I’m half black and half white, and I’ve always looked at myself as living proof that the different races within our species can, in fact, get along. My mother (Ukrainian) and my father (African American) came together with blind eyes towards their particular shades of color, and created life. I’m testament to this.
But, recently, my parents have been upstaged.
Scientists have determined that modern humans have traces of Neanderthal in them.
According to the Associated Press (AP), when researchers compared the genetic material from three Neanderthals to five modern humans, they found that between 1 percent and 4 percent of genes in people from Europe and Asia trace back to Neanderthals.
Neanderthals, or cavemen, existed about 400,000 to about 30,000 years ago. Modern humans and Neanderthals lived amongst each other for 30,000 to 50,000 years in Europe and Western Asia. Both species lived in the Middle East thousands of years ago, and this study brings some confirmation to the long speculated idea that Neanderthals and modern humans interbred.
When I read about this, I thought, Why can’t we be more like our ancient ancestors and the Neanderthals?
Throughout our history, and even now, our species has done despicable things against its own members. We’ve enslaved, we’ve persecuted, we’ve discriminated, we’ve committed genocide. We, as a species, are guilty of looking at our own brothers and sisters, and punishing them for being different…all because we’ve never fully accepted the variations in our species.
Blond hair. Red hair. Blue eyes. Brown eyes. Tan. Pale. Tall. Short. Catholic. Atheist. Democrats. Republicans. We’re all one big family, full of diversity, but ironically, afraid of different.
I’ve witnessed this fear and un-acceptance 1st hand. During my time in my high school’s Black Culture club, two of the mentors and teachers told us that black students should ignore the white students who asked them their test scores.
“They just assume you did worse than them, and want to put you down,” was the adults’ ignorant argument.
I myself am half white, and didn’t understand why my white half would do that to my black half. They complemented each other so well. I obviously understood the history of discrimination and segregation against blacks, but without a particular incident at the school to validate the mentors’ statement, who were they to make black students mistrust the whites?
Of course, I wasn’t safe from white people, either. I got turned away from lunch tables, from a white relative’s house, and, in grade school, relentlessly made fun of because of my curly hair.
“I remember when your uncle showed up with a black girl from work on Ukrainian Christmas at your grand mom’s house,” my mom recently told me. “Grand mom and grand pop were quiet the entire time and exchanging looks.” She then admitted, “I was living with your father at the time, and they didn’t know.”
Even about a decade after that Black Culture club, I see the emphasis on different still brought up by children.
“Yo, did you know he has a white girlfriend?” an African American 4th grade student of mine, where I tutor, asked another, referring to me. She expected a shocked response back.
It’s disheartening, and insulting (especially to a mixed person like myself) that a question like that is still so easily asked in this day and age. It’s even more sad when you consider that thousands of years ago, different species came together to create life…our life.
The resistance against homosexual marriage is proof that our species still doesn’t fully accept one another, and seems utterly ridiculous compared to the boundaries our ancestors had crossed. Proposition 8 was passed in California almost two years ago, and defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. Those of the same sex who want to be together cannot. The same gender of the same species can’t be together, but different species were?
All of this makes me yearn for the days of the Neanderthal. Neanderthals were a different species than us. This is a difference that goes beyond skin color, religion or sexuality. Yet, as our genes now prove, our ancestors got along with them. Our ancestors accepted them. Our ancestors shared “beds” with them.
But with our species still focusing so much on different, Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany warned that the study could be used in a negative way.
The Neanderthal traces in genes of humans were found in people from Europe, China and Papua-New Guinea, but not people from Africa. Paabo suggested to the AP that those who want to perceive this in a racist way to state a difference between Africans and non-Africans will most likely do so. But there are two ways to look at the finding. One is that people outside Africa could actually be more primitive because they have Neanderthal in them. The other is that it may be, for some unknown reason, beneficial to be linked to Neanderthals. With traces of their genetic material in us, one could argue that we’re not even completely human!
We come across data that shows our ancestors mated with those of a different species, and there’s fear that we will use this as a tool for even more discrimination? What an embarrassment we are to the Neanderthals! It really puts into perceptive just how un-progressive our species has been throughout history. We’re certainly less progressive than we were 50,000 years ago.
I left the Black Culture club, because I couldn’t be a part of something that showcased people who heightened mistrust and discrimination between races. It was an insult to who I am, and if my parents had behaved exactly how those mentors said blacks and whites do towards each other, I would never even exist.
With all of our advances in medicine, technology and understanding of the cosmos themselves, I hope we can one day regress back to caveman time, when such an astounding acceptance of different was way ahead of our time.