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.