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.
For counterarguments, see, e.g., Racial Differences in Intelligence: What Mainstream Scientists Say (1994).
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
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
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
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
(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
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,
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