Racial discrimination based on skin colour is unacceptable, says expert
We cannot use skin colour to justify racial discrimination.
This was the view of Dr Nina Jablonski, Professor of Anthropology at Pennsylvania State University and fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS), during the sixth STIAS public lecture of 2012 held on Tuesday (25 September).
According to Prof Jablonski, skin colour must not be used to define races. “The entire scientific enterprise to define races biologically has stopped because people have realised it is folly, and even misleading.”
She argued that the difference in skin colour that we see today can be traced back to hundred of thousand of years ago when our ancestors migrated from Africa. This dispersion, coupled with solar radiation, had a profound effect on the evolution of skin pigmentation, Prof Jablonski added.
“At one stage we were only in Africa and we were all black. As people dispersed within Africa, there were some minor variations of pigmentation as they adapted to new UV regimes and varying intensities of ultraviolet radiation.”
“As we began to disperse, we got into areas with much lower radiation such as South-Eastern Asia, Europe and North-Western Europe and North America.”
“In the last few hundreds years skin pigmentation has been upset because people with a lighter pigmentation have moved to higher ultraviolet regions while people with darker skin pigmentation have moved to areas with lower ultraviolet radiation.”
According to Prof Jablonksi, this also supports the notion that we cannot use skin colour to define race biologically.
“Racial definitions and racial stereotypes become established and reinforced by verbal and written resources transmitted from respected sources. Races do not exist, and race labels are artificial and created by humans.”
In this regard, she referred to the eighteenth century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who argued for racial hierarchies. These hierarchies persist today, she said.
Prof Jablonksi said we must interrogate the meaning of race labels as we strive to achieve social equality for people around world.
- Prof Jablonksi was awarded an honorary doctorate by Stellenbosch University in 2009.