Anthropologists’ Opinion That Race Is Not a Scientific Concept

In 1998 the American Anthropological Association (AAA) adopted an important statement on race that represented “generally the contemporary thinking and scholarly positions of a majority of anthropologists.” [1]

The AAA statement contains a scientific component, which will be quoted in this post. The other component—historical and conceptual—will be discussed in a subsequent post.

“In the United States both scholars and the general public have been conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions within the human species based on visible physical differences. With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within “racial” groups than between them. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species.”

“Physical variations in any given trait tend to occur gradually rather than abruptly over geographic areas. And because physical traits are inherited independently of one another, knowing the range of one trait does not predict the presence of others. For example, skin color varies largely from light in the temperate areas in the north to dark in the tropical areas in the south; its intensity is not related to nose shape or hair texture. Dark skin may be associated with frizzy or kinky hair or curly or wavy or straight hair, all of which are found among different indigenous peoples in tropical regions. These facts render any attempt to establish lines of division among biological populations both arbitrary and subjective.”

Conclusion

 As indicated in a prior post, controversial comments about “white” people in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” have prompted me to read and think about the notion of the “white” race and to concur in his conclusion that there is no such race.

This AAA statement about the scientific component of this subject is one reason for my concurrence. I discovered this statement at an exhibit about race that was organized by the AAA with funding from the National Science and Ford Foundations and that was on display at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The exhibit also covered some of the historical background to the concept of race that will be discussed in a subsequent post.[2]

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[1] Am. Anthro. Ass’n, AAA Statement on Race (May 17, 1998).

 [2] The race exhibit has been, and will be, on display at other museums across the U.S., and its website has lots of very useful information on the subject. I urge everyone to see it.

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

4 thoughts on “Anthropologists’ Opinion That Race Is Not a Scientific Concept”

  1. ‘Race’ is first of all a ‘social construct’, based on biological factors. The human species is perfectly capable of murderous behavior between tribal groups that are almost identical genetically — witness the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland, the Croats and Serbs in the former Yugoslavia, the various African inter-tribal butcheries. Easily-discerned physical distinctions, which have a genetic root, make it easier for groups to persecute each other, but they’re not necessary.

    However, I’ll take with a grain of salt the anthropologists’ solemn avowal that their proclamation is just based on objective ‘scholarly’ professional concerns. They have a political worldview and this declaration was meant to further it.

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