Issues of race, racism, and ethnic relations remain among the most contentious social and political topics in the United States and throughout the world. Anthropology offers valuable information to the public regarding these issues, as anthropological knowledge encourages individuals to “think outside the box” about race and ethnicity. This “thinking outside the box” includes understanding that racial and ethnic categories are socially constructed rather than natural, biological divisions of humankind and realizing that the current racial and ethnic categories that exist in the United States today do not necessarily reflect categories used in other countries. Physical anthropologists, who study human evolution, epidemiology, and genetics, are uniquely qualified to explain why distinct biological human races do not exist. Nevertheless, race and ethnicity—as social constructs—continue to be used as criteria for prejudice, discrimination, exclusion, and stereotypes well into the twenty-first century. Cultural anthropologists play a crucial role in informing the public how the concept of race originated, how racial categories have shifted over time, how race and ethnicity are constructed differently within various nations across the world, and how the current racial and ethnic categories utilized in the United States were arbitrarily labeled and defined by the federal government under OMB Directive 15 in 1977. Understanding the complex nature of clines and continuous biological human variation, along with an awareness of the distinct ways in which race and ethnicity have been constructed in different nations, enables us to recognize racial and ethnic labels not as self-evident biological divisions of humans, but instead as socially created categories that vary cross-culturally.
García describes the reasons that race is considered a “discredited concept in human biology.” Despite this scientific fact, most people continue to believe that race is “real.” Why do you think race has continued to be an important social reality even after it has been discredited scientifically?
The process of racial formation is different in every society. In the United States, the “one-drop rule” and hypodescent have historically affected the way people with multiracial backgrounds have been racialized. How have ideas about multiracial identity been changing in the past few decades? As the number of people who identify as “multiracial” increases, do you think there will be changes in the way we think about other racial categories?
Members of some ethnic groups are able to practice symbolic ethnicity, limited or occasional displays of ethnic pride and identity. Why can ethnicity be displayed in an optional way while race cannot?
There is no scientific evidence supporting the idea that racial or ethnic background provides a biological advantage in sports. Instead, a variety of social dynamics, including cultural affinities and preferences as well as access and opportunities influence who will become involved in particular sports. Think about a sport in which you have participated or have followed closely. What social dynamics do you think are most responsible for affecting the racial, ethnic, gender, or social class composition of the athletes who participate?
Acculturation: loss of a minority group’s cultural distinctiveness in relation to the dominant culture.
Amalgamation: interactions between members of distinct ethnic and cultural groups that reduce barriers between the groups over time.
Assimilation: pressure placed on minority groups to adopt the customs and traditions of the dominant culture.
Cline: differences in the traits that occur in populations across a geographical area. In a cline, a trait may be more common in one geographical area than another, but the variation is gradual and continuous, with no sharp breaks.
Ethnic group: people in a society who claim a distinct identity for themselves based on shared cultural characteristics and ancestry.
Ethnicity: the degree to which a person identifies with and feels an attachment to a particular ethnic group.
Ethnogenesis: gradual emergence of new ethnicities in response to changing social circumstances.
Hypodescent: a racial classification system that assigns a person with mixed racial heritage to the racial category that is considered least privileged.
Jim Crow: a term used to describe laws passed by state and local governments in the United States during the early twentieth century to enforce racial segregation of public and private places.
Multiculturalism: maintenance of multiple cultural traditions in a single society.
Nonconcordant: genetic traits that are inherited independently rather than as a package.
One-drop rule: the practice of excluding a person with any non-white ancestry from the white racial category.
Pigmentocracy: a society characterized by strong correlation between a person’s skin color and his or her social class.
Race: an attempt to categorize humans based on observed physical differences.
Racial formation: the process of defining and redefining racial categories in a society.
Reified: the process by which an inaccurate concept or idea is accepted as “truth.”
Socially constructed: a concept developed by society that is maintained over time through social interactions that make the idea seem “real.”
Symbolic ethnicity: limited or occasional displays of ethnic pride and identity that are primarily for public display.
Taxonomy: a system of classification.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I am an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, a public state-owned university located approximately 70 miles west of Philadelphia. I earned my Ph.D. in Anthropology from Temple University in 2011, with a specific focus in urban anthropology. I currently live in Chester County, Pennsylvania in suburban Philadelphia. My research interests include U.S. immigration, social constructs of race and ethnicity, urban social/cultural life, U.S. popular culture, human evolution/the hominid lineage, and anthropological theory. Aside from anthropology, my hobbies include lifting weights, watching sports (particularly boxing, football, and basketball) and movies, traveling, and playing video games (the Grand Theft Auto series is my personal favorite).
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1. For more information about efforts to establish a “scientific” basis for race in the 18th and 19th centuries, see the “History” section of the Race: Are We So Different website: http://www.understandingrace.org. Stephen Jay Gould’s book, The Mismeasure of Man (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), has a detailed discussion of the “scientific” methods used by Morton and others.
2. More information about the social construction of racial categories in the United States can be found in Audrey Smedley, Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2007) and Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010).
3. More discussion of the material in this section can be found in Carol Mukhopadhyay, Rosemary Henze, and Yolanda Moses, How Real Is Race? A Sourcebook on Race, Culture, and Biology (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013). Chapters 5 and 6 discuss the cultural construction of racial categories as a form of classification. The Race: Are We So Different website and its companion resources for teachers and researchers also explore the ideas described here.
4. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, On the Natural Varieties of Mankind: De Generis Humani Varietate Nativa (New York: Bergman Publishers, 1775).
5. For details about how these categories were established, see Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man.
6. For a discussion of the efforts to subdivide racial groups in the nineteenth century and its connection to eugenics, see Carol Mukhopadhyay, Rosemary Henze, and Yolanda Moses, How Real Is Race? A Sourcebook on Race, Culture, and Biology.
7. For more information about the genetic variation between human groups that puts this example in context see Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan, Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 174-180.
8. Carol Mukhopadhyay et. al How Real Is Race? A Sourcebook on Race, Culture, and Biology, 43-48.
9. Ibid., 50-52.
10. Ibid., 50-51.
11. Ibid., 62.
12. Alan R. Templeton, “Human Races: A Genetic and Evolutionary Perspective” American Anthropologist 100 no. 3 (1998): 632-650.
13. For more information about the efforts of Franz Boas to refute the race concept in science, see Franz Boas, “Changes in the Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants” American Anthropologist 14 (1912): 530-562.
14. Jonathan Marks, “Black, White, Other,” 35.
15. Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, 64.
16. Ibid., 61
17. For more information about the social construction of whiteness in U.S. History see Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People; Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (New York: Routledge, 1995). For more information about the economic aspects of the construction of whiteness both before and after World War II, see David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (Chicago, IL: Haymarket, 2007) and George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998).
18. For a detailed discussion of this process see Douglas S. Massey and Nancy Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993) and Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth Century America (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2005).
19. For more information on these historical developments and their social ramifications, see Karen Brodkin, How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998) or David Roediger, Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White—The Strange Journey From Ellis Island to the Suburbs (New York: Basic Books, 2005).
20. While the one-drop rule was intended to protect the institution of slavery, a more nuanced view of racial identity has existed throughout U.S. History. For a history of the racial categories used historically in the United States census, including several mixed-race categories, see the Pew Research Center’s “What Census Calls Us: Historical Timeline.” http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/inter...cial-timeline/
21. It is important to note that President Obama has also stated that he self-identifies as black. See for instance, Sam Roberts and Peter Baker. 2010. “Asked to Declare His Race, Obama Checks ‘Black.’” The New York Times, April 2. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/us.../03census.html
22. This concept is discussed in more detail in chapter 9 of Carol Mukhopadhyay et. al How Real Is Race: A Sourebook on Race, Culture, and Biology.
23. Edward Telles originated this expression in his book Race in Another America: The Significance of Skin Color in Brazil (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).
24. More information about the Brazilian concepts of race described in this section is available in Jefferson M. Fish, “Mixed Blood: An Analytical Method of Classifying Race.” Psychology Today, November 1, 1995. https://www.psychologytoday.com/arti...11/mixed-blood
25. Conrad Kottak, Anthropology: Appreciating Cultural Diversity (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013).
26. See for instance the PBS documentary Brazil: A Racial Paradise, written and presented by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.. For a detailed critique of the idea of Brazil as a “racial democracy,” see Michael Hanchard (ed), Racial Politics in Contemporary Brazil (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999).
27. Robert J. Cottrol, The Long Lingering Shadow: Slavery, Race, and Law in the American Hemisphere (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2013), 246.
28. Ibid., 145
29. For more information about Brazil’s official policy toward mixed-race children during this era see Thomas E. Skidmore, Black Into White: Race and Nationality in Brazilian Thought (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992).
30. For a detailed discussion of stratification without race, see chapter 8 of Carol Mukhopadyay et. al How Real is Race? A Sourcebook on Race, Culture, and Biology.
31. For more information about the status of Burakumin in Japan see Emily A. Su-lan Reber, “Buraku Mondai in Japan: Historical and Modern Perspectives and Directions for the Future.” Harvard Human Rights Journal 12 (1999): 298
32. The distinction between race and ethnicity is a complex and controversial one within anthropology. Some anthropologists combine these concepts in acknowledgement of the overlap between them. See for instance Karen Brodkin. How Jews Became White and What This Says About Race in America.
33. Canadian Multicultural Act, 1985. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/a.../FullText.html
34. Rene Lynch, “Michael Johnson Says Slave Descendants Make Better Athletes” Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2012.
35. The 2010 documentary The First Basket by David Vyorst describes the experiences of Jewish basketball players in the mid-twentieth century U.S.
36. Scott Pelley, America Samoa: Football Island. CBS News, September 17, 2010 http://www.cbsnews.com/news/american...nd-17-09-2010/