Re: Coon and Middle East

Huddleston Lee Eldridge (fe46@JOVE.ACS.UNT.EDU)
Wed, 22 Nov 1995 19:41:35 -0600

On Wed, 22 Nov 1995, Torgrim Hoff wrote:

> I am sorry if I suggested a book even to be labeled racist - (did you
> really mean that, Ruby?) like Coon=B4s just was.
> I did not read that book myself, but I was suggested to suggest it, so to=
> Bates and Eickelman I did read, and still occasionally do.

I did read Coon's books, including the revision of his ORIGINS OF=20
RACES, more than 30 years ago. I also read the reviews which labeled the=20
latter book "racist." I thought then, and still think, the charge to be=20
unfair and based in a (possibly intentional) misunderstanding of the=20
equivocal nature of the word "race."
On the one hand there was/is a growing number of people, including=20
professional, who did not see beyond the deplorable inclination to view=20
race within a moral construct which was/is widely used to "validate" the=20
presumption that racial differences imply a superiority/inferiority=20
relationship between races. I have not found anything in Coon's work that=
even vaguely suggest he thought any "race" inferior or superior to any=20
What Coon did do was argue in favor of a very early differentiation of=
hominids into races which then evolved separately, though without=20
speciation resulting. As my then roommate, now with the Anthropology=20
Department at U Missouri (Columbia) stated bluntly, that suggestion, in=20
and of itself, made Coon a racist.
Therein lies the equivocation. From a strictly biological point of=20
view (but without the moral dimension), Coon perhaps was a "racist." But,=
given the common understanding of that term, it was not and is not valid=20
to call Coon a racist. Coon did run counter to both theology and biology=20
by endorsing a degree of polygeny, i.e., multiple origins for the various=
human groups perceived as races. Even when Coon wrote, race had long=20
since lost its usefulness as a biological term because it could not be=20
divorced from the overwhelming commonality of the moral context imposed=20
by socio-political rhetoric.
In the common sense of the term racist, Coon was innocent of the=20
charges. It was/is his implied acceptance of polygeny which should be=20
scrutinized, but scrutinized from within a purely biological context=20
devoid of equivocation and name-calling.
As a historian, I am not competent to that task; but there are many on=
this list who are.

Lee Huddleston