Hello RNAers –

This being Black History Month, and also the February 12 birthdays of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, I’ve excerpted below a few paragraphs from the second edition of my book The Sacred Depths of Nature (under contract with Oxford University Press and under production soon!), where I offer an RN perspective on xenophobia and racism.


Xenophobia and racism have distinct but overlapping definitions. Xenophobia describes a fear and hatred of persons perceived to be strange or foreign, including persons with alternate sexual or gender orientations and persons holding different religious, cultural, ethnic, or  national identifications. Racism amplifies xenophobia by including the belief that racial differences are linked to the inherent superiority of a particular race, legitimizing proactive aggressive attacks against persons of “inferior” races. Racism is exacerbated by conditions wherein humans find themselves physically or emotionally impoverished, defeated, humiliated, or insecure, fostering the dehumanization and demonization of persons identified as the “cause” of these conditions and allowing them to become targets of exclusion and often brutality. Such conditions also render humans vulnerable to the call of rigid fundamentalisms, many labeled as religious, that promise deliverance from their stressful circumstances, and implicit validation of their racist perspectives. 

While racism can be exacerbated by stress, systemic racism is just that, systemic, a global pandemic, pitting Arab against Asian against Black against Brown against Caucasian against Indigenous against Jew against Sikh in numerous toxic and often lethal combinations and manifestations.  

Religious naturalists are heartbroken by the devastation that systemic racism wreaks on our social fabric and seek its eradication in themselves and in others.

We also lift up an important fact: Xenophobia and racism are both fundamentally erroneous, since both ignore modern human history. As we saw in Chapter 12, the multiple human migrations out of Africa began only ~ 70,000 years ago, and the European migrations only ~54,000 years ago, time spans we can almost imagine if we use the European adoption of agriculture ~10,000 years ago as a scale bar. 

And those migrants were all fully pan-African. 

Geoffrey Miller (The Mating Mind:  How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature (Anchor Press, 2011)); says it well:

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: all of the significant evolution in our species occurred in populations with brown and black skins living in Africa.  At the beginning of hominin evolution seven
million years ago, our ape-like ancestors had dark  skin just like chimps and gorillas.  When modern Homo sapiens showed up three hundred thousand years ago, we still had dark skins.  When brain sizes tripled, they tripled in Africans. When sexual choice shaped human nature, it shaped Africans. When language, music, and art evolved, they evolved in Africans. Lighter skins evolved in some European and Asian populations long after the human mind evolved its present capacities.

The skin color of our ancestors does not have much scientific importance.  But it does have a political importance given the persistence of anti-black racism in many populations. I think that a powerful antidote to such racism is the realization that the human mind is a product of black African females favoring intelligence, kindness, creativity, and articulate language in black African males, and vice versa.  Afrocentrism is an appropriate attitude to take when we are thinking about human evolution.

Our fully shared, fully ligated humanity is a foundational concept and, when absorbed, a potent counterforce to systemic racism.

With love to you all –


Music: Biko https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWNEr4eHL18 More than 25 musicians from seven countries join Peter Gabriel including Beninese vocalist and activist Angélique Kidjo, Silkroad’s Yo-Yo Ma, and bass legend Meshell Ndegeocello. Biko was an anti-apartheid activist who died in police custody in 1977.