Blog Three – The Existence of Race

I was interested to read the position statements regarding race from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) and the American Anthropological Association (AAA). Apparently, regardless of the strong cultural beliefs around the world concerning the word “race,” these professional associations have chosen to represent their members with statements that “race” does not exist. Admittedly, their use of DNA evidence and scientific speciation supports the idea that all human beings should be classified as Homo sapiens and therefore have only phenotypic variation such as height, eye color, etc. This scientific evidence is also supported by the obvious fact that human males and females can breed and produce viable, fertile offspring. The AAA states that the “continued sharing of genetic material maintains humankind as a single species.” Classifying humans in this way seems simplistic considering the social influences that have been engrained in societies for hundreds of years. Even Norman Sauer admits that forensic anthropologists continue to use “race” as an identifying characteristic reported during field examinations. He admits that his professional colleagues have, for the most part, abandoned this classification but suggests that our society and our law enforcement agencies typically use race to help identify victims and criminals alike. “Race” may not be so easy to erase from the dictionary.

I believe eliminating race from our vocabulary would be a significant step toward a society of true equals. The use of science would simplify an explanation of the non-existence of biological race to a person who was unfamiliar with the topic. They must accept that humans can differ in appearance and skin color and deserve to be accepted as people with equal abilities. Recognizing that all people are equal genetically would lead to a society that neither discriminates nor offers advantageous preference to one person over another. No one would feel discrimination and there would be no need for affirmative action. The most qualified and motivated individuals would find success based purely on their qualifications. I fear, however, that our society is not ready to accept changing the dictionary as easily as the AAPA and AAA can modify their position statements.

In the reading on race and human variation, these sentiments are echoed. This project by the AAA tries to systematically explain how our population differs due to patterns of migration over thousands of years and the evolution of physical characteristics that were advantageous to populations who settled on different regions of the globe. They evidenced the Human Genome Project to support our species similarities and emphasized that African populations contain the genetic variations of all the world’s people who migrated outward echoed by the authors. Historically, people seem to be separated or grouped in ways that allow people with power to control the destiny of people who are weaker. The Romans sacrificed Christians and Jews and had slaves from all the areas they concurred. This was an issue of power and control for the strong over the weak. The development of race may have been a way to explain the inequalities in colonial America but are not relevant today. If the scientific community by way of the AAPA and AAA can initiate discussions that eliminate racial criteria from our society, they may be credited for an achievement as important as the Human Genome Project.

3 thoughts on “Blog Three – The Existence of Race

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with your assertions that the colonial era definition used on the AAA and AAPA statements is not relevant today, and that the Romans enslaved people from all the areas they conquered; regardless of race. But, I differ on your view that the majority of racial discrimination occurs due to a perceived genetic or biological difference. Race is modernly much more tied to culture than it is to genetics, and the perceived differences in cultural value systems and practices tied to race are the root of prejudice. For example, did you know that 91% of women in Egypt have been genitally mutilated (World Health Organization, 2013), which is also known as female circumcision? That means that culturally, the vast majority of the people in Egypt have a value system that permits and condones all the external components of female genitalia to be cut off of young girls between the ages of 5 and 14, most likely with no anesthetic. The modern definition of race alludes to ethnicity and geographic origin, therefore a racial morality judgement of an Egyptian, or racial Mediterranean Arab, as someone who likely condones female genital mutilation is not unfounded. I fully object to female genital mutilation, it is a barbaric, backward practice that has no place in any society; I also impose harsh judgement on anyone who thinks otherwise. Could you blame an employer for not wishing to hire an Egyptian man, as it is likely his moral system is inherently opposed in crucial ways to their own? Is not wanting to hire him racist, even though it has nothing to do with his biology, and everything to do with his culture? This is nothing more than a demonstration on why modern racial prejudice is more tied to culture and morality rather than biology.

    You state your belief that eliminating racial categories would result in a pure meritocracy, but if the judgement attributed to race lies not in biology, but moral association, that elimination would change nothing. Cultural relativism dictates that judgments about other cultures should not be made, except in cases of human rights issues. But through fields such as anthropology and sociology, it is apparent that the hugely numbered, complicated variables of a culture are all inexplicably intertwined. The large-scale human rights abuses that occur are the result of many complicated factors in a culture, but ultimately fall to the morality and value system of that culture. Therefore, any culture that condones human rights abuses has a moral system that is, as judged even through cultural relativism, flawed. Discriminating against these cultures on a national scale, through sanctions and, in the most extreme cases, war, is considered more than acceptable; in many cases it would be considered immoral and unacceptable to do nothing to help the abused. However, when this same principle is applied on a smaller scale, it is often called discrimination and racism. How is one to show disagreement and disdain for a value system, especially one tied to a geographically centered people and their culture, that is inherently unjust, if it is not acceptable, at the very simplest, to do so through open negative judgement, active avoidance, and exclusion? I am not advocating prejudice, this is again a demonstration in defining racism and discrimination, and illustrating the complexities of expressing acceptable, condoned moral judgments.

    If race was eliminated from the dictionary, as you say would be quite difficult to do, that would do nothing to change the individual and large group (cultural, national, etcetera) general moral and value judgements correlated to culture, lineage, and geographic origin. Would the term originism, or lineageism, then just replace racism? The only thing that would stop discrimination as you present it, in a way that would lead to a true egalitarian meritocracy, would be a shared foundation and application of morality and values across human beings.

  2. This blog post is really well written and because of such, really enjoyable to read. So, thank you for making everything so eloquent and cohesive. I found your third and final paragraph to be super interesting and written from a really great perspective. I like your comment about race potentially coming into existence because of inequalities in colonial America. You bring to light the very good point of people feeling the need to have power over other groups of people. We see this still today in society, unfortunately. The idea of race as whole, should be eliminated, I agree. However, that’s a lofty goal and I’m not entirely sure that as a collective society we’d be able to achieve that any time soon. It’s tough for multitudes of people to have ubiquitous mindsets. However, I have that our generation and the ones to follow, will have a better sense of unity and make equality a common goal.

  3. Hi Jacyln,
    Thank you for your well thought out and written response to this week’s blog post about a number of organizations and scholars stance on the existence of race. You made a number of excellent insights throughout the blog. I would agree with your assessment that the human species has often used the physical characteristics of certain populations as a way of separating themselves from other human social groups. As science has advanced, it is now up to well informed citizens and organizations such as the AAA and AAPA to educate the world about the nonexistence of race as a biological concept. Once again, excellent job on your blog this week!

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