February 12, 2016

Book Review: "Everyone Is African: How Science Explodes The Myth of Race," by Daniel J. Fairbanks

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Everyone Is African, by Daniel J. Fairbanks

Everyone Is African: How Science Explodes The Myth of Race
By Daniel J. Fairbanks
Prometheus Books
Reviewed by Karl Wolff

What is race? This remains an important, relevant, and controversial question. Sociologists, public policy makers, presidential candidates, and talking heads each offer their own take on the situation. But one should also look at the science behind race. Daniel J. Fairbanks, the dean of the College of Science and Health at Utah Valley University, goes back to first principles in his new book, Everyone Is African: How Science Explodes The Myth of Race. For good and ill, humans organize a seemingly chaotic world through the creation of patterns. Throughout history and into the present, race has been one of these patterns. It is a factor that effects everything from the most mundane bureaucratic interaction to the grand national narrative. How do you self-identify on the race question? What box do you check on your Driver's License, Insurance Form, College Application? Fairbanks begins his book with the story of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that invalidated Virginia's miscegenation statute. Up until 1969, when the law was repealed, it was a felony for a blacks and whites to intermarry.

Fairbanks then takes a step back and explores what race actually is. He centers his discussion on DNA and heredity. For centuries, we have classified people according to race, because that is how we see people. DNA analysis represents a cognitive leap. Whether discussing Neanderthals or the racist origin of the word Caucasian, he brings it back to the DNA. Unlike skin color, we can't see DNA with the naked eye, yet it affects physical appearance. Instead of race, we should see how race is distinct from the concept of ancestry. So while those who appear outwardly African in appearance, they may also have European or Native American ancestry. Race is an easy shortcut when it comes to classification. Ancestry is much more complicated.

In the book, Fairbanks covers topics like skin color, race and health, and race and intelligence. He discusses sickle cell anemia, The Bell Curve, and how we perceive race. For a book under 200 pages, it covers a lot of ground. When #BlackLivesMatter dominates the headlines, along with the racist swill emanating from Donald Trump's word-hole, this book is highly relevant. Also, it comes from a publisher committed to sane rational discussions on otherwise explosive topics. Finally, Everyone Is African is popular science in the best sense of the term. It is written in lively prose and meant for the widest possible audience. It doesn't purport to "solve race," but it does clarify this important and controversial topic in a concise package.

Out of 10: 9.0

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Filed by Karl Wolff at 8:00 AM, February 12, 2016. Filed under: Karl Wolff | Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |