This UNESCO statement is of considerable historic interest, and is made available in searchable/indexable format by HonestThinking. Scanned pdf is available from unesdoc.unesco.org.

 

As documented by UNESCO itself, this declaration from 1950 was heavily critisized by researchers who was concerned that "freedom of scientific enquiry is imperilled when any scientific findings or opinions are elevated, by an authoritative body, into the position of doctrines", and UNESCO's approach was compared to "the National Socialists’ notorious attempts to establish certain doctrines as the only correct conclusions to be drawn from research on race, and their suppression of any contrary opinion; as well as the Soviet Government’s similar claim on behalf of Lysenko’s theory of heredity, and its condemnation of Mendel’s teaching." (Fischer). "I can have no part in attempts to solve scientific questions by political manifestoes, as is the practice in Soviet Russia and now at Unesco as well." (Scheidt). The result was a new and somewhat less tendentious declaration the following year.

 

See also other papers in the UNESCO-series on race.

 

 

 

The Race Question

 

UNESCO, Paris, July 1950

 

 

 

1. Scientists have reached general agreement in recognising that mankind

is one: that all men belong to the same species, Homo sapiens. It is

further generally agreed among scientists that all men are probably

derived from the same common stock; and that such differences as exist

between different groups of mankind are due to the operation of evolutionary

factors of differentiation such as isolation, the drift and random

fixation of the material particles which control heredity (the genes),

changes in the structure of these particles, hybridisation, and natural

selection. In these ways groups have arisen of varying stability and

degree of differentiation which have been classified in different ways for

different purposes.

 

2. From the biological standpoint, the species Homo sapiens is made

up of a number of populations, each one of which differs from the others

in the frequency of one or more genes. Such genes, responsible for the

hereditary differences between men, are always few when compared to

the whole genetic constitution of man and to the vast number of genes

common to all human beings regardless of the population to which they

belong. This means that the likenesses among men are far greater than

their differences.

 

3. A race, from the biological standpoint, may therefore be defined as

one of the group of populations constituting the species Homo sapiens.

These populations are capable of inter-breeding with one another but,

by virtue of the isolating barriers which in the past kept them more or

less separated, exhibit certain physical differences as a result of their

somewhat different biological histories. These represent variations, as it

were, on a common theme.

 

4. In short, the term ‘race’ designates a group or population characterised

by some concentrations, relative as to frequency and distribution,

of hereditary particles (genes) or physical characters, which appear,

fluctuate, and often disappear in the course of time by reason of geographic

and/or cultural isolation. The varying manifestations of these

traits in different populations are perceived in different ways by each

group. What is perceived is largely preconceived, so that each group arbitrarily

tends to misinterpret the variability which occurs as a fundamental

difference which separates that group from all others.

 

5. These are the scientific facts. Unfortunately, however, when most

people use the term ‘race’ they do not do so in the sense above defined.

To most people, a race is any group of people whom they choose to

describe as a race. Thus, many national, religious, geographic, linguistic

or cultural groups have, in such loose usage, been called ‘race’, when

obviously Americans are not a race, nor are Englishmen, nor Frenchmen,

nor any other national group. Catholics, Protestants, Moslems,

and Jews are not races, nor are groups who speak English or any other

language thereby definable as a race; people who live in Iceland or

England or India are not races; nor are people who are culturally

Turkish or Chinese or the like thereby describable as races.

 

6. National, religious, geographic, linguistic and cultural groups do

not necessarily coincide with racial groups: and the cultural traits of

such groups have no demonstrated genetic connection with racial traits.

Because serious errors of this kind are habitually committed when the

term ‘race’ is used in popular parlance, it would be better when speaking

of human races to drop the term ‘race’ altogether and speak of ethnic

groups.

 

7. Now what has the scientist to say about the groups of mankind

which may be recognised at the present time? Human races can be and

have been differently classified by different anthropologists, but at the

present time most anthropologists agree on classifying the greater part

of the present-day mankind into three major divisions as follows: (a) the

Mongoloid division; (b) the Negroid division; and (c) the Caucasoid

division. The biological processes which the classifier has here embalmed,

as it were, are dynamic, not static. These divisions were not the same in

the past as they are at present, and there is every reason to believe that

they will change in the future.

 

8. Many sub-groups or ethnic groups within these divisions have

been described. There is no general agreement upon their number, and

in any event most ethnic groups have not yet been either studied or described

by the physical anthropologists.

 

9. Whatever classification the anthropologist makes of man, he never

includes mental characteristics as part of those classifications. It is now

generally recognised that intelligence tests do not in themeslves enabIe

us to differentiate safely between what is due to innate capacity and

what is the result of environmental influences, training and education.

Wherever it has been possible to make allowances for differences in

environmental opportunities, the tests have shown essential similarity

in mental characters among all human groups. In short, given similar

degrees of cultural opportunity to realise their potentialities, the average

achievement of the members of each ethnic group is about the same. The

scientific investigations of recent years fully support the dictum of Confucious

(551-478 B.c.): ‘Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that

carry them far apart.’

 

10. The scientific material available to us at present does not justify

the conclusion that inherited genetic differences are a major factor in

producing the differences between the cultures and cultural achievements

of different peoples or groups. It does indicate, however, that the

history of the cultural experience which each group has undergone is the

major factor in explaining such differences. The one trait which above all

others has been at a premium in the evolution of men’s mental characters

has been educability, plasticity. This is a trait which all human

beings possess. It is indeed, a species character of Homo sapiens.

 

11. So far as temperament is concerned, there is no definite evidence

that there exist inborn differences between human groups. There is

evidence that whatever group differences of the kind there might be are

greatly overridden by the individual differences, and by the differences

springing from environmental factors.

 

12. As for personality and character, these may be considered raceless.

In every human group a rich variety of personality and character

types will be found, and there is no reason for believing that any

human group is richer than any other in these respects.

 

13. With respect to race mixture, the evidence points unequivocally

to the fact that this has been going on from the earliest times. Indeed,

one of the chief processes of race formation and race extinction or

absorption is by means of hybridisation between races or ethnic

groups. Furthermore, no convincing evidence has been adduced that

race mixture of itself produces biologically bad effects. Statements

that human hybrids frequently show undesirable traits, both physically

and mentally, physical disharmonies and mental degeneracies, are not

supported by the facts. There is, therefore, no biological justification

for prohibiting intermarriage between persons of different ethnic groups.

 

14. The biological fact of race and the myth of ‘race’ should be distinguished.

For all practical social purposes ‘race’ is not so much a

biological phenomenon as a social myth. The myth of ‘race’ has created

an enormous amount of human and social damage. In recent years it

has taken a heavy toll in human lives and caused untold suffering. It still

prevents the normal development of millions of human beings and

deprives civilisation of the effective co-operation of productive minds.

The biological differences between ethnic groups should be disregarded

from the standpoint of social acceptance and social action. The unity of

mankind from both the biological and social viewpoints is the main

thing. To recognise this and to act accordingly is the first requirement

of modern man. It is but to recognise what a great biologist wrote in

1875: ‘As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into

larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that

he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members

of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being

once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies

extending to the men of all nations and races.’ These are the words of

Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man (2nd edn, 1875, pp. 187-8). And,

indeed, the whole of human history shows that a co-operative spirit is

not only natural to men, but more deeply rooted than any self-seeking

tendencies. If this were not so we should not see the growth of integration

and organisation of his communities which the centuries and the

millenniums plainly exhibit.

 

15. We now have to consider the bearing of these statements on the

problem of human equality. It must be asserted with the utmost emphasis

that equality as an ethical principle in no way depends upon the

assertion that human beings are in fact equal in endowment. Obviously

individuals in all ethnic groups vary greatly among themselves in endowment.

Nevertheless, the characteristics in which human groups differ

from one another are often exaggerated and used as a basis for questioning

the validity of equality in the ethical sense. For this purpose we have

thought it worth while to set out in a formal manner what is at present

scientifically established concerning individual and group differences.

 

(a) In matters of race, the only characteristics which anthropologists can

effectively use as a basis for classifications are physical and physiological.

 

(b) According to present knowledge there is no proof that the groups of

mankind differ in their innate mental characteristics, whether in

respect of intelligence or temperament. The scientific evidence indicates

that the range of mental capacities in all ethnic groups is much

the same.

 

(c) Historical and sociological studies support the view that genetic

differences are not of importance in determining the social and

cultural differences between different groups of Homo sapiens, and

that the social and cultural changes in different groups have, in the

main, been independent of changes in inborn constitution. Vast social

changes have occurred which were not in any way connected with

changes in racial type.

 

(d) There is no evidence that race mixture as such produces bad results

from the biological point of view. The social results of race mixture

whether for good or ill are to be traced to social factors.

 

(e) All normal human beings are capable of learning to share in a

common life, to understand the nature of mutual service and reciprocity,

and to respect social obligations and contracts. Such

biological differences as exist between members of different ethnic

groups have no relevance to problems of social and political organisation,

moral life and communication between human beings.

 

Lastly, biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood;

for man is born with drives toward co-operation, and unless these

drives are satisfied, men and nations alike fall ill. Man is born a social

being who can reach his fullest development only through interaction

with his fellows. The denial at any point of this social bond between men

and man brings with it disintegration. In this sense, every man is his

brother’s keeper. For every man is a piece of the continent, a part of

the main, because he is involved in mankind.

 

Original statement drafted at Unesco House, Paris, by the following

experts:

Professor Ernest Beaglehole (New Zealand);

Professor Juan Comas (Mexico);

Professor L. A. Costa Pinto (Brazil);

Professor Franklin Frazier (United States of America);

Professor Morris Ginsberg (United Kingdom);

Dr Humayun Kabir (India);

Professor Claude Levi-Strauss (France);

Professor Ashley Montagu (United States of America) (rapporteur).

 

Text revised by Professor Ashley Montagu, after criticism submitted by

Professors Hadley Cantril, E. G. Conklin, Gunnar Dahlberg, Theodosius

Dobzhansky, L. C. Dunn, Donald Hager, Julian S. Huxley, Otto Klineberg,

Wilbert Moore, H. J. Muller, Gunnar Myrdal, Joseph Needham,

Curt Stern.

 

 

 

 

Back to the UNESCO page

 

 

Back to HonestThinking home page