Book Review: Is There Really a Human Race?

Recently I stumbled across a children’s book entitled, Is There Really a Human Race? I was immediately intrigued.  Written by Jamie Lee Curtis and illustrated by Laura Cornell, the book looks at the meaning and purpose of life from the perspective of a race. Questions abound.

“Is there really a human race? When did it start?”

“Who says, ‘Ready, set, go?’ What’s the race like, are there rules; is it fair?”

“Do some win and some lose? What keeps the world going?”

“If I get off track when I take the wrong turn, do I make my way back from mistakes? Why do I do it?”

Like most books for children, the story does not end with the questions, but answers.

“If we don’t help each other, we’re all going to crash.”

“Shouldn’t it be that you just try your best? And that’s more important than beating the rest?”

“Shouldn’t it be looking back at the end you judge your own race by the help that you lend?”

“So take what’s inside you and make big, bold choices. And for those who can’t speak for themselves, use bold voices.”

“And make friends and love well, bring art to this place. And make this world better for the whole human race.” 

This sounds pretty good, right? If we all thought of the other person and became artistic this world would be a better place. While I fully agree that we need to make friends, love well, and have the courage to do the right thing, there are many assumptions in this book that deserve our attention.

Assumption #1: The world’s main problem is something outside of us

No one would deny that we live in a very competitive world. I see it in my young niece who gets upset at losing Candy Land, the sports I love to watch, current political elections, and war. Competitiveness is part of our nature. Yet, is this the main problem?

Telling our children that if they stop worrying about winning the “race” the world would be a better place is like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. It may cover up the blemish, but it won’t fix the problem or bring healing. The heart of the problem is not competitiveness or a wish to win. The heart of the problem is the heart, my heart and yours. Until there is an inner transformation we will never see the outer transformation we long for.

Assumption #2: Evolution is Sacrificial

One of the most telling assumptions in the book came in an illustration. Spanning across two pages is the evolutionary history of humanity “helping” each other. From a primordial blob, to a caveman, all the way to modern humanity, the picture conveys the idea that the evolutionary process has been one of helpful tolerance. There is, however,  a very big problem with this assumption. The theory of evolution depends upon the idea of the survival of the fittest. The strong survive by eliminating the weak. Evolution is the champion of intolerance. There is no room for compassion, serving others, or affirming diversity. Life is about MY survival, MY good, and doing whatever it takes to promote me. Sure, maybe we do some “good deeds” for the sake of preserving our society, if it benefits our own wellbeing. But that still leaves us with the question, WHY should we use “bold voices” for those who have no voice? Maybe the reason they have no voice is because they’re weak and we’d be better off without them.

Assumption #3: All worldviews are equally true

Inherent in this book’s assumptions is a contradictory idea. It mistakes acceptance of people as affirmation of the beliefs they hold. For example, one illustration has a Muslim and a Jew happily playing “Go Fish.” Another picture shows children from varying lifestyles living in harmony. What these pictures rightly communicate is that people of differing faiths and lifestyles can choose to treat one another with kindness. Yet they also communicate that complex, varied, and contradictory worldviews are wrong for disagreeing with each other. Rather than being enhanced, tolerance declines by insinuating that the only correct worldview is the one which accepts them all without question. True tolerance comes from accepting the person you disagree with, not from accepting their beliefs that contradict your own.

Beyond Assumptions

 I commend Is There Really a Human Race? for seeking to instill in children an attitude of love, service, and compassion for others. These are virtues we rightfully wish for our children, next leaders of the world. Yet the book’s assumptions rest upon contradictory ideas that undermine the tolerance we want to impart to the next generation. So I’m still left wondering, is there really a human race? If there is, what do I do about it?

Thoughts or comments? I'd love to hear them!

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