Part of face fully covered with bright holi paint

‘Human races’ do not exist

Jena Declaration adopted
Part of face fully covered with bright holi paint
Image: Rafinade - Fotolia

Published: | By: Katja Bär

The President of Friedrich Schiller University Jena, and the Board of the German Zoological Society support the declaration presented at the 112th Annual Meeting of the German Zoological Society in Jena, which exposes the concept of ‘race’ as a racist construct. With the ‘Jena Declaration’, the authors call for the term no longer to be used and for people to act against racist discrimination.

On 9 August, we marked the 100th anniversary of the death of former Jena professor Ernst Haeckel, who as the ‘German Darwin’ became the best-known German zoologist and evolutionary biologist. As the founder of phylogenetics he contributed, through his classification of human ‘races’ into a ‘family tree’, towards a form of racism that was seemingly based on science.

The concept of race is the result of racism

The classification of humanity into ‘races’ has led to the persecution, enslavement and slaughter of millions of people. Even today, the term ‘race’ is still frequently used in connection with human groups. “However, there is no biological basis for this and there has never been one,” note the authors of the Jena Declaration. They add: “The concept of race is the result of racism, not its prerequisite.

It was only through scientific research on the genetic variation of human beings that the concept of race was finally exposed as a typological construct.

Instead of definable boundaries, genetic gradients run between human groups. Among the 3.2 billion base pairs in the human genome, there is no fixed difference that separates, for example, Africans from non-Africans. To be explicit, not only is there no single gene that underpins ‘racial’ differences, but there is not even a single base pair,” say the Jena scientists.

We are aware of the fact that simply removing the word ‘race’ from our daily language will not prevent racism,” says the President of Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Prof. Walter Rosenthal. “However, as academics we can help to ensure that racism is no longer able to invoke us as a justification. The malign biological substantiation of races had its beginnings in Jena and it is in Jena that it will now end.”

The Jena Declaration therefore concludes with an appeal to the members of its institutions and all those who are active in research and teaching:

So, let us ensure that people are never again discriminated against on specious biological grounds and remind ourselves and others that it is racism that created races and that zoology/anthropology has played an inglorious part in producing supposedly biological justifications.

The Declaration was made known today at a public evening event entitled ‘Jena, Haeckel and the question of human races, or how racism creates races’. The event was organised by the Institute for Zoology and Evolutionary Research of Friedrich Schiller University, Jena, on the occasion of the 112th Annual Meeting of the German Zoological Society in Jena.


Prof. Dr Dr hc Martin S. Fischer
Institute of Zoology and Evolutionary Research, Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Erbertstr. 1
07743 Jena
apl. Prof. Dr Uwe Hoßfeld
Institute of Zoology and Evolutionary Research/Research Group Didactics of Biology, Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Am Steiger 3
07743 Jena
Prof. Dr Johannes Krause
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena and Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Kahlaische Straße 10
07745 Jena
Prof. Dr Stefan Richter
Institute of Biological Sciences, University Rostock
Universitätsplatz 2
18055 Rostock