Tag Archives: race and science

Where did race come from?

“How did the idea of race begin in America?”  The video provided below offers the answer.  It is resources like this that inform my understanding of race and its designation as socially constructed.  It is important to know and repeat again and again that race is not divinely inspired.  The father of race is not God but Johann Blumenbach, who created a race- based classification of human beings.  Race was and is not a part of the plan of God but in this video, you can see how the idea came into being, how scientists and politicians encouraged its life and maturity in the United States for economic and political reasons.  Race was “discovered” not because it was true but because it was profitable.

Do not just accept race without understanding it, without questioning it.  Don’t give it that much of your faith.  When it comes to our identity and society’s offerings to support it, it is important to question, to critically interrogate what gives our lives their meaning, worth, dignity and purpose.

Race Fact #5

Race is neither a biological reality or a scientific fact.

“Scientists have actually been saying for quite a while that race, as biology, doesn’t exist- that there’s no biological basis for race. And that is in the facts of biology, the facts of non-concordance, the facts of continuous variation, the recentness of our evolution, the way that we all commingle and come together, how genes flow, and perhaps especially in the fact that most variation occurs within race versus between races or among races, suggesting that there’s no generalizability to race. There is no center there; there is no there there in the center. It’s fluid.

But many individuals will say, “Well, that’s okay, at least it’s an approximation. It at least gives us a way to classify. Hey, you know, our head size may be continuous and shoe size may be continuous, but we developed a way to classify people by hat size and shoe size. And it kind of works. Your shoe may be a little bit crunchy but you basically know to go in and start somewhere, So what’s wrong with doing it for race?”

And I’ll tell you, there’s a couple things that are wrong with it, where that analogy really breaks down. We’ve developed a universal system for thinking about hat size that’s measurable, for example. So you can go into Sao Paulo Brazil and the hat merchants there have the same scale that the hat merchants do in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  And we can have universality because it’s objective, it’s measurable, we’re just measuring the circumference around the head. It doesn’t change culturally from one place to another.

But think about race and its universality or lack thereof. Where is your measurement device? There is no way to measure race first. We sometimes do it by skin color. Other people may do it by hair texture. Other people may have the dividing lines different in terms of skin color. What’s black in the United States is not what’s black in Brazil or what’s black in South Africa. What was black in 1940 is different from what is black in 2000. Certainly, with the evolution of whiteness, what was white in 1920 – as a Jew I was not white then, but I’m white now, so white has changed tremendously.

There’s no stability and constancy. That’s life. That’s fine as social ideas go, that we all have our individual classification systems and may use them, but for science, it’s death. It does not work. Science is based on generalizability, it’s based on consistency, it’s based on reproducibility. If you have none of that, you have junk science.”

The read the entire interview with Alan Goodman, professor of biological anthropology at Hampshire College, click here.