Coon and the Middle East

Thu, 23 Nov 1995 08:57:22 -0600

I want to agree with those who suggest labeling Coon racist and his work
therefore irrelevant is going somewhat overboard. It is far better to
explore his work especially in the context of the times, and of how our
understanding of human evolution developed especially since the 1950s when
the data base begins to expand to a point where the speculation on the
path/paths of human evolution is somewhat more grounded. Coon does, in
my view, represent a kind of archetype in old thinking, in reifying regional
variation of the hominid lines to suggest an early 'racial separation' - with
a subsequent emphasis on 'differential rates' of racial development. The
conclusions of such a line of thinking are easy to see.

All the same, singling out Coon is somewhat unfair and within that old line
school I would suggest he is one of the more interesting writers and thinkers.
Behind Coon are his mentors, people like Hrdlicka, Wissler and Hooton, some
of the founders of modern Physical Anthropology - and at least these three -
eugenicists to their very soul. Here is where there is an everflowing fountain
of racism and class prejudice that deserves some serious historical attention.
Take for example Vol1, No.1 of the Journal of Physical Anth, where without
blinking Hrdlicka speaks of the mission of Physical Anth as the preservation of
the white race. Hooton and Wissler were leaders of the American Eugenics Society
including in the 1930s when its publications openly praised the Nazi eugenics
program then getting underway in Germany which would claim some 200,000-300,000
lives through gassing of the mentally ill along with more than half a million
sterilizations of Germans - this BEFORE the final solution of the Jews was
worked out. Coon was really not involved, or was a small time player in this
stuff. While these other three, still respected, if not revered in certain
cirlces, as something of founding fathers, were really into all kinds of
skuzz whole hog and have hardly been taken to task for it. Kind of ironic
to see Coon getting all the blame. He's

As for Pat Shipman's book, from my perspective, what a disappointment. She
turns racism on its head, especially in the last half the book when she
tries to make Coon into a kind of martyr facing the wrath of overzealous
'politically correct' liberal minded anthros making up for a half century
of having been silent about racism in anthropology. As they say, gimme a break.

Rob Prince