By Arefa Shaikh
27 July 2005
Olson, Steven. Mapping Human History: Genes, Race and Our Common Origins. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. ISBN: 0-618-35210-4. $12.95
Racism has no place in the world where everyone is the same. Olson depicts this in his book when he talks of our common ancestor related to our genetics. Mapping Human History is a book that allows the common reader to read about their common ancestor. In today's world of racism and stride this book helps you feel at one with your fellow man. It would do today's world leaders a lot of good to read this book before they go off on a war for a stupid reason related to race.
Olson believes that racism has developed through centuries of tragedy. Man has always tried to raise himself as distinctive from one another. These efforts have led to histories of war, conflict, and segregation. European and American scientists once attempted to find ways of distinguishing their superiority over their so-called inferiors. History has shown that most of these distinctions were purely physical and cultural. These attributes cannot be used because throughout time those groups of people will interact and form a new race; then all the physical and cultural characteristics will join together making it impossible to distinguish between the two.
I think this is very true because when you look at the country we live in today over 200 years we have scores of immigrants who migrated and have established their cultures with the original European culture of the 18th century. No matter how hard the really settlers may have tried to separate themselves from the immigrants to their cultures always clashed. Sometimes it caused wars but it other cases they intermingled and we have now residents of America with ancestry from many different parts of the world.
Olson also mentions other scholars who show that differences between races are biological in nature. Olson believes that prejudice against others is a learned response. Even religion plays a part in separating groups of people. After looking at the history of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East it can be seen that all these parts were inhabited by the same people who conquered and integrated with the current inhabitants of the land to make new people with distinct characteristics both physical and cultural.
This theory of Olson�s can be seen today during the "War on Terror." The terrorists were mostly all from one are of the world and were all from one religion. The after math of 9/11 showed a rise in racist attacks against innocent Muslims and innocent people who looked like they were form the Middle East. Those who carried out the attacks believed themselves to be above all other people and thought it would be their duty to wipe the world clean of those "infidels." These views are wrong but have caused tragedy for the people of the Middle East in the form of the war on Afghanistan and Iraq. This could all be avoided if everyone would try to realize that all people are the same even if we look physically different.
Olson's entire book shows human history through all of its trials and tribulations. He separated the book according to geography and then showed how each of them became distinctively different by the different peoples who migrated to those areas. He showed through genetic studying that we regardless what part of the world we came from we have essentially the same DNA. He explains this through the search for the common ancestor. The recent organization of the Human Genome Project was established to help determine a link between all peoples. Linguists and archeologists also provided evidence that helped to show different ancestral backgrounds. Most people would be surprised of how na�ve the world is it about our common ancestry. Everyone can claim Julius Caesar, Buddha, or even a Persian King as their ancestor. Olson explains how man has no reason to try and distinguish himself from others owing to the fact that there are no distinctions. Language, history, culture wer e all the same form a common ancestor at the beginning of mankind.
In the chapter entitled "Immigration and the Future," Olson describes how many scholars believed that racism was developed by Europeans in the 18th to 19th century. This was done to distinguish between their civilization and the other people of the world. They used mostly physical attributes to make themselves seem more superior to the other civilizations. One way they used to come up with their superiority was that anyone with a relatively large skull was considered to be biologically superior. This however proved to be inconsistent because some Africans had larger heads then Caucasian while the vice versa was also true. Another theory was the cranial index theory. According to 19th century skull measurers, narrow heads were a mark of intelligence and culture, whereas broad-headed people belonged to an obviously inferior race. This became less popular as it was soon discovered when African and Australian aborigines were found to have some of the narrowest heads in the world.
What was surprising about their theory was that it played a role in some of the most bizarre racial theories even made. According to the worst one of the theories Europeans could be divided into 3 distinct races. The Nordics of northern and northwestern Europe were tall and fair and had narrow heads. The Mediterranean of Southern Europe were short, dark, and also narrow headed. In between were the Alpines, who were short, brown haired, and broad-headed. These categories have only the vaguest relationship to the characteristics of actual Europeans. In Germany this theory became the background for one of the most notoriously evil man of all time, Adolf Hitler. The Nordics became the Aryans who displaced the inferior broad headed people living in Europe at the time. This is where the theory of the popular blond hair, blue- eyed, superior man came from. In 1921, a book was published in Munich Germany about this superior race and a copy of the 1923 second edition was given to Adolf Hitler. The ideas of this book were obviously prominent in Hitler's mind as he wrote Mein Kampf.
Immigrants are a hot topic in today's European world. All over Europe there are arguments over illegal immigrants and their stain on the European ideal. Olson points out however that as Europe's birthrate falls these immigrants will be Europe's only hope of a future. As Europe's population ages and their workforce dwindles it is the immigrants that will take over the workforce to keep Europe productive. All of these immigrants will also have to integrate their culture with that of European culture as well. Olson shows that especially in France immigrant children identify more with French culture than they do with their parent's culture. Olson remarks, the lesson from history is that physical differences do little to slow the mixing of groups unless powerful societal forces keep them rigidly separated. Such separatist sentiments do exist in Europe. But these voices area minority in Europe. The blending of people that has been going on for millennia in Europe seems destined to continue.
Racism has no place in this world at all. Olson himself said, many of the harshest conflicts in the world today are between people who are physically indistinguishable. If someone took a roomful of Palestinians and Israelis from the Middle East, or of Serbs and Albanians from the Balkans, or of Catholics and Protestants from Ireland, or of Muslims and Hindus from northern India, or of Dayaks and Madurese from Indonesia, gave them all identical outfits and haircuts, and forbade them to speak or gesture, no one could distinguish the member of the other group. The World leaders and the common man can benefit by reading this book and realizing that differences between people are minor compared to our shared ancestry. This book is the perfect example why race has no place in this world and must be rid of if we are ever to live in peace.