Thanks for reading and for providing feedback. Absolutely, my views have been shaped by the time I spent living in a medium sized city that isn’t nearly as racially diverse as many others we could name. By itself, I don’ think this fact invalidates my perspective. However, it does provide a context that’s impossible to deny.
In addition, I don’t deny that there are genetic differences between populations. As you point out, the prevalence of sickle cell anemia among people of African descent is one well known example. The reason the concept of race has no (or at best very limited) biological validity isn’t the absence of any variation between populations, but the greater variation between individuals within particular groups than we find between groups. In other words, since whites tend to be more dissimilar to one another genetically speaking than they are to blacks, the biological distinctions we make between blacks and whites are necessarily exaggerated. Cultural differences, many of which are a product of historical oppression, will account for far more of the differences we document than genetics. And even where some significant genetic differences can be detected, these will often be epigenetic in nature (cases of environmentally influenced genetic expression rather than a product of the genes directly). Instances of malnutrition or physical stress that occur across large populations over a sufficiently lengthy period of time have had documented epigenetic impacts upon populations that can endure for generations after the original trigger has ceased to exist. It would be astonishing if slavery weren’t such a case in point.
That said, appearances do matter from an evolutionary perspective. As you say, everyone, including members of historically oppressed groups, responds to differences in appearance with at least some slight hesitation. These reactions do not by themselves signify racism, however, because they are innate reactions. To the extent an innate if initially slight wariness of those that look different from ourselves influences our behavior, we only magnify this effect by adopting scientifically unjustified concepts like race in an attempt to explain the differences we visibly perceive. In this way an understandable (from an evolutionary psychology perspective) caution when confronted with visible physical differences in others comes to be treated as evidence of greater differences between groups than are actually present, reinforcing our initial hesitation in the process.
There are plenty of examples of people treating members of other groups with respect. They just don’t get nearly the press more egregious examples of intolerance does. I suspect in most cases where respect rather than stereotyping or discrimination is the norm, we will find that race is an idea that doesn’t occupy much if any real cognitive real estate. Regardless, since race, at least as the term is commonly used, has no biological basis in reality, that’s reason enough to discard it.