John Larrysson Column: RACE, the R-Word

The word race, meaning groups of people, is so general that it is meaningless. Race, the act of running, by people, horses or water is a different word from Old English (ras). The word for people is from Old French (razza) and came into English in the 16th century.

English meanings of the word race in the 16th century included: generations, different wines with distinctive flavour, people with the same job, attitude, ancestry, family, tribe, nation... Even today the word has multiple meanings, and a new one, skin colour. Today the meanings include nationality, species, animal variety, ethnic group, sexuality (rare), common ancestry, and so on...

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"Americans, are you here? Look, I'm sorry about this, apparently God had some fracas with your founding fathers and damned the entire race in to perpetuity." Rowan Atkinson, Devil Sketch



"We could not reproduce our human race if it were." Stewart Lamont, In good faith.



"The race of birds in the northern Rift is unknown." John Ash, John Atkins, John D. Atkins, Caroline P. J. Ash, Birds of Ethiopia and Eritrea: An Atlas of Distribution



"Of course, this utopian view did little to alter the widespread perception that the lesbian was a race apart in British culture." Jane Garrity, Step-daughters of England: British Women Modernists and the National Imaginary



And given the race of women all of the women mainstream feminist tend to attack, respectability politics are at play. Mysia Anderson, Stanford Daily, Beyonce is not a “feminist terrorist” October 23, 2014



"I shall therefore now give a list of their kings of the race of Solomon, descended from the queen of Saba,” James Bruce of Kinnaird, Esq., Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile



"The importance attached to celebrating weddings in Scotland is an eye-opener to those with a dour image of the Scots race." Ann Lindsay Mitchell, Mystical Scotland



On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life Full title of Darwin's famous book


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For a long time people have sorted the human species into groups called races roughly based on skin colour. These groupings are offensive to many people. In genetic terms the word race, meaning skin colour and facial features, is biologically meaningless. It is meaningful to sort genetic heredity by blood groups or, more recently, DNA sequences. The old concepts of people's race as black, brown, yellow, white and red are no longer meaningful scientifically. Compare the many variations among dogs to the limited variations between humans. Humans from all backgrounds are very genetically similar compared to many other species.

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Skin colour and minor facial features are not useful markers in human genetics. However unlike with skin colour, there are few, if any people talking about the supremacy of the AB+ people or how those who are O- are morally pure. When a word has so many meanings, and can cause offence, it is not useful. I recommend not using the word race at all. However for some people a change in the way they think would be needed. The only useful meaning of race, is the other word, the one for running.

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by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for two decades.


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