour is virtually irrelevant to the concept of ethnicity, which is my emphases and resources focus on.
The obsession with colour of skin has fostered great injustices, to say the least, in some societies, like American and South Asian societies, and to some extent in Europe. In most human societies, some group will find some characteristic, physical, social or financial, to focus on as a level to exploit or gain power over another group. Sometimes it is lineage or national origin.
One essay I wrote deals with this and likewise shifts the focus from ethnocentric views and racist concepts – in whatever cultural context they occur, Western or otherwise – to the broader world perspective on the one race we all belong to, the Human Race. In that essay I was also answering a reader who had a fixation on, or at least a limited cultural concept of, the variations among human beings: Genetics Out of Africa.
A recent book I read discusses how the concept of "Race" was deliberately created in the early American society, and led to the clear skewing and debasing of the society, as we see from history. The author presents a superb and detailed analysis of how race was created in America as a social construct and persisted to current times:
Roediger, David R. How Race Survived US History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon. London/NY: Verso, 2008. 240p.
See my current reading list for other related or disparate topics.
Variety in Unity
My 35 years of life in the Middle East and Africa have engendered a deep appreciation and fascination with this awesome variety of human beauty shared across the whole human race. During that time, I have had the opportunity to spend time in many parts of the world among many different, all fascinating and wonderful, peoples. This variety in unity is amazing.
It amazes me how people can limit their vision to the situation in which they grew up and think that is somehow the basis for evaluating all of human life and culture! I have spent thousands of hours talking about these concepts with my African friends and those of other various ethnic groups. I've heard their stories and I've shared mine. The rest of the world needs to be aware of the rich heritage these cultures offer to the rest of the world.
On this resource site I have primarily focused on cultural characteristics that distinguish different groups of humans as separate ethnicities. The characteristics considered important vary from place to place and culture to culture. This requires cultural investigation and worldview investigation, a question of discovery and understanding. Resources on this website enable a person to approach a new culture positively and learn the worldview of that culture systematically. This should foster respect and appreciation, and, at any rate, it is essential to any meaningful communication.
(See How to Learn a Language and a Culture)
The recent comparisons of DNA on a worldwide basis have confirmed much that was already proposed from other sciences about the unity of human kind and the genes we all share. Another exciting aspect is the clarification of genetic drift, or innovation in genes that introduces new traits in certain communities.
I am interested in any bit of information that helps us understand ourselves, and how we come to be in the fascinating and beautiful mosaic that is humanity with its great diversity and yet its total genetic compatibility across the whole gene pool!
Some individuals give their lives to this scientific study of our history, biology, genetics, culture and related aspects unique to our identity as humans. Without the growth of this corrective knowledge signs are the human race would continue to be broken up into opposing self-interested ethnic or social groups who convince themselves they are better than someone else based on some irrelevant external factor!
Humans are universally curious about their various characteristics. In addition, the more we learn about how these physical traits occur, the greater the scientific basis for opposing and discounting the power-focused obsession with categorizing and isolating certain groups of people, which all societies do to some degree. Most people are interested in where they came from and what makes them tick. I am too.
On practical grounds perhaps we can agree on opposing discriminatory attitudes that seek to control or exclude certain population groups. I will continue to hope and work for the goal that we may rise above our simplistic ethnocentric concepts and move towards taking our place as members of one great human family worldwide.
This includes recognizing and accepting the puzzling or sometimes frustrating differences we find in other peoples and cultures. I will continue to help people of all cultures and ethnicities appreciate peoples of other cultures and ethnicities.
Assimilation: How Ethnic Groups Develop and Change
Colour, Race and Genetics in the Horn of Africa
Ethnicity, Ancestors and Society: Self-Identification in the US
Genetics Out of Africa
How to Learn an Language and a Culture
How We Define Ethnicity
Resources in Print – My 2009 reading list
The Sabeans and Other Ancient Genetics and Tongues: Distinguishing Fact from Legend and Modern from Ancient
What Makes a People Distinct?
Related Powerpoint presentation on this site:
Models of Assimilation
Describing a People Group
First written in an email exchange 4 November 2009
Topic expanded and posted on OJTR 8 November 2009
Last edited 10 March 2012
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Please give credit and link back. Other rights reserved.