AAA - 18 Draft Official Statement on ”Race” American...

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Unformatted text preview: 18 Draft Official Statement on ”Race” American Anthropological Association Race is an incredibly important social and political issue in the United States. News items of national interest—from the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King verdict to the trial of O. I. Simpson—centered around sensitive cultural issues. Questions about the inclusion of mixed race and ethnicity categories for the US, Census for the year 2000 have been hotly debated. The publication of Herrnstein and Murray’s The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life raised a remarkable public debate; despite terrible reviews and scientific criticism, the book sold very well. President Clinton identified the need for a national dialogue about race; such a dialogue may well be an uncom~ fortable conversation. ' 7 ' As we learned in the last selection, race is an out—of- date and useless concept from the viewpoint of understand- ing and explaining human biological diversity. Although many biological anthropologists privately came to such a conclusion, the public holds on to the belief that race refers to real biological categories. At the same time, dis- crimination based on skin color—at times overt and at other times subtle and invidious—continues to exist in the United States. The American Anthropological Association (AAA) is the oldest and largest professional association for all four fields of anthropology as well as applied anthropology. As a professional association, the AAA has drafted a clear state- ment about the biology and politics of race. The statement is clear and informational. At the time of the publication of the current edition of this book, the statement has not been approved by the AAA membership at large. As you read this selection, ask yourself the following questions: III Why would a professional academic association think that they need to have an ofi‘icial statement about race? Why is the history of a concept like race relevant to understanding its current scientific usefulness? ' C E What is the relationship between racial categorizations and the distribution of privilege, power, and wealth? El Why does race distort and prejudge our ideas about human differences and group behavior? The following terms discussed in this selection are included in the Glossary at the back of the book: biophysical diversity culture race ____——__.—-———— Reprinted by permission of the American Anthropological Associa- tion from Anthropology Newsletter 38:6, September 1997. l3] l l i i S IE. Since the mid-20th century there has been a major transformation in thinking about ”race” in the aca— demic world, especially in the fields of anthropology and biology. For several hundred years before this time, both scholars and the public had been condi- tioned to viewing purported ”races” as natural, dis- tinct and exclusive divisions among human popula- tions based on visible physical differences. However, with the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, it is clear that human populations are not un- ambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. As a result, we conclude that the concept of "race” has no validity as a biological category in the human species. Because it homogenizes widely vary- ing individuals into limited categories, it impedes re- search and understanding of the true nature of human biological variations. The following statement summarizes the findings and conclusions of experts on human biophysical vari— ' ation. For a more full and extensive exploration of this topic, see the statement published by the American As- sociation of Physical Anthropologists in 1996 (AIPA 101569—570). The human species is highly diverse, with individ- uals and populations varying in observable traits such as body size and shape, skin color, hair texture, facial features and certain characteristics of the skeletal struc- ture. Populations also differ in their percentage fre- quencies of the blood types (A, B, AB and O) and other known genetic traits. This variation is a product of evo- lutionary forces operating on human groups as they have adapted to different environments over thou- sands of years. Some biogenetic variation results from migration and changes within isolated groups. Yet all human groups are capable of interbreeding with others and producing Viable and fertile offspring. Throughout history, whenever'different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. As a result, all populations share many features with other, neighbor— ing groups. ' Variations in any given trait tend to occur gradu— ally rather than abruptly over geographic areas. And because physical traits vary independently of one an— other, knowing the frequencies of one trait does not predict the presence or frequencies of others. These facts render any attempt to establish lines of division among biological populations both arbitrary and sub— jective. Genetically there are greater differences among individuals within large geographic populations than the average differences between them. Because of our complex genetic structure, no human groups can be seen as homogeneous or ”pure.” _ Biophysical diversity has no inherent social meaning ex— cept what we humans confer upon it. The concept of "race” is in reality a product of that process. ”Race” is a set of I32 culturally created attitudes toward, and beliefs about, human differences developed following widespread exploration and colonization by Western European powers since the 16th century. In the North American colonies, European settlers conquered an indigenous population and brought in as slaves alien peoples from Africa. By the end of the 18th century a rising antislav— ery movement, produced by liberal and humanistic forces mostly in Europe, compelled slave owners to find new defenses for preserving slavery. ”Race” was invented as a social mechanism to justify the retention of slavery. ”Race” ideology magnified differences among these populations, established a rigid hierarchy of socially exclusive categories, underscored and bol— stered unequal rank and status differences and pro- vided the rationalization that such differences were natural or God-given. The different physical traits be— came markers or symbols of status differences. As they were constructing this society, white Amer- icans fabricated the cultural / behavioral characteristics associated with each ”race,” linking superior traits to Europeans and negative and inferior ones to blacks and Indians. Thus arbitrary beliefs about the different peo— ples were institutionalized and deeply embedded in American thought. Ultimately ”race” as an ideology about human differences was reified and subsequently spread to other areas of the world. It became a mecha— nism for dividing and ranking people, used by colonial powers everywhere. But it was not limited to the colo— nial situation; it was employed by Europeans to rank each other and, during World War 11, became the mo- tive for the unspeakable brutalities of the Holocaust. ”Race" evolved as a worldview, a body of pre— judgments that distorts our ideas about human differ- ences and group behavior. Such beliefs constitute myths about the diversity in the human species and about the abilities and behavior of people homoge- nized into ”racial” categories. The myths fused behav- ior and physical features together in the public mind, impeding our comprehension of both biology and cul— ture and implying that both are genetically deter- mined. Racial myths bear no relationship to the reality of human capabilities or behavior. Scientists have found that reliance on such folk beliefs about human differences in research has led to countless errors. . At the end of the 20th century, we now understand that human behavior is learned, conditioned into infants beginning at birth and always subject to modi- fication and change. No human is born with built—in culture traits or language. Our temperaments, disposi— tions and personalities, regardless of genetic propensi— ties, are developed within sets of meanings and values that we call ”culture.” Studies of infant and early child- hood learning and behavior attest to the reality of our cultures in forming who we are. It is a basic tenet of anthropological knowledge that all normal human beings have the capacity to learn any cultural behaviOr. In the modern world we humans are constantly experiencing new cultural meanings and are, thus, capable of transforming our- selves. The American experience with immigrants from hundreds of different language and cultural backgrounds who have acquired some variation of American culture traits and behavior is the clearest ev- idence of this fact. We are all becoming more multicul- tural as we have access to both material culture and ideas that disseminate around the world. How people have been accepted and treated within the context of their society and culture has a direct im- DRAFT OFFICIAL STATEMENT ON “RACE” 133 pact on how they perform within that society. The ”raci ” worldview was invented to assign some groups to perpetual low status while others were permitted ac- cess to privilege, power and wealth. The tragedy is that it succeeded all too well in constructing unequal popu- lations. Given what we know about the capacity of nor- mal humans to achieve and function within any culture, we conclude that present-day inequalities between human groups are not consequences of their biological inheritance; rather, these inequalities are products of historical and contemporary social, economic, educa- tional and political circumstances. 0 l 1 i ’2 l, . l‘ l, ...
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