Why We’re Devoting an Entire Issue of National Geographic to Race

There is no scientific basis for race. It’s largely a made-up label. And you can't understand 21st-century America without it.

National Geographic strives to deepen our understanding of the world and our role in it. It’s difficult to understand 21st-century America without exploring the issue of race. It’s the elephant in the room, permeating every aspect of our culture, neighborhoods, schools, businesses, politics, sports, arts, and relationships.

While science tells us that there is no such thing as race, society uses racial distinctions to divide us. Throughout history, groups of people have classified those who were different from them as the “other.” On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., we decided to look deeply into these issues with a distinct National Geographic lens. Our stories reflect a view that is global, scientific, and cultural.

A science story explains that genetically we are not that different. There is no genetic or scientific basis for race. It’s largely a made-up label, used to distinguish and divide us. As Elizabeth Kolbert writes, race is not a biological construct but a social one. “So many of the horrors of the past few centuries can be traced to the idea that one race is inferior to another.” Even today, she writes, “racial distinctions continue to shape our politics, our neighborhoods, and our sense of self.”

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