Annotated Websites on the Changing Face of Race
Race is changing in our midst. This is because the idea of race has been discredited as a way of depicting human biological diversity. Race has no biological foundation, therefore it is based entirely on what people choose to believe and do.
This reality has vast implications for the formation of personal racial identity and for the social systems that sustain race. One important implication is that engaging in the practice of race is optional. A matter of choice. Another implication is that the choice to do race necessarily involves a moral question: Is race a good thing for humankind?
What this suggests is that reliance on race as a means to gather and wield social power will continue only as long as people accept the logic that race can be a positive or benign presence in our world. But the enactment of race can only proceed through the enabling mechanisms of racism. Race cannot be practiced without practicing racism. This is my view of race. What other views exist? What are people saying about the new reality of race? And most importantly, what kind of world will we pass on to the future?
Whatever each of us believes and whatever you choose to do or not do, race is changing around us right now. By our actions, each of us is actively helping to shape the future that is dawning.
#01. The American Anthropological Association issued a Statement on "Race" in 1998. This Statement characterizes race as "a body of prejudgments that distorts our ideas about human differences and group behavior[,]" and it accurately discusses some aspects of racial ideology and its history, but it also relies on the racial construction of terms like "European" to imply that race is an idea that racially white people have forced onto racially non-white people worldwide. This is a common notion, rooted in truth, but one that denies the strength of racial identities as conjoint constructions in human societies worldwide. The general tone of this AAA Statement tends to shift focus away from the problem of race as pseudo-biology and toward the problem of "European-American" racism. AAA has also sponsored development of a traveling museum exhibit on race and an associated website. This website accurately states: "Traditional race concepts give an inaccurate picture of human variation." But this is a lonely needle in a big haystack. It is possible for casual visitors to come away from this site with no awareness whatsoever of this essential problem with race. Once again, AAA seems to prefer an analytical discourse that perpetuates traditional racial categories and focuses on the problems of racism rather than on the underlying problem of race itself. For students interested in doing research on race, this website features a useful bibliography on race. It appears that AAA is an organization that knows the problem with race, but hesitates to provide clear leadership in helping to foster a much-needed social dialogue about what this problem means for the construction of personal and social identities.
#02. In 1996 the American Association of Physical Anthropologists published their AAPA Statement on Biological Aspects of Race. AAPA took a clear position: "Pure races, in the sense of genetically homogenous populations, do not exist in the human species today, nor is there any evidence that they have ever existed in the past." This AAPA Statement was designed to aid in updating the 1964 UNESCO statement on race -- an apparent reference to a 1978 UNESCO Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, which addresses racism. A paper by Michelle Brattain details some of the history behind the initial UNESCO positions on race, circa 1950. She observes that an early version confronted the pseudo-biology of race, but "scholars who had begun to challenge the scientific basis of the race concept itself proved to be in an increasingly embattled minority." This helps to explain why the 1978 UNESCO Declaration focuses exclusively on racism.
#03. In 2002 the American Sociological Association responded to the established scientific consensus on race by adopting a detailed statement on race: The Importance of Collecting Data and Doing Social Scientific Research on Race. ASA observes: "Respected voices from the fields of human molecular biology and physical anthropology...assert that the concept of race has no validity in their respective fields" with the consequence that "[g]rowing numbers of humanist scholars, social anthropologists, and political commentators have joined the chorus in urging [the US] to rid itself of the concept of race." Concerned about this prospect, the ASA presents a detailed and convincing argument for why the sociological study of the racial status quo must continue. It is distressingly interesting, however, that ASA has decided that American sociologists somehow cannot provide the public with both good information about the status quo of racial practice, as well as good information about what it means that race lacks validity as a biological description of humankind. It is possible to do both, as anthropologist Mica Pollock seems to suggest in the introduction to her book, Colormute: Race Talk Dilemmas in an American School. A fascinating discussion of the problem of what Pollock calls "colormuteness" follows an acknowledgement of the discredited status of race. This discussion falls short of raising and addressing the question: What is race if it purely cultural and not biological? But Pollock nevertheless shows sociologists that scholarship not only has an obligation to talk about race as practice, it also must keep in mind the truth about race as rejected theory, as a false explanation of humankind.
#04. In response to a 2005 Op-Ed in The New York Times, the Social Science Research Council organized a web forum around this interesting question: Is race "real"? This web forum offers a rich resource of deep thinking on race, reflecting an array of opinions pertaining to the biology of race and race as a social construction. Almost all of these authors remain unconvinced by occasional efforts to justify the use of race in science, but a few suggest that science might do well to keep certain aspects of race alive for highly esoteric jargonized usages. At best, in other words, only highly trained experts ought to handle and deploy specific analytically precise components of racial ideology, and the rest of us should refrain from trying that at home.
#05. The year 2003 saw the broadcasting debut of Race - the Power of an Illusion, a sophisticated three-episode film on race. This excellent documentary examines race as a social reality and considers in detail the problem of race as an unreal explanation of human biological diversity. California Newsreel produced this documentary and maintains a website for the film with an online transcript, background information, additional commentary, and useful teaching resources. Good stuff, really! In terms of teaching resources, college professors faced with teaching their first course on race might find it very useful to take a look at course materials prepared by archeomage Larry Zimmerman for Race and Cultural Identity in the United States.
#06. The journal Nature Genetics published in 2004 a fascinating online set of technical disquisitions on genetics and race. Warning: effusive unabashed techno-lingo necessarily abounds -- perfect for the resident high priest of academia in your household! In these papers, science turns out to be quite magic. Wielding esoteric spellbinding be-jargoned enchantments, these sorcerers of almost-mystical alleles, somewhat gnomic genomic markers, and pseudo-crypto-zoological infraspecific variation (complete with subtexts conveniently translated into latinate greek from original but long-lost elvish texts) debate the obvious distractions and possible uses of race in science. These papers will not be comforting to practitioners of racial biology, particularly given the fact that the best hope for finding race via genetic study comes through somewhat problematic statistical measurements. If we cast aside all doubt and take this best hope literally, it seems, we put ourselves in the awkward position of arguing that racialists must first get their genes evaluated for multilocus genetic data clustering before accepting their claimed racial identities. One might more readily conclude from these papers that race is much better for wizardly scientism than it is for people. These technical papers were prepared for a symposium sponsored by the National Human Genome Center at Howard University in Washington, DC. In the aftermath of the symposium, the Center issued a formal position paper on race, State of the Science on Human Genome Variation and "Race." This paper concludes that "[m]odern extant humans do not fracture into races (subspecies) based on the modern phylogenetic criteria of molecular systematics." And thus, "[t]he racial taxa (groups) of classical anthropology are not races."
#07. John Shuford presents an interesting argument on race in "Four Du Boisian Contributions to Critical Race Theory." A proponent of Critical Race Theory and its focus on structural racism, Shuford suggests that the ideology of the CRT movement "should embrace four additional tenets: the impossibility of racelessness; the worth of races toward liberatory culture-making; the inescapability of whiteness as an ontological condition of moral and (presumptive) economic indebtedness; and the necessity of racial rectification and healing toward the unfinished work of social reconstruction." Shuford objects to anti-race conclusions that some scholars draw from the science of race because he lacks "confidence in the general scientific community when it comes to speaking out on race matters." This is a paper that apparently aims at reinforcing the message and mission of CRT theorists by opposing the noticeable tendency of some elements within the academic community to act upon the knowledge that the idea of race is without foundation in human biology. In short, Shuford urges his colleagues in this paper to join him in embracing an anti-anti-race position. In choosing to include this paper as a link here, I acknowledge the widespread appeal of the CRT movement among ethnic studies academicians, as well as the potential appeal of Shuford's logic more generally among academic adherents to racial identity; and I announce my own view of myself as not only anti-race, but as anti-anti-anti-race!
#08. Wandering to the other side of the world, courtesy of a Closet Chicken colleague, Chicken a la Queen: If we peer through the earth to look for another side of things.... Yin C. Paradies explores the "fantasy of cultural alterity" versus hybridized racial multiplicities in a fascinatingly consequential meditation on interpellated indigeneity Downunder. The biological imperatives of race get usefully confronted in this analysis, but ultimately emerge intact. In my wandering dream meditations on race, I entertain my own fantasy of alterity: What if Paradies had treated race as a fact of pure culture, rather than as a fact of biology?
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