About Race, Human Biological Variation & Racism
For my Intro-to-Anthropology 2016 class, we tackled the issue of Evolution and Race with these materials:
- A lecture by Ibram Kendi, acclaimed author of How to Be an Antiracist
- The chapter on “What Can Evolutionary Theory Tell Us about Human Variation?” in Anthropology: What does it mean to be human? by Lavenda and Schultz.
- A September 2005 article by Alan Goodman, Three Questions about Race, Human Biological Variation and Racism.
For a 2021 update, see Human variation is more complicated than biological race and the YouTube video:
Goodman’s 3 Questions
Since this class was the one time I used Goodman’s article and some reflections on the AAA Race exhibit, I’ve preserved that material here. I liked Goodman’s article, but it really didn’t seem to work with students–there were more misinterpretations as correct interpretations. One student did get it:
Goodman uses three questions and definitive answers to explain his point. The first question is “Do humans vary biologically?,” to which the answer is yes. The second question is “Is the idea of race a useful categorization of human biological variation?,” to which the answer is no. The last question is “is race a useful categorization to track lived experiences, sociopolitical injustices, and racism?, to which the answer is yes. Therefore, because of the answer to the last question, race is an important part of understanding parts of society and politics. In other words, race is “socio-politically relevant.” If we lived in a race blind society, distinctions involving health, wealth, and ways of life would be more blurry, and harder to distinguish. One last important point the article made was “the totality of human experience of being raced and the everyday differential treatments and opportunities provided to individuals through racing–is not only consequential, but useful for tracking and understanding sociopolitical injustices.”
Image credit, American Anthropological Association (AAA) Project Race: Are We So Different, examining Evolution and Race. For more on this project, see the 2017 reflections by Yolanda T. Moses After 10 years the AAA Race Project is Still Needed Now More Than Ever:
We need to be more intentional and strategic about tackling the issues of “white denial” and “white privilege” as we continue this very important work. We must engage people who “still do not see” or who not want to see, that they are beneficiaries of the historical and contemporary consequences of institutionalized racism and its disproportionate negative impact on the lives, bodies, and life chances of people of color in this country.
For a June 2020 update, see the AAA statement on how Anthropologists must apply resources to combat race-based injustices, although also see the thoughts on US White Supremacy and Anthropology.
To cite: Antrosio, Jason. 2016. “Evolution and Race: Anthropology on Race and Racism.” Living Anthropologically website, https://www.livinganthropologically.com/anthropology-2016/evolution-and-race/. First posted 6 September 2016. Revised 6 June 2021.