Shree Paradkar: How Cheddar Man shatters accepted views of immigration
The discovery that the 10,000-year-old original Briton is dark-skinned absolutely has bearing on contemporary debates on race and migration, Shree Paradkar writes.
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You’ve got to confess it’s worthy of chuckles and cackles.
A made-for-Internet scientific discovery that at the same time strikes at the core of modern racial strife. An announcement Wednesday that DNA tests on the oldest complete skeleton in Britain, that heart and ancestral home of many white people around the world, suggest that the first modern Briton was blue-eyed, yes, but very dark-skinned and curly-haired.
The Cheddar Man, named thus for the English village of Cheddar where his skeleton was discovered in 1903, is about 10,000 years old.
To add salt to a supremacist’s wound, scientists said that the genes for lighter skin likely came from, you got it, immigrants from the Middle East.
Dark-skinned native Britons and light-skinned immigrants.
It’s like reaching into the eye of a storm and fitting it with sunglasses.
Those brave lads and fair maidens on glorious historical British dramas on TV — descendents of immigrants.
The image of God himself, majestic, kindly old white guy in white robes with flowing white beard — fashioned on immigrants.
Imagine being Nigel Farage, the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party, who proudly stood in front of a Nazi-era-like poster with the slogan, “Breaking point: the EU has failed us all,” and a photo of a winding lineup of migrants of colour.
Now he would have to change that slogan to “Breaking point: I come from them. I am them.”
No wonder there were hopeful comments online about Cheddar Man such as, “Who’s to say the person’s not a foreign visitor” or a call to index this as “fake news,” or the insistence that this was a finding driven by a social justice agenda to force poor victimized British people into accepting mass migration.
The Cheddar Man, 10,000 years old though he may be, absolutely has bearing on contemporary debates on race and migration.
This discovery of a dark-skinned original Briton doesn’t put the race genie back into the bottle in an equalizing “we’re all immigrants” kind of way.
On the contrary, in exposing the racial fluidity of Britons, Cheddar Man delivers a sucker punch to toxic ideas that drive the white power mobs who in turn fuel xenophobic policies. It reveals the basis of their quick codes equating skin colour to valour or danger as nothing but fear-based fiction.
Scientists have long argued that race is not a biological concept. People of one race — or at least people who can be grouped together with similar physical traits — are not genetically homogenous.
The concept of races evolved as a way of justifying slavery and to maintain an economy founded on slave labour; it was easier to rationalize the brutalization of the “savage” than to face the unconscionable alternative.
From then on, it continues to be a favoured tool to demonize “the other.”
Around the world, oppressor groups have always found identity a useful tool with which to assert themselves as inherently superior, as “natural” holders of power, be it on the basis of race, gender, sexual identity, religious identity, tribal identity or caste.
That race isn’t real does not mean racism isn’t real.
Anti-Black racism is so widespread and global in scope, that I wish scientists would hurry up and create a bust out of the fossils of the 750,000-year old Peking Man, for instance, and in keeping with the Out of Africa theory, definitively establish Blackness as the root ancestry of Chinese people.
Such knowledge might have given the Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan pause before it displayed a photography exhibit that juxtaposed wild African animals with Black African people.
I wish they were able create a bust that would depict an original “Indian Man,” one who existed before the Aryans and Dravidians did 5,000 years ago, as black-skinned — darker the better. Such knowledge might inject a modicum of humility before privileged Indians wreak racist violence on African students and caste-related violence on Dalits.
When nations look to figure out where they’re going next, it makes sense sometimes to turn back and look at the past for clues.
Being reminded of a shared heritage with people they consider coming from “s---hole” countries, might give Western leaders, including a certain U.S. president, a few pointers as they ponder immigration policies.
These leaders might read data helpfully put forward by Arvind Magesan, associate professor of economics, University of Calgary, in The Conversation. That might help them discover that although their own policies play a part in making those countries “s---holes,” those immigrants continue to be better educated, better employed (although lower-paid) than those of, shall we say, “Norway-like” countries.
This is one way the discovery of Cheddar Man’s skin colour could have the power to force aside the ahistorical lens with which we view our fellow humans.
At least for a few days.