Ken Ham, black person who is a pale shade of beige

Ken Ham is claiming that he doesn’t see color — that there is no such thing as a white person or a black person, and that he, goofy Australian bible-thumper, is not white. A scientist (well, a competent scientist) would say that the conventional clustering of traits associated with being black or white is artificial and does not align at all well with genuine biological groupings, but that is something different.

There is no genetic sequence unique to blacks or whites or Asians. In fact, these categories don’t reflect biological groupings at all. There is more genetic variation in the diverse populations from the continent of Africa (who some would lump into a “black” category) than exists in ALL populations from outside of Africa (the rest of the world) combined!

There are no specific racial genes. There are no genes that make blacks in the USA more susceptible to high blood pressure, just as there are no genes for particular kinds of cancers that can be assigned to only one racial grouping. There is no neurological patterning that distinguishes races from one another, nor are there patterns in muscle development and structure, digestive tracts, hand-eye coordination, or any other such measures.

But at the same time, the cultural construct of race is very real and has devastating effects on people. You cannot deny that American black people are socially handicapped by the color of their skin, just as American white people have benefitted immensely from history and policies that favored them.

… if you look across the USA you can see that there are patterns of racial difference, such as income inequalities, health disparities, differences in academic achievement and representation in professional sports. If one thinks that these patterns of racial differences have a biological basis, if we see them as “natural,” racial inequality becomes just part of the human experience (remember a book called The Bell Curve?). This fallacy influences people to see racism and inequality not as the products of economic, social, and political histories but more as a natural state of affairs.

OK? So it’s complicated. There are lineages that generate real genetic groups that do not correspond to folk notions of race, so the biological justifications for discrimination are bullshit; but race is also a categorization used to give one group privileges and another oppression. You don’t get to deny the existence of discrimination by race, just as you don’t get to claim biology gives you an excuse to deny the social effects of racist history.

That’s what Ken Ham and other people are trying to do with the color-blind fallacy: they want to sweep away the historical blame for biases and claim that no, they aren’t the recipients of all kinds of advantages from our racist history. There’s no legacy of oppression that we need to correct. We’re all the same! Except that some people just happen to get stopped more often by the police, are more frequent victims of police shootings, have inherited a history of poverty, and are targeted for voter suppression. But other than that, they’re all the same!

Ken Ham has a long and oblivious history on this issue. Here’s an opinion piece he wrote last year on this topic. It starts with a grain of truth and just gets weirder and weirder.

From a genetic standpoint, today’s scientists have abandoned the word “race” for humans — and so should everyone else. I urge President Obama, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and others to abandon the word “races” and use “people groups” instead — to emphasize we are all one race, one blood and one family, and get away from any racist connotations.

It’s a fact of science that all humans are the same basic color, just different shades. The main substance in our bodies that determines skin color is melanin. There are no truly “white” people or “black” people. Humans have different shades from light brown to very dark depending on how much and the type of melanin. It’s a fact that all humans are colored people. (By the way, albinism — a lack of the pigments — is a rare condition that can occur in all people groups.) I challenge the president and others currently weighing in on race matters that we are all colored people — just different shades of brown.

Note what’s fundamentally off about this piece: he’s telling black leaders, and only black leaders, to stop referring to race because he is actually the same color as they are. He isn’t; yes, all humans use melanin primarily as the pigmentation molecule, but we also are able to perceive difference in skin color, and we can and have chosen to use those differences to oppress certain groups.

This is a patent attempt to absolve himself of any vestige of white guilt, or any obligation to exert himself to correct it.

It’s a white guy telling black people, Hey, I’ll make you a deal: if you pretend my skin color hasn’t given me any advantages, I’ll pretend your skin color doesn’t give you any disadvantages. What a deal! It’s only fair!

And really, Ham has been going on about demanding that we ignore racism for a long time. Here’s an article from 2007 in which he asks, Are there really different races?. His answer is no, because the Bible doesn’t say it.

He also loves to quote mine biologists.

Darwinian evolution was (and still is) inherently a racist philosophy, teaching that different groups or “races” of people evolved at different times and rates, so some groups are more like their apelike ancestors than others. Leading evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould claimed, “Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1859, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.”

No, first of all, evolutionary biology does not teach that different races evolved at different times and rates. Racism teaches that, and some biologists try to justify racism with biology. That’s the point of that quote: it’s not that Darwin invented racism — medieval pogroms and colonialism and slavery all long preceded Darwin — but that after Darwin, racists believed that they now had biological arguments to defend their beliefs, and those increased once they found ways to abuse the Darwinian rationale. And he doesn’t seem to note the irony in citing a godless, non-Christian scientist who is berating bad abuses of good science.

Ham’s whole essay is a long, rambling mess, in which he tries to argue that because the Bible doesn’t explicitly endorse racism against dark-skinned people, Christianity is absolved of all guilt. Again, let’s just close our eyes to reality: let’s pretend there were no Christian ministers interpreting the Bible to justify slavery, or arguing that the Curse of Ham (no relation) meant that all Africans were condemned to lives of servility and inferiority.

Also bizarrely, he tries to argue that the old miscegenation laws had no religious basis: the Bible only prohibits Christians from marrying non-Christians, which is OK, but doesn’t use the language of race. Right. The Bible, which promotes the Hebrews as his chosen people and sends them marching across Palestine committing genocide, did not have any kind of ethnic bigotry in it because it does not identify the people by the color of their skin.

But, you know, I’m an old white dork arguing with another old white dork about the legitimacy of ignoring the history of racism and the real effects it has on people’s lives. Maybe I should shut up and get the opinions of black people (oh, excuse me, I mean people who have just a slightly different shade of melanin-tinted skin than I do, but which entail no historical and current injustices).

Sincere Kirabo:

Identity politics are a form of political engagement that highlights issues and perspectives relevant to shared aspects of an identity. “Identity” is based on cultural context, social history, and lived experiences. Harris’s assessment of identity politics is suspect for three reasons.

First, it’s impossible to ignore his appeal to “Homo sapien,” which is a sly way of asserting “all lives matter” in the face of noticeable, disproportionate treatment of groups of people. How fortunate must one be to utter this without a hint of irony? Within the context of this discussion, his statement is akin to declaring “I don’t see color. I just see people.” Just like the idea of colorblindness is an act of racial avoidance, so too is the belief that “We’re all just people.”

This sounds cool in theory, but we don’t live in a utopia where every conceivable human identity across all economic, social, and political class barriers is unappraised. Until that day arrives, one can’t ignore that some groups of people are less valued than others based on gradations of identity.

Sikivu Hutchinson:

At a recent teacher training I conducted on creating safe spaces for LGBTQI high school students, a teacher asked why it was necessary to “call attention” to issues of sexuality and difference when LGBTQI students were already marginalized? Shouldn’t educators just treat everyone with the same dignity and respect “regardless” of sexual orientation? Educational justice activists have long argued that the colorblind ethos of classroom instruction disingenuously ignores how the values and mores of the dominant culture indoctrinate us into binary norms. In her book Other People’s Children, educational justice writer Lisa Delpit argues that mainstream classrooms are structured around an implicit “culture of power” which disenfranchises students of color. Consequently, a “treat everyone with dignity and respect” approach that isn’t based on a critical consciousness about how the dominant culture works undermines intersectional identities. In the classroom, everyday assumptions about interpersonal and romantic relationships “invisibilize” queer students. Classroom discussions about traditional straight families headed by heterosexual parents and caregivers perpetuate the idea that good, normal family units are straight family units. Assumptions that everyone has been brought up in a conventional family structure based on a universal nuclear family norm that is uncritically faith-based, brand queer, foster, homeless and secular youth as other.

Anthony Pinn has a whole book on this subject: When Colorblindness Isn’t the Answer: Humanism and the Challenge of Race. He explains the way white supremacy wants to perpetuate the illusion that this is not a problem.

we look for ways to speak to this injustice, to force change to a deadly system because “Black Lives Matter”. We want everyone to know this, act on it, and establish new social-political dynamics that make this recognition a safeguard against abuse. Of course, in doing this work we fall back on strategies drawn from the civil rights movement — march, make noise, call attention to circumstances and challenge the moral consciousness of the nation. I, like so many, benefited from this 20th century strategy, but it can’t be denied that the fundamental logic of life in the United States hasn’t changed as a consequence of those civil rights movement efforts.

That is the genius of white supremacy: it mutates and transforms, and it gives up a little in order to present the illusion of fundamental change. It finds ways to blame victims for the violence perpetuated against them. No, white supremacy and its child, white privilege, are the source and the cause. There is a desperate effort to find something in the past of the victim that will justify murder as the safeguarding of order and wellbeing. Yet, nothing can sanction the murder of black men and women whose crimes seem ill defined at best.

You know, maybe the opinions of a guy who thinks the earth is only 6,000 years old aren’t the product of rational, evidence-based thinking.


  1. rietpluim says

    In an ideal world, everybody could be color blind.
    This is not an ideal world.
    Color blindness usually only means blindness to the advantages and disadvantages of color, not to color itself.

  2. Ed Seedhouse says

    While it’s technically true that nobody actually has truly white or truly black skin and that we exist in many shade, it’s also true that some very powerful people thought of themselves as “white” and decided that being “white” made them superior to the “coloured” people to the point that it was perfectly O.K in their minds to *own* them as pieces of property. And many still do, and that’s a problem.

    Observing that people are technically all varying shades of the same “colour” doesn’t mean that racism isn’t real, and evil, and we need to point it out and drive it out. One day, perhaps, when racist ideas are driven out of public discourse and reparation has been made and darkly hued people are actually given equal rights and treatment, then we can have a non racist society and know that we are all, actually, relatives. But I’m 73 and don’t see any signs of that coming to pass while I live.

    Ken Ham is a racist. We should shun him until he admits his racism and repents in word and deed for it.

  3. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Funny how those who keep saying we should be color blind, are those who are on the privileged side of the color divide….

  4. thirdmill says

    I agree with pretty much everything PZ said, with one reservation: I was a Navy medic, and I know from my experience as a Navy medic that on average it is more difficult to draw blood from someone who is black than someone who is white because the skin is not just darker but thicker. I think there are also on average some differences in facial bones, otherwise anthropologists would not be able to look at a skull and tell the race of the person it belonged to. So I don’t see how the claim can be made that there are *no* genetic differences between the races; that strikes me as obvious genetic differences.

    So I would respectfully suggest amending that claim to say, “There are no genetic differences that amount to anything of any real importance.” Obviously those types of differences have no bearing on how someone should be treated, and just as obviously they tell us nothing about whether someone is a good person or a bad person.

  5. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    “There are no genetic differences that amount to anything of any real importance.”

    Do YOU have any third party genetic evidence other than personal anecdote? Because the latter is dismissed without evidence….

  6. thirdmill says

    PZ, No. 6, I read your link and I don’t see that it’s on point. It’s a study about people’s perceptions, but I did not see anything in it that answered the question of whether, on average, black skin is thicker than white skin (which should be easily testable, a single controlled study should answer the question.) Nor did I see anything in it that answers the question of how, if there are no biological differences between the races, an anthropologist can look at a skull and tell the race of the person it belonged to.

    But let’s back up a minute. I suspect that the dynamic here is that because there was so much racist bullshit masquerading as science, that the pendulum has now swung in the opposite direction to where it is now assumed that there *can’t* be biological differences between the races, and that’s a dangerous position to take as well. Just because science was abused to foster racism doesn’t mean that it now has to ignore any actual distinctions that may exist.

    Suppose I’m right and blacks on average do have thicker skin and deeper veins than whites do, which does indeed match my observations when I was drawing blood from twenty people a day for Uncle Sam. Like I’ve already said, that is hardly a basis for treating people differently, or for considering someone to be inferior, or for harassing them, or for refusing to hire them. It tells us nothing about the character or ethics or worthiness of anyone. It’s no more relevant to anything of importance than the observation that the average Swede is taller than the average Chinese. And since it’s “on average” it doesn’t even apply to many individuals. So, why exactly is it so important to categorically deny the possibility that there are some biological differences based on race?

  7. flakko says

    Ham says:
    “There is more genetic variation in the diverse populations from the continent of Africa (who some would lump into a “black” category) than exists in ALL populations from outside of Africa (the rest of the world) combined!”

    That is true, genetic diversity is highest in Africa. But wait… Vavilov’s center of origin theory states that the area in which a species originated will be the area with the highest genetic diversity.

    Ham just demonstrated a powerful piece of evidence for the Out of Africa hypothesis.

  8. The Mellow Monkey says


    It’s a study about people’s perceptions, but I did not see anything in it that answered the question of whether, on average, black skin is thicker than white skin (which should be easily testable, a single controlled study should answer the question.)

    Caliper-measured skin thickness is similar in white and black women.

    Yes, there are differences between different populations, but as Ken Ham himself noted above (ha!), there’s a great deal of genetic variation between people you’d categorize as black. Some will have ancestry from entirely different ethnic groups in Africa than others. Some will have white or Indian ancestry that you might be unaware of. And yet, despite this, you perceived an average quality among all these incredibly diverse people that’s not backed up by science. Why did you do that? Because our biases run deep. This is why it’s so important to challenge even the seemingly harmless ones, because you never know what else is sneaking in with them. That’s how biases work, after all. You don’t see it when it’s at play in yourself unless you know to watch.

  9. chrislawson says


    The evidence for significant differences in skin structure is rather weak. To choose two examples from the literature: “…there is no significant difference in non-sun-exposed skin thickness between white and black women.” “A striking feature in this literature is the disagreement between authors. Common for much of this information is difficulty of interpretation, because of socioeconomic influences and other environmental factors.”

    I have taken a lot of blood in my time. I can’t recall taking blood from anyone of African or African-American descent, but I have taken blood from white people, East Asians, South Asians, Middle Easterners, Australian aborigines, Maori, Tongans, and even one person from South America (although I have no idea if they had indigenous American heritage). My experience is that their skin is all exactly the same. The only people I ever found with tougher skin were over the age of 60 and had spent many years doing tough physical work, especially outdoors.

  10. chrislawson says

    thirdmill at 8: “should be easily testable, a single controlled study should answer the question”

    I think you vastly underestimate the difficulty in doing good research; even studies that appear to answer a question definitively can have all sorts of design flaws or data collection problems that are not apparent to the researchers or their readers…and even then, one of the cornerstones of science is reproducibility; in other words “a single controlled study” is never enough.

  11. unclefrogy says

    I find it pretty easy to tell if a person offering an opinion about races and racial characteristics has racist thinking or ideas when they mention say Chinese as if they are one thing or Africans in a similar way. Those places are fucking big and have very large and diverse populations.
    They just have not thought it through, while it might sound plausible on the surface it seldom (never) holds up to careful examination of real populations.
    People never seem to be very averse to enslaving other people and race has not always been a criteria for enslavement. It is still going on to this day.
    uncle frogy

  12. snuffcurry says

    Just because science was abused to foster racism doesn’t mean that it now has to ignore any actual distinctions that may exist.

    No one here is asking people to ignore substantiated, meaningful distinctions or statistics and no one is ignorant of the existence and function of scientific racism.

    Likewise, no one is suggesting such misconceptions are invariably devious, but rather that racist people not living in a vacuum will invariably impose their prejudices on anything they touch, including their science. A great deal of bigotry is soft, banal, mostly unconscious, and sometimes well-meaning. It’s undoubtedly true that people of color are underserved by medicine and screening (both rarely tailored for them) and often lack access to quality healthcare; the first can be explained but not justified as a function of existing as a “minority” in a white and white supremacist culture, the second as a correlation / causation between race and poverty.

    But black Americans, for example, amongst both lay people and medical professionals, are also medicalized as aberrant when we feel they deviate from a white default against which all comparisons are made* and the “thicker skin” trope — like “more tolerant to pain,” “smaller brained than white people,” “less self-control” — is one such example, having no evidence to support it but that it Feels Right + anecdata. And nearly all of these tropes have the same thing in common: black people are highly sexualized and perceived to be made of sterner but decidedly more animalistic stuff. And the end-result, the accumulation of these little persistent myths, is widely known and deadly serious: black people’s health is not prioritized by medical professionals, they are triaged as a matter of course, they have less access to life-saving procedures and pain-reducing medications and preventative care, and because they’re accused of exaggerating pain they ought not to feel (because thicker skin), they’re more likely to be neglected, suffer consequences from that neglect, and sometimes die as a result. They’re also euthanized when convenient or when helping them might proportionately reduce the care and attention given to adjacent white people.

    Again, though, it’s up to the people making the claim to prove it both correct (is it so, when is it so, why is it so) and relevant (what does it matter).

    *it’s never that white people have thinner skin in these just-so stories, of course

  13. snuffcurry says

    Like I’ve already said, that is hardly a basis for treating people differently, or for considering someone to be inferior, or for harassing them, or for refusing to hire them.

    Great! And yet people of color already experience all of those things, so your gaping maw and hand-waving platitudes don’t really change that and playing dumb about how institutional racism is justified and cultivated through the use of such innocent “factoids” is not useful.

    It tells us nothing about the character or ethics or worthiness of anyone.

    See above. And you can cut out the strawmen.

    the pendulum has now swung in the opposite direction to where it is now assumed that there *can’t* be biological differences between the races, and that’s a dangerous position to take as well.

    “Both Sides Do It!”

  14. thirdmill says

    Uncle Froggy, No. 13, I was referring to ethnic Chinese — the Han — and not everyone who happens to live within the geographic boundaries of modern China.

    Chrislawson, No. 12, you are right that it is hard to do studies, and in this case it’s even harder, because anyone who wanted to do a study to determine if there are biological differences between the races would immediately be branded a racist, fired from any university, publicly help up to opprobrium and run out of town on a rail. Just read snuffcurry’s comments in 14 and 15 — I’m a racist for even entertaining the possibility that differences exist. (And yes, snuffcurry, both sides do do it, so cut the crap and stop pretending otherwise.) Well, maybe someone should do these studies. They will either show that differences exist or they don’t, at which point we can all go on to other things.

    And here’s my bottom line: I would not lose a wink of sleep if it turned out that I’m wrong and there are no biological differences. between the races. I’m not invested in the answer one way or the other. I just think it’s dangerous for science to say categorically that X can’t be true. In the first place, an awful lot of Xs that couldn’t be true have over the years been shown to be true after all. And in the second place, it’s bad science.

  15. unclefrogy says

    why is it that in discussing race and racism those who try to defend the existence of races as a real thing seem to imply that those characteristics that can be easily seen have some connection to other characteristics that are not readily seen, things like, intelligence, health issues or any of the other negative stereotypes commonly used as the justification for oppression.
    I have heard no one save fools like the hamster try to make the point that differences in populations do not exist. The point is when these populations are examined closely many of the obvious differences turn out to be mostly superficial.
    Red hair and freckles do not signify a lot more than skin that is more sensitive to ultraviolet light than darker skinned people.

    uncle frogy

  16. unclefrogy says

    “The point is when these populations are examined closely many of the obvious differences turn out to be mostly superficial.” or much more connected to sociological and cultural issues.
    uncle frogy

  17. emergence says

    Two things came to mind for me here;

    First, analysis of human genetic lineages in an evolutionary context actually refutes traditional racial groupings, and it describes a far longer, more complex history for humanity than the Bible does. Racists may distort the evidence, but evolutionary anthropology has done far more to subvert claims of a biological basis for race than Christianity has.

    Second, the sociopolitical movement that’s most associated with racism nowadays is also the one most associated with believing in creationism. After the Trump administration rose to power, conservative Christians lost what little right they had to dissociate themselves from racism.

  18. chigau (違う) says

    Perhaps you had difficulty drawing blood from black people because you were expecting to have difficulty drawing blood from black people.

  19. thirdmill says

    Chigau, that’s certainly possible, but if that were the case, wouldn’t I have had trouble drawing blood from all black people? But that’s not what happened. *On average* I found it more difficult to draw. There were individual blacks who weren’t difficult at all, and individual whites who were.

    And on a personal note, I get the dynamic. I’m not black, but I am gay, and I’ve see much homophobic bullshit masquerading as science too — I can’t imagine being told that being black predisposes one to criminality is that much different from being told that being gay predisposes one to being a child molester. I’ve been at the receiving end of it too, and I do understand the reluctance by people who’ve been victimized by phony science to give it a free pass. But being careful is not the same thing as flatly ruling something out.

  20. chigau (違う) says

    Are you aware that the term “average” has an actual meaning?