This document was prepared in June 1951 in an attempt to define race by UNO. Obviously, the need for this arose from Nazi atrocities. The original was prepared in 1950 and this is a revised version over it.
The reasons for convening a second meeting of experts to discuss the concept of race were chiefly these:
Race is a question of interest to many different kinds of people, not only to the public at large, but to sociologists, anthropologists and biologists, especially those dealing with problems of genetics. At the first discussion on the problem of race, it was chiefly sociologists who gave their opinions and framed the ‘Statement on race’. That statement had a good effect, but it did not carry the authority of just those groups within whose special province fall the biological problems of race, namely the physical anthropologists & geneticists. Secondly, the first statement did not, in all its details, carry conviction of these groups and, because of this, it was not supported by many authorities in these two fields.
In general, the chief conclusions of the first statement were sustained, but with differences in emphasis and with some important deletions.
There was no delay or hesitation or lack of unanimity in reaching the primary conclusion that there were no scientific grounds whatever for the racialist position regarding purity of race and the hierarchy of inferior and superior races to which this leads.
We agreed that all races were mixed and that intraracial variability in most biological characters was as great as, if not greater than, interracial variability.
We agreed that races had reached their present states by the operation of evolutionary factors by which different proportions of similar hereditary elements (genes) had become characteristic of different, partially separated groups. The source of these elements seemed to all of us to be the variability which arises by random mutation, and the isolating factors bringing about racial differentiation by preventing intermingling of groups with different mutations, chiefly geographical for the main groups such as African, European and Asiatic.
Man, we recognised, is distinguished as much by his culture as by his biology, and it was clear to all of us that many of the factors leading to the formation of minor races of men have been cultural. Anything that tends to prevent free exchange of genes amongst groups is a potential racemaking factor and these partial barriers may be religious, social and linguistic, as well as geographical.
We were careful to avoid dogmatic definitions of race, since, as a product of evolutionary factors, it is a dynamic rather than a static concept. We were equally careful to avoid saying that, because races were all variable and many of them graded into each other, therefore races did not exist. The physical anthropologists and the man in the street both know that races exist; the former, from the scientifically recognisable and measurable congeries of traits which he uses in classifying the varieties of man; the latter from the immediate evidence of his senses when he sees an African, a European, an Asiatic and an American Indian together.
We had no difficulty in agreeing that no evidence of differences in innate mental ability between different racial groups has been adduced, but that here too intraracial variability is at least as great as interracial variability. We agreed that psychological traits could not be used in classifying races, nor could they serve as parts of racial descriptions.
We were fortunate in having as members of our conference several scientists who had made special studies of the results of intermarriage between members of different races. This meant that our conclusion that race mixture in general did not lead to disadvantageous results was based on actual experience as well as upon study of the literature. Many of our members thought it quite likely that hybridisation of different races could lead to biologically advantageous results, although there was insufficient evidence to support any conclusion.
Since race, as a word, has become coloured by its misuse in connection with national, linguistic and religious differences, and by its deliberate abuse by racialists, we tried to find a new word to express the same meaning of a biologically differentiated group. On this we did not succeed, but agreed to reserve race as the word to be used for anthropological classification of groups showing definite combinations of physical (including physiological) traits in characteristic proportions.
We also tried hard, but again we failed, to reach some general statement about the inborn nature of man with respect to his behaviour toward his fellows. It is obvious that members of a group show co-operative or associative behaviour towards each other, while members of different groups may show aggressive behaviour towards each other and both of these attitudes may occur within the same individual. We recognised that the understanding of the psychological origin of race prejudice was an important problem which called for further study.
Nevertheless, having regard to the limitations of our present knowledge, all of us believed that the biological differences found amongst human racial groups can in no case justify the views of racial inequality which have been based on ignorance and prejudice, and that all of the differences which we know can well be disregarded for all ethical human purposes.
Scientists are generally agreed that all men living today belong to a single species, Homo sapiens, and are derived from a common stock, even though there is some dispute as to when and how different human groups diverged from this common stock.
The concept of race is unanimously regarded by anthropologists as a classificatory device providing a zoological frame within which the various groups of mankind may be arranged and by means of which studies of evolutionary processes can be facilitated. In its anthropological sense, the word ‘race’ should be reserved for groups of mankind possessing well-developed and primarily heritable physical differences from other groups. Many populations can be so classified but, because of the complexity of human history, there are also many populations which cannot easily be fitted into a racial classification.
Some of the physical differences between human groups are due to differences in hereditary constitution and some to differences in the environments in which they have been brought up. In most cases, both influences have been at work. The science of genetics suggests that the hereditary differences among populations of a single species are the results of the action of two sets of processes. On the one hand, the genetic composition of isolated populations is constantly but gradually being altered by natural selection and by occasional changes (mutations) in the material particles (genes) which control heredity. Populations are also affected by fortuitous changes in gene frequency and by marriage customs. On the other hand, crossing is constantly breaking down the differentiations so set up. The new mixed populations, in so far as they, in turn, become isolated, are subject to the same processes, and these may lead to further changes. Existing races are merely the result, considered at a particular moment in time, of the total effect of such processes on the human species. The hereditary characters to be used in the classification of human groups, the limits of their variation within these groups, and thus the extent of the classificatory sub-divisions adopted may legitimately differ according to the scientific purpose in view.
National, religious, geographical, linguistic and cultural groups do not necessarily coincide with racial groups; and the cultural traits of such groups have no demonstrated connection with racial traits. Americans are not a race, nor are Frenchmen, nor Germans; nor ipso facto is any other national group. Moslems and Jews are no more races than are Roman Catholics and Protestants; nor are people who live in Iceland or Britain or India, or who speak English or any other language, or who are culturally Turkish or Chinese and the lie, thereby describable as races. The use of the term ‘race’ in speaking of such groups may be a serious error, but it is one which is habitually committed.
Human races can be, and have been, classified in different ways by different anthropologists. Most of them agree in classifying the greater part of existing mankind into at least three large units, which may be called major groups (in French grand-races, in German Hauptrassen). Such a classification does not depend on any single physical character, nor does for example, skin colour by itself necessarily distinguish one major group from another. Furthermore, so far as it has been possible to analyse them, the differences in physical structure which distinguish one major group from another give no support to popular notions of any general ‘superiority’ or ‘inferiority’ which are sometimes implied in referring to these groups.
Broadly speaking, individuals belonging to different major groups of mankind are distinguishable by virtue of their physical characters, but individual members, or small groups belonging to different races within the same major group are usually not so distinguishable. Even the major groups grade into each other, and the physical traits by which they and the races within them are characterised overlap considerably. With respect to most, if not all, measurable characters, the differences among individuals belonging to the same race are greater than the differences that occur between the observed averages for two or more races within the same major group.
Most anthropologists do not include mental characteristics in their classification of human races. Studies within a single race have shown that both innate capacity and environmental opportunity determine the results of tests of intelligence and temperament, though their relative importance is disputed.
When intelligence tests, even non-verbal, are made on a group of non-literate people, their scores are usually lower than those of more civilised people. It has been recorded that different groups of the same race occupying similarly high levels of civilisation may yield considerable differences in intelligence tests. When, however, the two groups have been brought up from childhood in similar environments, the differences are usually very slight. Moreover, there is good evidence that, given similar opportunities, the average performance (that is to say, the performance of the individual who is representative because he is surpassed by as many as he surpasses), and the variation round it, do not differ appreciably from one race to another.
Even those psychologists who claim to have found the greatest differences in intelligence between groups of different racial origin and have contended that they are hereditary, always report that some members of the group of inferior performance surpass not merely the lowest ranking member of the superior group but also the average of its members. In any case, it has never been possible to separate members of two groups on the basis of mental capacity, as they can often be separated on a basis of religion, skin colour, hair form or language. It is possible, though not proved, that some types of innate capacity for intellectual and emotional responses are commoner in one human group than in another, but it is certain that, within a single group, innate capacities vary as much as, if not more than, they do between different groups.
The study of the heredity of psychological characteristics is beset with difficulties. We know that certain mental diseases and defects are transmitted from one generation to the next, but we are less familiar with the part played by heredity in the mental life of normal individuals. The normal individual, irrespective of race, is essentially educable. It follows that his intellectual and moral life is largely conditioned by his training and by his physical and social environment.
It often happens that a national group may appear to be characterised by particular psychological attributes. The superficial view would be that this is due to race. Scientifically, however, we realise that any common psychological attribute is more likely to be due to a common historical and social background, and that such attributes may obscure the fact that, within different populations consisting of many human types, one will find approximately the same range of temperament and intelligence.
The scientific material available to us at present does not justify the conclusion that inherited genetic differences are a major factor in producing the differences between the cultures and cultural achievements of different peoples or groups. It does indicate, on the contrary, that a major factor in explaining such differences is the cultural experience which each group has undergone.
There is no evidence for the existence of so-called ‘pure’ races. Skeletal remains provide the basis of our limited knowledge about earlier races. In regard to race mixture, the evidence points to the fact that human hybridisation has been going on for an indefinite but considerable time. Indeed, one of the processes of race formation and race extinction or absorption is by means of hybridisation between races. As there is no reliable evidence that disadvantageous effects are produced thereby, no biological justification exists for prohibiting inter-marriage between persons of different races.
We now have to consider the bearing of these statements on the problem of human equality. We wish to emphasise that equality of opportunity and equality in law in no way depend, as ethical principles, upon the assertion that human beings are in fact equal in endowment.
We have thought it worth while to set out in a formal manner what is at present scientifically established concerning individual and group differences:
(a) In matters of race, the only characteristics which anthropologists have so far been able to use effectively as a basis for classification are physical (anatomical and physiological).
(b) Available scientific knowledge provides no basis for believing that the groups of mankind differ in their innate capacity for intellectual and emotional development.
(c) Some biological differences between human beings within a single race may be as great as, or greater than, the same biological differences between races.
(d) Vast social changes have occurred that have not been connected in any way with changes in racial type. Historical and sociological studies thus support the view that genetic differences are of little significance in determining the social and cultural differences between different groups of men.
(e) There is no evidence that race mixture produces disadvantageous results from a biological point of view. The social results of race mixture, whether for good or ill, can generally be traced to social factors.
Text drafted at Unesco House, Paris, on 8 June 1951, by:
• Professor R. A. M. Borgman, Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam;
• Professor Gunnar Dahlberg, Director, State Institute for Human Genetics and Race Biology, University of Uppsala;
• Professor L. C. Dunn, Department of Zoology, Columbia University, New York;
• Professor J. B. S. Haldane, Head, Department of Biometry, University College, London;
• Professor M. F. Ashley Montagu, Chairman, Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.;
• Dr A. E. Mourant, Director, Blood Group Reference Laboratory, Lister Institute, London;
• Professor Hans Nachtscheim, Director, Institut für Genetik, Freie Universität, Berlin;
• Dr Eugène Schreider, Directeur adjoint du Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Physique de l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Paris;
• Professor Harry L. Shapiro, Chairman, Department of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, New York;
• Dr J. C. Trevor, Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge;
• Dr Henri V. Vallois, Professeur au Museum d’Histoire Naturelle, Directeur du Musée de 1’Homme, Paris;
• Professor S. Zuckerman, Head, Department of Anatomy, Medical School, University of Birmingham;
• Professor Th. Dobzhansky, Department of Zoology, Columbia University, New York;
• Dr Julian Huxley contributed to the final wording.