Blog Three: Race and Anthropology

The readings and film from this week presented a lot of different perspectives on race from different anthropologists.  I had heard many of the viewpoints before, like that race is not based in biology and that there is actually more genetic variation within races than between races.  That is something I had learned in many classes, particularly sociology classes.  I agree with this perspective completely.  I was also familiar with the idea of skin color as a result of geographical location.  This should be a more widespread idea but I know many people who have no idea why different groups of humans developed different skin pigmentations.  I think much more anthropology is needed in early education.  Similar to evolution not being taught enough in schools, I think kids should be learning that race is a social construct.  Maybe more people knowing how insignificant the differences between racial groups really are would lead to a decline in racism, discrimination, and hate.

One article mentioned something I had not thought about much before, the fact that there are not really any physical characteristics you can assign to racial groups.  While there are stereotypical descriptions of races (like Asians have dark hair), there is so much variation within racial groups that it is impossible to describe what someone of a particular racial group will look like.  This part of the reading made me really think about all the variation in racial groups and how much variety there is in physical traits of the human race as a whole.

I had never considered how forensic anthropologists determine the race of an individual when they only have the bones to figure it out.  In fact, I did not know that they could necessarily determine the race of someone just by looking at the bones.  While that is very useful for anthropologists, I was confused a little bit by how another reading had just talked about there being no biological basis in racial groups.  I still have not quite been able to reconcile these ideas in my mind.  It does make sense to me though that anthropologists only use three racial groups when looking at bones (basically white, black, or Asian).  Because these are such broad groups, I can see how there might be some slight biological differences in the bones.  This also made the many very narrow racial groups used in countries all over the world seem even more unnecessary and arbitrary.  The readings made it very clear that racial categories are primarily a result of justifying enslavement and mistreatment of other people.

Although I did learn a lot this week, the readings left me feeling frustrated with the emphasis on race in the world today.  There are so many important issues in the world that could be dealt with much better if everyone united, regardless of race, religion, sex, etc.  It is a shame that so much energy and resources have to be allocated to deal with problems caused by racism and discrimination.

4 thoughts on “Blog Three: Race and Anthropology

  1. Your declaration of irreconcilable thought conflict between two ideas presented together as fact, yet inherently contradictory of one another, is a concept called double-think. It is a control paradigm instilled in populations to elicit an inherently confused state within the thoughts of individuals in the population, resulting in a more easily controllable populace. On reading the article on forensic anthropology and race, it is clear race is a thing, it exists, and it is utilized in a logical manner. Identification of phenotypic traits inherent to populations allows ease of identification of discovered bodies by limiting search criteria. So, it is not that race does not exist, but that its modern definition does not match the colonial era definition presented in the other articles.

    The meanings of words evolve over time, educated people understand where and why skin color and other phenotypic traits arose in certain populations, and grasp the modern meaning of race as ancestral geographic origin. The presented histories and definitions within the statements on race provided by the AAA and the AAPA were used knowing that the modern interpretation does not match, and therefore simply declaring race as nonexistent would be false. This is also the reason for the use of the term biological race in said statements. So, they justified their claims by redefining race to an old, antiquated definition, which modern language has evolved past. Slavery also existed for a very long time before the chattel-style slavery obtusely referenced by the statements, as did conceptions of race. The ideas of slavery and race are not inherently tied together in the way that was represented in much of the material and statements. As an example, the vast majority of slaves in ancient Rome and Greece were, what we would today call, white; race played no part at all in who became or was born a slave, even though Romans and Greeks had the concept of race.

    In your post, you state that you understand race doesn’t exist, but then explain you understand how phenotypic clusters of traits are used to identify race in forensic anthropology. You contradict yourself by stating, and claiming understanding of, two facts that cannot exist together. Race cannot not exist, and yet be used effectively in a science. So, logically, race does exist, and the reconciliation of your mental conflict lies not in its state of existence, but in its applied definition. Be wary of double-think, never accept two contradictory facts as both true when they inherently cannot coexist, understand when this is presented to you the goal is to confuse you to more easily control your thoughts. I leave you with an illustratory quotation of the tyrannical government’s slogan from the George Orwell novel 1984: “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”

  2. Hello!

    I really liked how you bought up that anthropologists only use three racial groups. I think the general public doesn’t really realize how most humans can be categorized into these three groups and how similar the three groups actually are to one another. I also thought that this week’s lectures and topic could be reflected on by what is going on in the world today. If people were more open to new ideas about the concepts of race and how skin color is mostly related to location, the concept of race wouldn’t be as socially strained as it is today. Unfortunately, a lot of people are hardwired on to one belief which is why I also agree on your stance about teaching children that race is a social concept before they’re hardwired.

  3. Hey Margaret,
    I just finished reading your post and I completely agree with you. While I found this unit very interesting and informational, it did create some questions for me about how some sources mentioned that race is still used in the scientific world today, despite its general uselessness described by other sources. I do believe that there are differences between groups of people overall, and that these differences can be extremely important (particularly when it comes to culture and learning how to respect one another while learning to understand these cultural differences). However, I don’t think that race should ever have negative connotations, as it so often does in the media as well as in society overall. It is very unfortunate that so many issues have been created because of the old concepts of ‘race’ that have unfortunately carried over into modern times and even into some of our classmates. I am grateful genuinely for the opportunity to have learned about this topic during this class.
    Thanks for your post,

  4. Hello,
    I thought your blog post was well put together and raised a lot of points about some of the more confusing points from this week. Hopefully I can offer some insight into these topics you mentioned. A main concern of yours it seems is to understand how forensic anthropologists may be able to identify a person just by their bones because of the large amount of genetic variability within so called “races.” While I think it is important to realize no physical traits are prevalent in only one “race,” that oftentimes there are certain physical traits more commonly found in one group of people just because people from this specific group most commonly reproduce with another person from that group and if they are both already more likely to have certain physical characteristics than the same will be true for their offspring. I know that probably doesn’t answer all of your questions but hopefully the insight is helpful nonetheless.

    I also definitely agree with you that like evolution, more anthropology should be presented to younger students. I think understanding the insignificance of race from a young age would help students to not grow into people with racist ideals that are already so deeply ingrained by the time they get to adulthood.

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