Chilling – how “science” is used to justify oppression

Angela Saini’s book Superior is about race science. It starts by looking at why the Western world began to categorise people by their skin colour and other characteristics, and the assumptions behind the choices that were made. It then looks at how these almost arbitrary groupings were then claimed as a science and used systematically to discriminate against and oppress groups of people. It is an alarming catalogue of unfairness and privilege which has harmed generations of people and which still underlies much thinking and decision making.

The author then goes on to look at how this pseudo-science still exists and how money, time and effort is invested even today in proving difference and casting one group as superior to another. I confess that I was unaware of how much it is rooted in “science” although I was aware that the discrimination and bias still exist.

The author looks at sport, eugenics, the Holocaust, slavery and the appalling practice of keeping people in human zoos. She discusses the keeping and display of the bones of indigenous people and the efforts of various communities to reclaim their dead. The book debunks the way that we think of race and shows that no one has “pure” ancestry, why the Ayran race is a myth and why the results from DNA tests which show race are highly misleading.

At the heart of race science and its place in culture and society is the inherent belief that one race is superior to others and the author gives examples of how that is evident in modern day populism and politics. Race science is not dead and it is still being used to divide, discriminate and harm some sets of people at the expense of others. An eye opening book which complements well Empireland by Sangham Sanghera (reviewed here) and Black and British by David Olusoga.

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