"Race" and "Racism" poll results and thanks

Richard L. Warms (RW04@SWT.EDU)
Wed, 17 Apr 1996 16:03:02 -0500

Dear Anthro-L members

Here is my promised posting of results to the poll on race and
racism. As you will recall, I had asked if the words "race" and
"racism" could only be applied to post 1400 societies affected by
Western expansion. Please note that the question was not if race
was a sociological or a biological concept. The statistics I
have suggest that cultural anthropologists overwhelmingly believe
it is sociological and about 50% of physical anthropologists
agree. The question was rather ideas of race and racism were
specifically Western social constructs or if these terms can also
be used to describe essentialist systems of social stratification
found outside the Western context. Thus, we can certainly say
that castes in India or the Burakumin in Japan are examples of
social stratification and groups defined by essence, but are they
also examples of socially constructed race and is discrimination
against these essentially construed groups racist in these
systems? I'm not sure the results of my poll have brought me
closer to an answer to this question. What I did learn is that
few members of ANTH-L can simply agree or disagree with a
statement. Almost all respondents neither fully agreed or
disagreed and almost all elaborated on their responses. I've
appended many of these responses below (all stripped, I hope, of
information identifying their sources). In several cases I have
carried out fairly extensive correspondence with respondents and
this is not included below. My appologies for any distortions that
may have resulted from this.

My sense is that the majority of
respondents would feel comfortable with a passage identifying the
Burakumin as a socially constructed race and actions against them
as racist. The equivocal nature of most of the responses makes
it impossible for me to simply give the number of people who
agree or disagree with my original statement.

My thanks to everyone who responded to my poll. I greatly
appreciate the help you've given me on this issue.

Best regards,

Rich Warms

Responses, separated by "********"
First of all, the definition proposed is silly if it does not
stress that these 'ranked categories' are ones of perceived
biological difference.
Second, the 'ranked' part is probably too specific. Some are not.
Third, perceived social race is probably best restricted to those
situations in which the 'categories' are seen as large scale,
collective, and relatively permanent.

Fourth, no one would argue againt the assertion that the actual
words "race," etc. largely date from the 1500s on, but this isn't
a lot of help, as hardly anyone using the word 'race' until the
1700s refered specifically to one of the categories discussed
above; more likely to nationality or nation.
Fifth, on the other hand, it would be hard to argue that
Europeans didn't in some ways categorize racially beore this,
say, re: Ethiopians, Slavs, Arabs, Wild Men, Fantastic Races.
What was different wasn't the presence or lack of categories, but
their context and consequences. I could elaborate on this.
Sixth, there's no getting around the fact that key Others
identified during the first 250 years of exploration, discovery
and conquest inputed heavily into these ideas: new notions of
Negroes, Hottentots, American Indians, peoples of the Indies,
later Australian aboriginies, etc.

Seventh, but there were some (nevertheless European) trends that
are partially distinct: the rise of European nationalism and
national chauvinism, prhrenology, physical anthropology, etc.
Richard --- that question begs the point of the quote. "I would
say that race, as commonly understood today by anthropologists,
should be interpreted to mean..... " Laymen don't appreciate
the facts, the biology or lack thereof, etc... Read the April
Harper's article -conversation between Cornel West, African
American intellectual and Jorge Klor de Alva, Latino
intellectual AND anthropologist where West talks about the
historicity of the racial concept viz a viz American Blacks
while Klor de Alva debunks the racist hegemony of US social
structure and politics... interesting turnaround.
If you make me vote in your poll, to the skewed question, I would
have to vote Yes, yes, yes,no <g>
I pretty much agree, especially in the general sense that "race"
is a social construct.
I agree that race is a framework of ranked categories segmenting
the human population. I also think that race as it is used by
most people in the US is a sociological category. I think that
race is not a biological category. I do not know if biologists
use the race concept to describe analytical units in the way that
genus and species are used.

I disagree that such a framework was invented solely by western
Europeans beginning in the 1400s.

The Chinese independently invented systems of ranked categories
segmenting the human population as early as the Han dynasty. The
Chinese used markers similar to the ones that western Europeans
used/invented to distinguish races. Sociological and
physiological differences were either invented or noted and used
to explain differences. These differences and the hierarchical
relations implicit in them were consciously used in formulating
state policy towards non-Chinese; this is a consistent feature of
Chinese policy towards 'national minorities' even in the present.
Policy towards the indigenous populations of south-central and
southern China in the T'ang and the Sung was often based on
concepts that we can easily think of as race-based.

The history of Chinese colonization of Taiwan, particularly in
the period 1720 - 1860, is especially informative and broadly
parallel to Han (and later) concepts of non-Chinese. Taiwan's
aborigines (I mean by this nothing more than native people) were
divded into 2 categories. The category that accomodated the
Chinese was known as "assimilated aborigines" (the literal
translation of the Chinese ideographs is "cooked barbarians").
Those aborigines who resisted were categorized as "unassimilated
aborigines" (literally "raw barbarians").

Distinguished administrators who were detached to the island as
county and prefectural-level magistrates, and their superiors at
the provincial level, were acutely aware of the non-Chinese
population and paid close attention to aborigine policy. Poems
about Taiwan's aborigines written by one 19th. magistrate can be
read with a critical eye that keeps in mind our own concepts of
race and racism. (But I think that such a reading is less helpful
than one that examines the Chinese concepts on their own merits).

I disagree for the reasons above. The Han, T'ang and Sung were
all prior to the Christians' 14 century and therefore cannot have
been influenced by Christian thought of that time. I have never
found any evidence that 18th. and 19th. centruy Chinese
administrators on Taiwan were influenced by European influence on
the island, despite the fact that the Dutch (ca. 1630 - 1668) and
Spanish (ca. 1645 - 1660) had substantial
commercial/agricultural/transport centers there. In any event,
these European interlopers were rousted from the island and did
not, as far as I can tell, interact with middle and late Ch'ing
administrators sent from the mainland.
In general, I DO AGREE with the Sanjeck quote. However, the
'following...1400' part is weak historically speaking.
Classification systems may have been 'folk' at such an early
stage, but it was not, of course, until later that scientific
usages came into play -- always socially, politically and
historically endowed though.

I would encourage you to look at what the biological
anthropologists are saying about the concept at present. I
particularly liked George Armelagos' review in Evolutionary
Anthropology of a series of 'race' books. It is in Ev Anth 4(3):
103-108. He presents a vision of the place of 'race' in
contemporary (scientific and humanistic) anthropological thought.
For a different perspective, see Harpending's review of the same
books -- same issue of Ev Anth; 99-103. There is also a nice
section devoted to reviews of the Bell Curve in Current Anthro.
37 (suppl) Feb 1996 -- many good biological types and some
culturals too. One more, Loring Brace's review of Rushton's race
book in AA 98 (1): 176-177 is nice as well -- he brings in
Todorov's idea of racialism - as a mode of thought on types.
My own take is that the word "race" is one of those "ruined"
words, in that it's a potentially useful descriptor which has
become so entwined with discriminatory attitudes and with its
folkloric meanings that it using it to attempt to accurately and
scientifically describe human biological variation guarantees

The specific statement you ask about seems unlikely to be true (I
doubt those are the only racist peoples ever), but also seems to
me not to address the more important point above.
I agree with both quotes.
I agree, for the sake of the statistics.

However, this is without a deep delving into thinking about the
subject that existed prior to 1400. Without such deep delving,
it seems safe to say that the kinds of things that happened when
European peoples spread out and collided with non-European
peoples does not seem to have happened in other such situations,
either in kind or in degree, to the extent that, on the basis of
racist philosophy, 10 million human beings could be extracted
from their homeland, carried to an entirely new continent, and
forced to labor in the service of their masters, without pay.
I disagree with Sanjek's use of "race" and "racism" as it implies
nothing like "race" or "racism" existed prior to 1400 europe.
Had he said: I will use race to denote the concepts developed in
15th century europe.... (or something to that effect) it would
not be so objectionabble.
Sorry to respond late to your poll.
This is a complicated issue----usually when I commonly
describe the biological traits of certain populations whether
using Garn's taxonomy or others, we use the crude term "race,"
in contrast to "ethnicity" (ie., cultural traits). However, I
know that many physical anthropologists no longer use the term
"race" in any precise scientific sense. Jonathan Marks,
Lewontin, Montagu, Gould, et al., have weaned most of us away
from that usage.

Prior to the 1400s, it would appear that biology and culture
were mingled together, so that technically there was not a
distinction between "race" and "ethnicity." Dinesh D'Souza,
(whatever one thinks of his political views), seems to make a
valid argument suggesting that 'racism' and 'race' were
developed in the West. See his essay on this in the American
Scholar. Non-Western societies tended to be ethnocentric, and
plenty of nasty things happened as a result of these views, but
race did not appear to be a basic issue. I was persuaded by his
essay on this issue.
Thus, my answer to the survey is that ''race" and "racism"
were not "technically" issues before the expansion of Europe.