SUPERIOR by Angela Saini

I’ve just finished reading SUPERIOR by Angela Saini, which looks at the return of ‘race science’. I started it a few weeks ago, but obviously the subject has gained additional resonance in the last few days.

Saini tours the history of ‘race’ as an European pseudo-scientific invention of recent centuries, and examines how this allegedly biological concept and the narratives of our ancestral origin have always been shaped in service to the political demands of power. (The author is British, of Indian descent.)

From the belief that indigenous Australians are a kind of vestigial ‘primitive’ version of modern humanity, to the horrors of Nazism, to the attempts to ‘scientifically’ justify casteism, and the resurgence of the ‘cleaned-up’ ‘population genetics’ of ‘statistical averages’–hiding old wine in new skins–it’s an eminently readable and thought-provoking book which I would recommend to all as I think it provides important challenges to many of our common assumptions. The reality of the patterns of human migration over geological time really confounds the shorthand that many of us still fall back on–thinking short-sightedly only in terms of recent recorded history, and also in terms that that recent history has wrongheadedly imposed on the ancient past.

Even those of us who aspire to anti-racism may not be aware of how the conceptual assumptions of racism permeate the very definition of categories within which we frequently think and speak. I honestly think this is uncomfortable reading for everyone, pulling back some of the curtains on unhelpful hidden mental machinery, in quite a different way even from more purely sociological readings of racially differentiated experience. Anti-racists are right to criticise so-called ‘colour blindness’ when race is a social reality with material social consequences, but this book makes me think there is also a widely missing piece in the puzzle of how we create for the future concepts of identity, origin and ancestry which don’t reify notions which come, at bottom, from hierarchies of oppression to begin with.