Thu, 10 Oct 1996 13:41:37 -0800

I would add my voice to the pleas for us not to leave the socially constructed
concept of race to the sociologists. We must take responsibility as a
discipline to "spread the word" about what we have learned about this concept.
Of course, as Dr. Holloway's says, we cannot abandon the idea of breeding
populations with traits that characterize them. But we can use less loaded
terms to label them. We have long since passed the point at which it is
possible to use the word race anywhere outside the hallowed halls of academia
without evoking horrendous connotative baggage. We have terminology to
discuss the biological realities that we study and about which we teach
that are accurate and communicate what we need to say without that baggage.
I, for one, vote to abandon the term "race" to social constructionist
definitions. The usage of this word in other times caused its meaning to
evolve into something that only creates high emotion and misunderstanding
when we try to force people to deal with its strictly biological definition.
Definitions evolve. We need to acknowledge that this one has, and that it
can no longer be widely used in its biological sense without creating more problems than it solves, and without perpetuating
confusion and misunderstanding.

Why us instead of the sociologists? Well, it seems to me that it was
anthropologists that created all the furor about race, and that were hell-bent
on delineating discrete human races. It was anthropologists who finally, after
decades of scientific research, decided that the kinds of races they were
trying to uncover didn't exist in the forms they expected. Unfortunately,
although within the discipline the word spread that we needed to change the
way we conceptualized biological diversity and its patterns of variability, we
were not very successful in spreading the word "out there," where our society
was busily constructing social and economic structures based on the definition
and concept we had been discrediting. My children, who are 15 and 17, were
still being taught that there were "four great races of man, white, black, red
and yellow" when they were in the sixth grade. Don't we have a responsibility
to try to rectify the situation we were instrumental in creating?

I think we do. I believe I have a pretty good understanding of how we are
currently conceptualizing biological variablility, but when I do diversity
workshops, or teach introductory anthropology courses of any sort, I use a
social constructionist definition of race, and talk about the adaptive value of
biological traits in populations when I am explaining how we now view human


Kimberly P. Martin, Ph.D. University of La Verne
Behavioral Science Department 1950 Third Street
Anthropology and Ethnic Studies La Verne, CA 91750
MartinK@ulvacs.ulaverne.edu (909) 593-3511 Ext. 4172