I went to this at the British Library:
Black History Month
The Whole World is Africa
16 November 2009 18.30 – 20.30
‘Why are seven out of eight 100m Olympic finalists African or of African descent? And why is the opposite true of swimmers?’ In order to create an equal society we first need to understand why it is unequal, and consider where our differences and inequalities are within our DNA and where they result from social conditioning. A discussion led by Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics, University College London, Britain’s leading geneticist and one of science’s most gifted communicators. Presented in association with London Borough of Camden Black History Forum”
It was quality – my friend and I agreed it was the best thing we’d been to in 2009.
Steve Jones, author of the language of genes (which Stephen Dawkins calls an anti-racist book) explained why we can consider ourselves African. When the ancestors of the subsequent populations first left humanity’s original site of evolution in Africa, there was a genetic bottleneck (in one place – I forget which – the population may have descended from as few as 80 individuals) which led to a founder effect i.e. reduced genetic variation. Consequently Africa still accounts for the overwhelming majority of the genetic diversity of humanity. Interestingly, light skin evolved twice, separately – among Africans who migrated to the Far East and to Europe. Human phenotypes – i.e. physical appearance – can tell us little about genotypes, and cannot be taken as a reliable indicator of anything at all. To attempt to make attributions to a human on the basis of skin colour is racist. And on the whole, we are the same.
I enjoyed hearing what cultural critic Lindsay Johns had to say. What he stood for was based in rights and principles – equality, fighting prejudice, fighting discrimination, and this carried through to a firm message against counter-racism. And he picks his battles; he seems to have an emollient perspective on one-off racist slights which I, somebody who is trying to resist a rather unscientific tendency to use anti-Jewish racism as a litmus test of somebody’s worth, find salutory.
And the chair Henry Bonsu, was warm, deceptively buffoonish, always relevant, irreverent, and laugh-out-loud funny. There were a number of people in the audience who didn’t share the opinions which united the panel, including somebody who insisted that the only way to deal with difference was to insist that everybody is a child of god, and somebody else who took a keen interest in whether black people could swim and somebody else whose question I felt was mildly insulting, but I forget what it was. Everyone was given a patient hearing and a considered response.
And I started listening to Colourful Radio.