Discrimination Tens of Thousands of Years Old Yet No Less Preventable


Racism, it was argued decades ago, could not be outlawed by legislation. I don’t recall the underpinning of that argument, and it was presented as consistent with being against racism which, it was argued, had to be redressed by other means, such as education, but we now have decades of experience with just such legislation. It worked. It’s been difficult, relative to our hopes slow, and partly reversed such as for voting rights, but many folks have gained higher educations, varied careers, and high incomes, and one became President of the United States and was elected to not just one but two terms, the maximum allowed by law regardless of race, without being assassinated, impeached, or, after retirement, arrested.

Ethnicity likely raises many of the same sociological challenges.

The difficulty stems partly from a history, both from childhood, in being surrounded and served by people much like oneself as child, and from prior generations of adults, which may go back tens of thousands of years. I hadn’t thought about that much duration, but there seems to be continuity.

Consider modern-day insults. If we want to say that someone is not as cultured as we are, we almost never accuse them of being Cro-Magnon. We are descendants of Cro-Magnons. We would be insulting our own ancestors when we encourage honoring them. However, we accuse them of being Neanderthal. We have hardly at all any ancestry who were Neanderthals, and maybe none. We insult those other people who largely were not part of our families.

Strictly speaking, I don’t know if Cro-Magnons (the earliest Homo sapiens) and Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) were of different races. They were of different species, which is an even bigger difference. Today, to our knowledge, only one species alive is human. The Neanderthals died. Scientists don’t entirely agree on whether we have Neanderthal DNA as 1–5 percent of our modern DNA or we have DNA that Neanderthals also had because it came from a common ancestor of an even earlier time, but, either way, Neanderthals essentially all died.

That demise was around 40,00038,000 years ago. Whether it was murderous or because of potentially friendly competition for resources or from climate change, we don’t know and apparently there’s archaeological evidence all three ways. They died in Europe when Africans arrived, which might mean that they were of different races, the Europeans were somehow the losers, and the Africans were the survivors who became the ancestors of today’s white people in Europe and abroad.

Possibly, there are steps between the end of Neanderthals and today’s racism, perhaps connecting them, although that is speculative.

Just 5,500–3,500 years ago, two groups of people mainly avoided each other. They apparently met but mostly did not mingle: hunters vs. early Iberian farmers. The farmers mainly became the Basques. There has been a Basque nationalist movement.

And, in , Catalan nationalism became known in distant lands. Catalan nationalists object to being governed by Spain.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that all of these are geographically near each other and center on people who apparently didn’t move long distances in short times, relatively speaking.

I haven’t proved much here and the claims are incomplete. But these points suggest hunches that seem to reinforce a pattern: People are often against each other on grounds based on birth; they are seriously against each other; the phenomenon may be worldwide; but it can be redressed, even through local secular law.