Re: Anthropology and Racism

Richard Reichart (reichart@PLUTO.NJCC.COM)
Thu, 30 Nov 1995 22:10:40 -0500

I welcome with thanks Vance Geiger's endorsement of my (unoriginal)
suggestion that it is anthropology's responsibility to expose the history
of its failed scholarly efforts to understand "race" -- the intuitively
obvious, historically validated, but scientifically untenable relationship
between observable human physical and cultural traits.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is a case in which
anthropology should be presented in a scientific rather than an historical
context. It's not so much the history of thinking about race which should
be taught as the paradigm that populations' different physical traits do
not cause or predict their behavioral differences, which are instead
purely the product of cultural experiences. In this sense, how
anthropology got where it is now is no more important than how physics got
where it is now.

I am not familiar enough with the content of either physical or cultural
anthropology to offer much in the way of specific suggestions. However,
assuming that there are anthropological theories and hypotheses as there
are in physics, sharing the _scientific_ problems which anthropology
is now concerned to understand could go far in reducing student's (and
the general population's) tendency to use the convenient but outmoded
terminology of race.

To illustrate: are there any anthropological scholars today who would
doubt the proposition that a baby from any part of the world, taken to and
brought up in the culture of another part of the world, would become in
every significant _human_ sense a member of the population which raised
it, and not of the genetic population into which it was born?

I would think that a considerable proportion of the U.S. population
represents, in effect, experimental verification of the hypothesis.
European-, African-, Hispanic-, Chinese-, and essentially every
hyphenated-American group's members show far more of the post-hyphen than
the pre-hyphen cultural style; special clubs and schools are needed to
maintain even approximate ties to the ways of "the old country."

Except for the corrupting influence of racism, of course, including the
imposition of social and economic limits (or opportunities) based on
superficial physical appearance.

[I never said I wasn't an anti-racist ideologue, did I? :-) ]

... Dick Reichart