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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Putting race into perspective

The tendency to tie race and identity together is more
common today than in the past. We, as self-reflective and self-aware beings,
hold race as an integral part of who we eventually become. The basis for
holding race as a founding piece of our identity lies in the ties it grants us
to specific cultures and societies. However, by holding race at the foundation
of our identity, we tend to believe it is something static, something
unchanging. This perception has led to countless instances of both domestic and
international conflict and abuse throughout history. Should race be as
fundamental to our personal identities as we assume that it is?

In order to begin an analysis of race today, we must venture
back to the beginning of mankind. In 1987, scientists Cann, Stoneking and
Wilson made the claim that a woman, whom they called “Mitochondrial
Eve,” was the matrilineal most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of modern
man. For those who may have forgotten, mitochondria is the part of a cell that
gives cells energy and also contains genetic material, separate from nuclear
DNA, with which we are generally more familiar. Mitochondria can only be passed
down from mother to child. Given that this is the case, the study found that
all of humanity’s mitochondrial DNA can be traced, through the mothers, to
Mitochondrial Eve in Africa, approximately 140,000 years ago.

Now that we know a bit more about our origins, consider all
that has happened since Mitochondrial Eve. Consider the movement of humanity
out of Africa and into all the different parts of the world. Consider all the
different environments humanity was exposed to and remember the only reason you
look the way you do was because your ancestors had to survive. Also, what about
all the wars, invasions and empires that have occurred since our beginnings?
What of the constant, expanding interconnection of people? Recalling these
facts of history, it would be impossible to maintain the assumption that you
are of a single race. Most likely, we are all a nearly incomprehensible
combination of genetic material.


The idea that we can trace our biological origins, that we
can look at a part of our DNA and know that we have a common ancestor and yet,
also know that we are all the end-result of an epic history of increasing
connection, is simply wonderful. Compared to the actual history of who we are
today, the way we have come to perceive race seems frivolous and small. I am
not suggesting that having a certain amount of positive pride about one’s race
is necessarily bad, but to hold race at the core of who you are is ultimately

Our biological history is more fluid than we tend to
believe. Our origin is, perhaps, more concrete than we would like to believe.
To hold on to the perception that each of us is the result of a finite amount
of influences, is missing the enormous mosaic that comprises every single
person. Also, to hold this “small picture” belief of race as the
foundation on which your whole identity is formed is nothing more than
clutching the simple and fearing the complex. Race is something to be proud of
in that it, generally, links one to a certain culture. However, to manipulate
and simplify both race and culture in order to divide and instigate violence is
dangerous and wrong.

Our differences are subtle and our history is truly grand —
that should be the core which founds and sustains how we perceive ourselves and
each other. To understand ourselves in this way would unlock in us endless
compassion, pride and awe.


Wasim Salman ([email protected]) is a senior
majoring in international studies.

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