From my new column in Taki’s Magazine:
On the Origin of Races
Steve Sailer, April 28, 2021
During America’s current racial crisis, it’s striking how useless and irrelevant has been the intellectual conventional wisdom, which denies that race even exists.
So I’m going to step back from the daily fray this week and sketch out a stylized history of how we came to have two opposing ways to try to make sense of the realities of human biological diversity: as continuous or discontinuous. Do people mostly just differ slightly from their neighbors in a steady progression of blurry differences around the world? Or is it more helpful in organizing our knowledge of human variation to think of most individuals as belonging to largely separate major races?
These mental frameworks grew out of the differing experiences with the Africa to the south of the ancient Greeks in the east and the Renaissance Iberians in the west.
South of Greece in northeastern Africa, the Sahara Desert was less of a barrier to land or sea travel due to the Nile, the green highlands of Ethiopia, and the much-traversed Red Sea and Indian Ocean.
In contrast, in northwestern Africa south of Portugal, both the geography and the culture of the Sahara cut off Europeans from sub-Saharans until the 15th-century Portuguese mariners made their great leap around the Muslim monopoly on trade. Hence, the ancient Greeks tended to see race as more a matter of degree, while the worldview that grew out of Portuguese and Spanish explorations saw it more as a matter of kind. …
Read the whole thing there.
I should have alos mentioned that Shakespeare had an old-fashioned directional sense of race, like the Greeks. Othello, the Moor of Venice, was from yonder down south somewhere, but Shakespeare’s tragedy is pretty vague about whether he was an olive-skinned Moroccan, a brown Mauritanian, or a black sub-Saharan.
About 20 years ago I read Othello closely and found eight lines suggesting he was a black sub-Saharan and two suggesting he was an olive-skinned Moroccan.
Shakespeare likely wrote Othello in the early 1600s, about 150 years after the first black sub-Saharans likely arrived at the docks of London in Portuguese ships (the Portuguese, allies and trading partners of the English, first reached the Senegal River in 1445). So, Shakespeare had probably observed black sub-Saharans down at the docks.
My guess is that Shakespeare, being, above all else, a showman, intended Othello to be what we now think of as a black rather than as just a boring olive-skinned Moroccan.
The single most important genetic divide in the human race is between sub-Saharans and everybody else. As geneticist David Reich of Harvard told poor, intellectually overmatched Angela Saini, sub-Saharans versus everybody else have been evolving largely separately for 70,000 years. This presumably accounts for why sub-Saharans tend to be interesting to other races, while other less distinct variants, such as New World Indians, who have largely been on their own for 15,000 years, especially the corn-growing agriculturalists, are kind of boring to the modern mind.
But it’s not at all clear that Shakespeare, living a century and a half before Linnaeus and Blumenbach crystallized the Enlightenment’s racial conception of distinct races, thought of races as highly separate.
Shakespeare instead seemed to think of Moors as people living far enough south of England to be racially distinct. But Shakespeare didn’t seem to worry much about drawing precise distinctions among the wogs. The further south you went from England, the more woggish the wogs got. But distinctions between olive-skinned wogs and black-skinned wogs were not of intense interest to London’s paying audiences, so Shakespeare wasn’t going to get all nerdy about which kind of wog was Othello.
If you liked to conceive of Othello as a tawny but decorous North African Christian, go for it. But if it intrigued you to think of Othello as a big rampaging black man from somewhere south of civilization, O.J. Simpson avant la lettre, well, Shakespeare wasn’t going to refuse to accept your price of admission either.