Re: Any thoughts?

Joyce Lucke (jlucke@INDYVAX.IUPUI.EDU)
Sat, 27 Jul 1996 15:12:32 -0500

Thanks to everyone who responded to my original post regarding the the San
and if they store water in their buttocks. I did not relate the action I
took to find out others' reactions. Mostly to see if you had the same as I
did (which most did).

The day the geographer's and my shared students came to me about this we did
discuss it in class. The initial reaction by the students was that his
remarks were racist and/or offensive on some level. I asked to look at
their geography notes to make sure it wasn't one student misinterpreting
what was said in this other class. They all uniformly had in their notes
that the San store water in their butts like camels! I am not a physical
anthro so I told them I was sure this was incorrect but would research it to
get my info straight.

I spoke with several people I thought would have greater insight into this
statement (anatomists, biologists and two physical anthros). All were
appalled by his statements and referred me to information on steatopygia,
which is a condition of storing fat not water (by the way the same as a
camel does; the geographer was right on this count), but all also said the
reason for this condition in southern African populations (in specific
Hottentots which are related to the San if I remember) is not clearly
understood. It does seem to be associated with the racial classification of
Khosian (spelling may be wrong).

Anyway, armed with information from those more informed than I on the human
body, I spoke with the geographer. He first claimed to have gotten his
information from the book by Elizabeth Thomas Marshall "The Harmless
People." I dug out my copy, reread it and could find no such information.
When asked again about his comments, he claimed to have gotten his
information from EXPERTS at the Capetown Natural History Museum on a visit
of twenty years ago (which included a lecture by a "black native
professor"). I countered by saying if he didn't think that a museum in
South Africa twenty years ago didn't have racial motivations or exhibits
didn't have racial implications, he was naive. I gave him copies of
materials that had been given to me (by MY experts) as a way for him to
update his information. He saw no reason to revise his lecture content and
gave it back to me.

Since this, he has offered me serveral references that support his idea of
steatopygia (which he does acknowledge as a physical condition). He also
has referred me to an author (discipline unknown) who has studied the
differences between the races, and who supports his general ideas. I have
been told that if I have a problem with what he teaches I should take it up
with this author.

I have discussed this in class a number of times. In many ways it was been
good because the students have had the opportunity to look at an issue from
two perspectives. We have discussed how to weigh evidence and how to sort
through it all to come up with an opinion. It also made a good example of
how people can use information to discredit, put down or suppress a group of
people who are different from oneself.

Thanks again to all who replied. Like many of you asked, you hope that its
a put on but in the real world, people say/believe these things. And people
in positions to pass it on, do.
Joyce Lucke
Department of Anthropology
Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus
4601 Central Avenue
Columbus, IN 47203-1769