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S URELY WE’VE all heard people say there is only one race — the human race. We’ve also heard and seen overwhelming evidence that would seem to contradict this view. After all, the U.S. Census di- vides us into groups based on race, and there are c e rtainly observable physical differences among p e o p l e — skin color, nose and eye shape, body type, hair color and texture, and so on. In the world of

education, the message of racial differences as biological “f a c t s” is re- i n f o rced when we are told that we should understand specific learn- ing styles and behavior patterns of black, Asian, Native American, white, and Latino children and when books such as The Bell Cu rve make pseudoscientific claims about race and learning.1

How can educators make sense of these conflicting messages about race? And why should they bother? Whether we think of all human beings as one

race, or as four or five distinct races, or as hundreds of races, does anything really change? If we accept that the con- cept of race is fundamentally flawe d , does that mean that young African Americans are less likely to be followe d by security guards in department store s ? A re people going to stop thinking of Asians as the “m o d e l” minority? Wi l l racism become a thing of the past?

How Real Is Race? Using Anthropology to Make Sense Of Human Diversity Race is not a scientifically valid biological category, and yet it re m a i n s i m p o rtant as a socially constructed category. Once educators grasp this concept, they can use the suggestions and re s o u rces the authors off e r h e re to help their students make sense of race.


CAROL MUKHOPADHYAY is a professor in the Department of Anthropology, San José State University, San José, Calif., where ROSEMARY C. HENZE is an associate pro- fessor in the Department of Linguistics and Language Development. They wish to thank Gilberto Arriaza, Paul Erickson, Alan Good- man, and Yolanda Moses for their comments on this article.


Many educators understandably would like to have clear information to help them teach students about hu- man biological va r i a b i l i t y. While mul- ticultural education materials are now widely available, they rarely address basic questions about why we look dif- f e rent from one another and what these biological differences do (and do not) mean. Multicultural education empha- s i zes respecting differences and finding ways to include all stu- dents, especially those who h a ve been historically mar- g i n a l i zed. Multicultural ed- ucation has helped us to un- derstand racism and has pro- vided a rich body of litera- ture on antiracist teaching strategies, and this has been all to the good. But it has not helped us understand the two concepts of race: the biological one and the social one.

In this article, we explain what anthropologists mean when they say that “races don’t exist” (in other words, when they reject the concept of race as a scientifically valid biolog- ical category) and why they argue in- stead that “race” is a socially con- structed category. We’ll also discuss why this is such an important under- standing and what it means for edu- cators and students who face the so- cial reality of race and racism every d a y. And finally, we’ll offer some sug- gestions and resources for teachers who want to include teaching about race in their classes.


For the past several decades, bio- logical anthropologists have been ar- guing that races don’t really exist, or, more precisely, that the concept of race has no validity as a biological cat-

egory. What exactly does this mean? First, anthropologists are unrav-

eling a deeply embedded ideology, a long-standing European and Amer- ican racial world view.2 Historically, the idea of race emerged in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, coin- ciding with the growth of colonial- ism and the transatlantic slave trade. Attempts were made to classify hu- mans into “natural,” geographically

distinct “races,” hierarchically ord e re d by their closeness to God’s original forms. Europeans were, not surpris- ingly, at the top, with the most per- fect form represented by a female skull from the Caucasus Mountains, near the purported location of No ah’s a rk and the origin of humans. He n c e the origins of the racial term “Cau- casian” or “Caucasoid” for those of European ancestry.3

In the late 19th century, anthro- pologists sought to reconstruct hu- man prehistory and trace the evolu- tion of human cultural institutions. Physical and cultural evolution were seen as moving in tandem; “advanc- es” in human mental capacity were thought to be responsible for human cultural inventions, such as marriage, family, law, and agriculture. If cul- tural “e vo l u t i o n” was propelled by bi- ological evolution, according to this logic, the more “advanced” cultures

must be more biologically and intel- lectually evo l ved. Physical indicators of evo l u t i o n a ry rank, such as skull size , were sought in order to classify and rank human groups along an evolu- tionary path from more “primitive” to more “advanced” races.

Ni n e t e e n t h – c e n t u ry Eu ropean sci- entists disagreed on when the “races” began. Theologians had long argued that there was “one human origin,”

Adam and Eve, and that certain races subsequently “d e g e n e r a t e d” (pre d i c t a b l y, the non-Eu ropeans). So m e e vo l u t i o n a ry scientists, how- e ve r, began to argue for mul- tiple origins, with distinct races evolving in different places and times. By the be- ginning of the 20th century, Eu ropean and American sci- ence viewed races as natural, long-standing divisions of the human species, evolv- ing at different rates bio-

logically and hence culturally. By such logic was racial inequality naturalize d and legitimized.

When contemporary scientists, in- cluding anthropologists, assert that races are not scientifically valid, they a re rejecting at least three fundamen- tal premises of this old racial ideol- ogy: 1) the archaic subspecies concept, 2) the divisibility of contemporary humans into scientifically valid bio- logical groupings, and 3) the link be- t ween racial traits and social, cultur- al, and political status.

1. There were no distinct, archaic human subspecies. The first premise a n t h ropologists reject is that humans we re originally divided, by nature or God, into a small set of biologically distinct, fixed species, subspecies, or races. Anthropologists now know con- clusively, from fossil and DNA evi- dence, that contemporary humans are one variable species, with our roots

For the past several decades, biol o g i c a l

a n t h ropologists have been a rguing that the concept of

race has no validity as a biological category.

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in Africa, which moved out of Africa into a wide range of environments around the world, producing hun- d reds, perhaps thousands, of cultur- ally and genetically distinct popula- tions. Local populations, through nat- ural selection as well as random ge- netic mutation, acquired some dis- t i n c t i ve genetic traits, such as shove l – shaped incisor teeth, hairy ears, or re d h a i r. Adaptation to human cultural in- ve n t i o n s — such as agriculture, which creates concentrations of water that allow malaria-carrying mosquitoes to bre e d — also produced higher fre- quencies of sickle-cell genes (related to malaria resistance) in human pop- ulations in some parts of Africa, In- dia, Arabia, and the Me d i t e r r a n e a n .4

At the same time, continuous migra- tion and intermating between local pop- ulations pre vented us from branching off into distinct subspecies or species and instead created a richer and more variable gene pool, producing new combinations and permutations of the human genome.

Human pre h i s t o ry and history, then, are a continuing story of fusion and fission, of a myriad of populations, emerging and shifting over time and space, sometimes isolated temporari- l y, then fusing and producing new for- mations. There have been thousands and thousands of groups thro u g h o u t

human history, marrying in and, more often, out; they have disappeared and reemerged in new forms over time.

In short, there are no “basic” or “ancient” races; there are no stable, “natural,” permanent, or even long- standing groupings called races. T h e re h a ve never have been any “p u re” races. All human populations are histori- cally specific mixtures of the human gene pool. This is human evolution, and we see these same processes at work in the 19th and 20th centuries and today. “Races” are ephemeral — here today, gone tomorrow.

2. Contemporary humans are not divisible into biological races. When anthropologists say races aren’t bio- logically real, they also reject the idea that modern humans can be divided into scientifically valid, biologically distinct groupings or races. For races to be real as biological categories, the classification must be based on ob- jective, consistent, and reliable bio- logical criteria. The classification sys- tem must also have predictive value that will make it useful in research.

Scientists have demonstrated that both the concept of race and racial criteria are subjective, arbitrary, and inconsistently applied.5 U.S. racial categories, such as the ones used in the Census, aren’t valid in part be- cause the biological attributes used to

define races and create racial classi- fications rely on only a few visible, su- p e rficial, genetic traits — such as skin color and hair texture — and ignore the remaining preponderance of hu- man variation. Alternative, equally vis- ible racial classifications could be con- s t ructed using such criteria as hair col- o r, e ye color, height, weight, ear shape, or hairiness. However, there are less visible genetic traits that have far gre a t- er biological significance. For exam- ple, there are at least 13 genetic factors related to hemoglobin, the protein that helps carry oxygen to tissues, and there is also significant variation in the ABO, RH, and other blood systems. We could create racial classifications based on genetic factors that affect susceptibil- ity to diabetes or to certain kinds of breast cancer or to the ability to di- gest milk. In sum, given the variety of possible biologically based traits for classifying human beings, the cri- teria used in U.S. racial categorizations are highly arbitrary and subjective. Our discussion here focuses on the U.S. concept of race. While racial con- cepts a re no doubt similar in Canada and Eu rope, this is not true in other parts of the Americas.6

The number of potential biolog- ically based racial groupings is enor- mous. Not only are there millions of


genetic traits, but most genetic traits — even culturally salient but super- ficial traits such as skin color, hair tex- t u re, eye shape, and eye color — do not cluster together. Darker skin can cluster with straight hair as well as with very curly hair or with hairy or nonhairy bodies; paler skin can clus- ter with straight or curly hair or with black or blond hair or with lighter to darker eyes. Each trait could pro- duce a different racial classification. For example, if one used height as a criterion rather than skin pigmenta- tion, then the No rthern Afghan pop- ulation would be in the same racial c a t e g o ry as the Swedes and the Tu t s i of Rwanda. There are huge numbers of genetically influenced traits, visi- ble and nonvisible, which could be used to classify humans into biolog- ically distinct groups. T h e re is no “n a t- u r a l” classification — no co-occurring clusters of racial traits. T h e re are just alternatives, with different implica- tions and uses.

Racial classifications are also un- scientific because they are unre l i a b l e and unstable over time. Individuals cannot reliably be “raced,” partly be-

cause the criteria are so subjective and unscientific. Robert Hahn, a medi- cal anthropologist, found that 37% of babies described as Native Ameri- can on their birth certificates ended up in a different racial category on their death certificates.7 Racial iden- tifications by forensic anthro p o l o g i s t s , long touted as accurate, have been shown to be disturbingly unreliable, e ven in re l a t i vely ethnically homo- geneous areas, such as Missouri and Ohio.8 Forensic evidence from such urban areas as San José, California, or New Yo rk City is even more pro b- l e m a t i c .

Racial categories used by the U.S. Census Bureau have changed over time. In 1900, races included “mu- latto, quadroon, or octoroon” in ad- dition to “black.” Southern Eu ro p e a n s and Jews we re deemed to be separate races before World War II. Asian In- dians (“Hindus”) were initially cate- g o r i zed as “Caucasoid” — e xcept for voting rights. The number and defi- nitions of races in the most recent U.S. Census reflect the instability — and hence unre l i a b i l i t y — of the con- cept of race. And U.S. racial classifi-

cations simply don’t work in much of the rest of the world. Brazil is a clas- sic, often-studied example, but they also don’t work in South Asia, an are a that includes over one-fifth of the world’s population.

Historical and contemporary Eu- ropean and American racial categories a re huge, biologically diverse macro – categories. Members of the same ra- cial group tend to be similar in a few genetic ways that are often biologi- cally irre l e vant. Mo re ove r, the genet- ic variability found within each ra- cial grouping is far greater than the genetic similarity. Africa, by itself, is home to distinct populations whose average height ranges from less than five feet (the Mbuti) to over six feet (the Tutsi). Estimates suggest that con- temporary racial variation accounts for less than 7% of all human genet- ic va r i a t i o n .9 U.S. races, then, are not biologically distinct or biologically m e a n i n gful, scientifically based gro u p- ings of the human species.

3. Race as biology has no scientific value. An additional critique of the concept of race is that racial cate- gories, as defined biologically, are not

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very useful in understanding other phenomena, whether biological or cul- t u r a l .

T h e re is no substantial evidence that race, as a biological category, and “r a- c i a l” characteristics, such as skin col- or, hair texture, and eye shape, are causally linked to behavior, to capac- ities, to individual and group accom- plishments, to cultural institutions, or to propensities to engage in any spe- cific activities. In the area of academ- ic achievement, the focus on race as biology can lead re s e a rchers to ignore underlying nonbiological causal fac- tors. One classic study found that con- t rolling for socioeconomic and other environmental variables eliminated p u r p o rted “r a c i a l” differences in I.Q. s c o res and academic achievement be- tween African American, Mexican American, and European American students.10

Health professionals have also cri- tiqued the concept of race. Alan Go o d- man and others have shown that race does not help physicians with diagno- sis, prevention, or treatment of med- ical diseases.11 Racial categories and a false ideology of race as “biology” encourage both doctors and their pa- tients to view medical conditions as necessarily genetic, ignoring possible e n v i ronmental sources. Hy p e rt e n s i o n , infant birt h weights, osteoporosis, ova r- ian c y s t s — all traditionally viewed as “r a c i a l” (i.e., genetically based) — n ow seem to reflect environmental rather than racially linked genetic factors. The Centers for Disease Control con- cluded in 1993 that most associations between race and disease have no ge- netic or biological basis and that the concept of “r a c e” is there f o re not use- ful in public health.

As a result of recent evolution and constant interbreeding between gro u p s of humans, two individuals from dif- f e rent “races” are just as likely to be m o re similar to one another genetic-

ally than two individuals from the same “race.” This being so, race-as- biology has no predictive value.


Classifications are usually created for some purpose. Alan Goodman and other biological anthro p o l o g i s t s suggest that investigators focus on using traits relevant to the problem at hand. For example, if a particular blood factor puts an individual at risk for a disease, then classify indi- viduals on that basis for that purpose.

Some suggest using the term “p o p- u l a t i o n” or “breeding population” to refer to the multitude of small, often geographically localized, groups that have developed high frequencies of one or more somewhat distinctive bi- ological traits (e.g., shovel-shaped in- cisors) in response to biological, his- torical, and cultural factors. But oth- ers point out that there could be thou- sands of such groups, depending on the classifying criteria used, and that the groups would be merging and re- combining over time and space. Mo re- ove r, the variability “c a p t u re d” would reflect only a fraction of the va r i a b i l- ity in the human species.

Most anthropologists now use the concept of “c l i n e s” to help understand how genetic traits are distributed.12

New data indicate that biological traits, such as blood type or skin color, are distributed in geographic gradations or “clines”; that is, the frequency of a trait varies continuously over a geo- graphic area. For example, the genes for type B blood increase in fre q u e n- cy in an east-to-west direction (re- flecting, in part, the travels of Gen- ghis Khan and his army). In contrast, skin pigmentation grades from nort h to south, with increasing pigmenta- tion as one gets closer to the equator. The frequency of the gene for sickle cell decreases from West Africa mov-

ing northeast. Vi rtually all traits have distinct geo-

graphic distributions. Genes contro l- ling skin color, body size and shape (head, limbs, lips, fingers, nose, ears), hairiness, and blood type are each dis- tributed in different patterns over ge- ographic space. Once again, for bio- logical races to exist, these traits would have to co-vary, but they don’t. In- stead, biological traits produce a near- ly infinite number of potential races. This is why anthropologists conclude that there are no scientifically distin- guishable biological races — only thou- sands of clines!


We hope we have made the point that the concept of separate, biolog- ically distinct human races is not sci- entifically defensible. Unfortunate- ly, racial ideology, by focusing on a few physical attributes, traps us in- to a discourse about race as biology rather than race as a cultural constru c- tion. The concept of race is a cultural i n vention, a culturally and historical- ly specific way of thinking about, cat- egorizing, and treating human beings.1 3

It is about social divisions within so- c i e t y, about social categories and iden- tities, about power and privilege. It has been and remains a particular type of ideology for legitimizing social in- equality between groups with differ- ent ancestries, national origins, and histories. Indeed, the concept of race is also a major system of social iden- tity, affecting one’s own self-percep- tion and how one is perc e i ved and tre a t- ed by others.

But race does have a biological com- ponent, one that can trick us into think- ing that races are scientifically valid, biological subdivisions of the human species. As noted earlier, geographic- ally localized populations — as a re s u l t of adaptation, migration, and chance


— tend to have some characteristic physical traits. While these may be traits that characterize an entire pop- ulation, such as hairy ears, it is more accurate to talk about the re l a t i ve fre- quency of a particular trait, such as blood type O, in one population as compared to another, or the relative amount of pigmentation of individu- als in a population, relative to other populations. Some traits, such as skin color, reflect climatic conditions; oth- ers, such as eye color and shape, probably reflect ran- dom, historical processes and migration patterns. T h e U.S. was peopled by pop- ulations from geographic- ally distinct regions of the w o r l d — vo l u n t a ry immi- grants, forced African slave s , and indigenous American groups. Therefore, domi- nant northwestern Euro- pean ethnic groups, such as the English and Germans, were able to exploit certain visually salient biological traits, especially skin color, as markers of race.

The effectiveness of these physi- cal traits as markers of one’s race de- pended, of course, on their being pre- s e rved in future generations. So dom- inant cultural groups created elabo- rate social and physical barriers to mating, reproduction, and marriage that crossed racial lines. The most ex- plicit were the so-called anti-misce- genation laws, which outlawed sex between members of different races, whether married or not. These laws were not declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court until the 1967 case of L ov i n g v. Vi r g i n i a.1 4 A n- other vehicle was the cultural defini- tion of kinship, whereby children of interracial (often forced) matings ac- q u i red the racial status of their lowe r – ranking parent; this was the so-called

o n e – d rop rule or hypodescent. Espe- cially during the time of slavery, the lower-ranking parent was generally the mother, and thus the long-stand- ing Eu ropean cultural tradition of af- filiating socially “legitimate” childre n with the father’s kinship group was effectively reversed.

In contrast, there have been few- er social or legal barriers in the U.S.

to mating and marriage between It a l- ians, British, Germans, Swedes, and others of European ancestry. Con- sequently, the physical and cultural characteristics of European region- al populations are less evident in the U.S. With intermarriage, distinct Eu- ropean identities were submerged in the culturally re l e vant macroracial cat- e g o ry of “w h i t e” — m o re accurately, European American.

Thus even the biological dimen- sion of contemporary racial gro u p i n g s is the result of sociocultural process- es. That is, humans as cultural beings first gave social significance to some physical differences between groups and then tried to perpetuate these “r a- cial mark e r s” by pre venting social and physical intercourse between mem- bers of the groups. Although the dom- inant racial ideology was about main- taining racial “purity,” the issue was

not about biology; it was about main- taining social, political, and econom- ic privilege.15


We hope we’ve convinced you that race isn’t biologically “real” and that race in the U.S. and elsewhere

is a historical, social, and cultural creation. But so what? What is the signifi- cance of this way of view- ing race for teachers, stu- dents, and society?

1 . The potential for change. First, it is important to un- derstand that, while races a re biological fictions, they a re social realities. Race may not be “re a l” in a biological sense, but it surely is “re a l” s o c i a l l y, politically, econom- i c a l l y, and psyc h o l o g i c a l l y. Race and racism pro f o u n d- ly s t ru c t u re who we are, how

we are treated, how we treat others, and our access to re s o u rces and rights.

Perhaps the most important mes- sage educators can take from the fore- going discussion is that race, racial classifications, racial stratification, and other forms of racism, including ra- cial ideology, rather than being part of our biology, are part of our cul- ture. Like other cultural forms, both the concept of race and our racial clas- sifications a re part of a system we have created. This means that we have the ability to change the system, to trans- form it, and even to totally eradicate it. Educators, in their role as trans- mitters of official culture, are partic- ularly well poised to be active change agents in such a transformation.

But how, you may well ask, can teachers or anybody else make peo- ple stop classifying by race? And are t h e re any good reasons to do so? T h e s e

Race, racial c l a s s i f i c a t i o n s, racial stratification, and other

forms of racism, including racial ideology, rather than

being part of our biology, are part of our culture.

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familiar categories — black, white, Asian, Native American, and so on — seem so embedded in U.S. socie- t y. They seem so “natural.” Of course, t h a t’s how culture works. It seems “n a t- u r a l” to think of chicken, but not rats, as food. But, as we have shown above , the labels and underlying constructs that we use to talk about human di- versity are unstable, depending on par- ticular social, political, and historical contexts. Individuals in positions of a u t h o r i t y, of course, have the ability to change them institutionally. But o rd i n a ry people also have the ability to change how they classify and label people in their everyday lives.

Se veral questions arise at this point. Do we as educators consciously want to change our way of conceptualiz- ing and discussing human biological variation? What makes the “race as biology” assumption so dangerous? A re we going to continue to classify people by race, even while recogniz- ing that it is a social construct? What vested interests do people have in hold- ing o n t o — or re j e c t i n g — racial cat- egories? How can we become more sophisticated in our understanding of how systems of classification work while also becoming more critical of our own ways of classifying people? Are there alternative ways of think- ing about, classifying, and labeling human beings that might be more em- powering for students, teachers, and community members? By eliminat- ing or changing labels, will we change the power stru c t u res that perpetuate privilege and entitlement? Moving be- yond race as biology forces us to con- front these and other issues.

2. The dangers of using racial clas- sifications. Categories and classifica- tions are not intrinsically good or bad. People have always grouped others in ways that were important within a given society. However, the myth of race as biology is dangerous because

it conflates physical attributes, such as skin color, with unrelated qualities, such as intelligence. Racial labels de- lude people into thinking that race p redicts such other outcomes and be- haviors as achievement in sports, mu- sic, or school; rates of employment; p regnancies outside marriage; or dru g use. Race was historically equated with intelligence and, on that basis, was used to justify slave ry and education- al discrimination; it later provided the rationale that supported the genocide of Jews, blacks, Gypsies, and other “ i n f e r i o r” races under Hi t l e r. So using racial categories brings along this his- t o ry, like unwanted baggage.

Ma c roracial categories are danger- ous in that the categories ove r s i m p l i- fy and mask complex human differ- ences. Saying that someone is Asian tells us virtually nothing concrete, but it brings with it a host of stere o t y p e s , such as “model minority,” “quiet,” “good at math,” “inscrutable,” and so on. Yet the Asian label includes a wide range of groups, such as Kore- ans, Filipinos, and Vietnamese, with distinct histories and languages. The same is true for “white,” a term that h o m o g e n i zes the multiple nationali- ties, languages, and cultures that con- stitute Europe. The label “African A m e r i c a n” ignores the enormous lin- guistic, physical, and cultural diver- sity of the peoples of Africa. The term “black” conflates people of African descent who we re brought to the U.S. as slaves with recent immigrants fro m Africa and the Caribbean. These mac- roracial labels oversimplify and re d u c e human diversity to four or five giant g roups. Ap a rt from being bad science, these categories don’t predict anything helpful — yet they have acquired a life of their own.

Macroracial categories, such as those used in the U.S. Census and other institutional data-collection ef- f o rts, force people to use labels that

may not re p resent their own self-iden- tity or classifying system. They must either select an existing category or select “o t h e r” — by definition, a kind of nonidentity. The impossibility, un- til re c e n t l y, of selecting more than one ethnic/racial category implicitly stig- m a t i zes multiracial individuals. And the term “m i xe d” wrongly implies that t h e re are such things as “p u re” races, an ideology with no basis in science. The recent expansion of the number of U.S. Census categories still cannot accommodate the diversity of the U.S. population, which includes people whose ancestry ranges from Egypt, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Ghana, and the Do- minican Republic to Iceland and Ko- re a .

3 . How macro racial categories have s e rved people in positive ways. Ha v i n g noted some negative aspects, it is equal- ly important to discuss how macro- racial categories also serve society. Re- call that labels are not intrinsically “good” or “bad.” It depends on what people do with them. During the 1960s, the U.S. civil rights move m e n t helped bring about consciousness and pride in being African American. T h i s consciousness — known by terms such as ethnic pride and black power — united people who had been the vic- tims of racism and oppression. Fro m that consciousness sprang such edu- cational interventions as black and Chicano history classes, ethnic stud- ies departments, Afrocentric schools, and other efforts to empower yo u n g people. The movement to engender pride in and knowledge of one’s ances- t ry has had a powe rful impact. Ma n y individuals are deeply attached to these racial labels as part of a positive iden- t i t y. As one community activist put it, “Why should I give up being a race? I like being a race.”

Racial classification can also have positive impact by allowing educa- tors to monitor how equitably our


institutions are serving the public. Racial categories are used by schools to disaggregate data on student out- comes, including achievement, atten- dance, discipline, course placements, college attendance rates, and other a reas of school and student perf o r m- ance. These data are then used to ex- amine whether certain groups of stu- dents are disproportionately repre- sented in any outcome areas. For ex- ample, a school might discover that the percentage of Latino students who receive some type of disciplinary in- t e rvention is higher than that for oth- er school populations. The school can then consider what it can do to change this outcome. Teachers might ask, Is t h e re something about the way Lati- no students are treated in the school that leads to higher disciplinary re f e r- ral rates? What other factors might be involved?

The racial classifications that ed- ucators use to monitor student out- come data reflect our society’s social c o n s t ruction of race. As such, the cat- egories re p resent groups that have been historically disenfranchised, oppre s s e d , or marginalized. Without data disag- gregated by race, gender, and other categories, it would be difficult to iden- tify problems stemming from race- based institutional and societal fac- tors that privilege certain groups, such as the widespread U.S. practice of track- ing by so-called ability. Without data broken out according to racial, gen- der, and ethnic categories, schools would not be able to assess the posi- t i ve impact intervention programs have had on different groups of students.

4 . Shifting the conversation from bi- o l o gy to culture. One function of the myth of race as biology has been to distract us from the underlying caus- es of social inequality in the United States. Dismantling the myth of race as biology means that we must now shift our focus to analyzing the social,

economic, political, and historical con- ditions that breed and serve to per- petuate social inequality. For educa- tors, this means helping students to recognize and understand socioeco- nomic stratification, who benefits and who is harmed by racial discrimina- tion, and how we as individuals and institutional agents can act to dis- mantle ideologies, institutions, and practices that harm young people.

There is another, more profound implication of the impermanence of race. Cu l t u re, acting collective l y, and humans, acting individually, can make races disappear.That is, we can mate and marry across populations, thus destroying the racial “markers” that have been used to facilitate categori- zation and differential treatment of people of different ancestry and so- cial rank. An understanding of hu- man biological variation reveals the positive, indeed essential, role that intermating and intermarriage have played in human evolution and hu- man adaptation. Rather than “mon- g re l i z i n g” a “p u re species,” mating be- t ween d i f f e rent populations enriches the genetic pool. It is society, rather than nature — and socially and eco- nomically stratified societies, for the most part — that restricts social and sexual intercourse and seve rely penal- i zes those who mate across racial and other socially created lines.


A n t h ropological knowledge about race informs us about what race is and is not, but it cannot guide edu- cational decision making. The under- lying goal of social justice can help educators in making policy decisions, such as whether to use racial and eth- nic categories to monitor education- al outcomes. As long as we contin- ue to see racially based disparities in

young peoples’ school achievement, then we must monitor and investi- gate the social conditions that pro- duce these disparities. We must be care- ful, however, to avoid “biologizing” the classification; that is, we must avo i d assuming genetic explanations for ra- cial d i f f e rences in behaviors and edu- cational outcomes or even diseases.

As we pursue a more socially just world, educators should also contin- ue to support young people’s quest for knowledge about the history and s t ruggles of their own people, as we l l as those of other groups, so that stu- dents in the future will not be able to point to their textbooks and say, “My people are not included in the curriculum.” In the process, we can encourage both curiosity about and respect for human diversity, and we can emphasize the importance that historical and social context plays in creating social inequality. We can al- so encourage comparative studies of racial and other forms of social strat- ification, further challenging the no- tion that there is a biological expla- nation for oppression and inequality. In short, students will understand that there is no biological explanation for a gro u p’s historical position as either oppressed — or oppressor. We can encourage these studies to point out variations and fine distinctions with- in human racial groupings.

In addition to viewing the tre a t m e n t of race and racial categories through a social-justice lens, we would apply another criterion that we call “d e p t h of knowledge.” We believe that it is important to challenge and inspire young people by exposing them to the best of our current knowledge in the sciences, social sciences, and oth- er disciplines. Until now, most stu- dents in our education system have not been exposed to systematic, sci- entifically based teaching about race and human biological variation. On e

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reason is that many social studies teach- ers may think they lack sufficient back- g round in genetics and human biol- o g y. At the same time, many biology teachers may feel uncomfortable teach- ing about race as a social construct. The null move for teachers seems to be to say that we should all be “c o l o r blind.” However, this does not help educate students about human dive r- s i t y, both biological and social. In rare cases when students have the oppor- tunity to engage in studies of race, ethnicity, culture, and ways to end racism, they are both interested and intellectually challenged.1 6 One high school teacher who teaches students about race said he wants to dispel the notion that teaching about dive r s i t y is “touchy feely.” “We don’t just want to touch diversity; we want to ap- proach it academically. . . . We feel we have a definite discipline.”17

Rather than shield students and our- s e l ves from current scientific knowl- edge about race, including its contra- dictions and controversies, we sub- mit that educators should be pro- viding opportunities for students to learn what anthropologists, geneti- cists, and other scientists, inc l u d i n g social scientists, have to say about hu- man biological variation and the is- sue of race. Particularly in midd l e schools, high schools, and beyond, students should be involved in in- q u i ry projects and social action projects, in critical examination of the labels we currently use, and in

analysis of the reasons for and against using them in particular c o n t e x t s . Rather than tell students that they should or should not use racial lab e l s ( e xcept for slurs), educators should be c reating pro jects in which students explore together the range of possi- ble ways of classifying people and the i mplications and political signifi- cance of alternative approaches in different contexts.

We would like to conclude by of- fering readers some ideas for student inquiry and by suggesting some re- sources that can serve to get teach- ers in all subject areas started on the quest to learn about human biolog- ical variation and ways to teach about it.

1. Ideas for student inquiry. Here are some examples of how teachers might engage students in critically examining the social, historical, and cultural construction of racial cate- gories.

• Have students create and em- p l oy alternative “r a c i a l” classification schemes using as many observable and nonobservable physical differe n c- es as they can think of (e.g., foot size , height, ear shape, eye b row shape, waist/ shoulder ratio, hairiness). What do the groups look like? What does this tell us about macroracial classifica- tions based on skin pigmentation and other surface features?

• Sh ow students U.S. Census forms from 1870, 1950, and 2000, and ask them to place themselves in the most

a p p ropriate category. Or show a photo- graph of a person of multiple ethnic a n c e s t ry and ask students to place this person in one of the categories from these three censuses. Ask them why they think the census form has changed over time and what that says about the meaning of “race.”

• Ask immigrant students to in- vestigate the racial/ethnic categories used in their country of origin and to reflect on how well they mesh with the U.S. categories. For example, have students from Mexico taken on an identity as Latino or Hispanic? And what does it mean for them to be- come part of a larger “macro” race in the U.S.?18

• Ask students how they feel when someone asks them to “represent their race.” For example, how do stu- dents who identify themselves as Af- rican Americans feel when s o m e o n e asks, “How do African Americans feel about this issue?” or “What’s the African American perspective on this?”

• Discuss “re verse disc r i m- ination.” When did this term come in- to use and why? Who is being dis- criminated against when discrimina- tion is reversed?

• Discuss “political correctness.” Where did this term come from? Who uses it and for what purposes? And why did it emerge?

2. Resources for teachers. The fol- l owing examples will give readers a place to start in compiling resources


available for teaching about race. • Two major anthropological as-

sociations have produced highly re a d- able position statements on the topic of race and human biological varia- tion. First, the American Anthropo- logical Association website features both the AAA position and a sum- m a ry of testimony given in conjunc- tion with the debates on the 2000 census categories. Second, the offi- cial statement of the American Asso- ciation of Physical Anthropologists has appeared in that organization’s journal.19

• The American Anthropological Association is making a special ef- fort to disseminate understandings about race and human variation to the broader public. AnthroNotes, de- signed for precollege teachers, is a superb resource that offers concrete approaches to teaching about race, human diversity, and human evolu- tion. It is available at no charge from the Anthropology Outreach Office ( a n t h ro u t Se v- eral past issues of AnthroNotes treat race and ethnicity.2 0 A n t h ro p o l o g i s t s have produced materials for precol- lege teachers and teacher educators that deal with cultural diversity; some include strategies for teaching about culture and human diversity.21 Oth- ers provide useful overviews of rele- vant topics.22

• The AAA is currently engaged in a public education initiative called Understanding Race and Human Va r i- ation, which will involve a traveling museum exhibit and a website. The Fo rd Foundation has contributed one million dollars to this project.

• In 1999, the AAA created a spe- cial commission called the Anthro- pology Education Commission (AEC) to “help achieve significant progress t ow a rds the integration of anthro p o- logical concepts, methods, and issues into pre-K through community col-

lege and adult education as a means of increasing public understanding of anthropology.” The two teaching modules by Leonard Lieberman and by Lieberman and Patricia Rice, which we cited above, are available at no charge on the AEC website (www. a a a n e t . o r g / c o m m i t t e e s / c o m m i s s i o n s / aec). The AEC webpage contains ex- t e n s i ve re s o u rces that teachers can use to teach anthropological concepts and methods, including some that addre s s race.

Anthropologists recognize an ob- ligation to disseminate their knowl- edge of human biological variation and the social construction of race to the wider public. We hope that this a rticle and the re s o u rces we have pro- vided will contribute to this effort.

1. Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Cu rve: Intelligence and Class St ru c t u re in Am e r- ican Life (New York: Free Press, 1994). 2. Audrey Smedley, Race in North America: Ori- gin and Evolution of a Wo rl d v i e w ( B o u l d e r, Colo. : Westview Press, 1998). 3. Jonathan Marks, Human Biodiversity: Genes, Race, and History (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995). 4. Leonard Lieberman and Patricia Rice, “Races or Clines?,” p. 7, available on the Anthropolo- gy Education Commission page of the Ameri- can Anthropological Association website, www. — click on Teaching About Race. 5. George J. Armelagos and Alan H. Goodman, “Race, Racism, and Anthropology,” in Alan H. Goodman and Thomas L. Leatherman, eds., Building a New Biocultural Synthesis: Political- Economic Perspectives on Human Biology (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998). 6 . Je f f rey M. Fish, “Mi xed Blood,” in James Sp r a d- ley and William McCurdy, eds., Conformity and Conflict, 11th ed. (New York: Allyn & Bacon, 2002), pp. 270-80. 7. Alan Goodman, “Bred in the Bone?,” Sci- ences, vol. 37, no. 2, 1997, p. 24. 8. Ibid., p. 22. 9. Leonard Lieberman, “ ‘Race’ 1997 and 2001: A Race Odyssey,” available on the Anthropolo- gy Education Commission page of the Ameri- can Anthropological Association website, www. — click on Teaching About Race.

1 0 . Jane Me rc e r, “Ethnic Di f f e rences in IQ Scores: What Do They Mean? (A Response to Lloyd Dunn),” Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, vol. 10, 1988, pp. 199-218. 11. Goodman, op. cit. 12. Lieberman and Rice, op. cit. 13. Carol Mukhopadhyay and Yolanda Moses, “Reestablishing ‘Race’ in Anthropological Dis- course,” American Anthropologist,vol. 99, 1997, pp. 517-33. 14. Janet Hyde and John DeLamater, Under- standing Human Sexuality, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997). 15. Smedley, op. cit. 16. Karen Donaldson, Through Students’ Eyes: Combating Racism in United States Schools (We s t- p o rt, Conn.: Praeger, 1996); and Rosemary C. Henze, “Curricular Approaches to Developing Positive Interethnic Relations,” Journal of Negro Education, vol. 68, 2001, pp. 529-49. 17. Henze, p. 539. 18. Clara Rodriguez, Changing Race: Latinos, the Census, and the History of Ethnicity in the United States (New York: New York University Press, 2000); and Gilberto Arriaza, “The School Yard as a Stage: Missing Culture Clues in Sym- bolic Fighting,” Multicultural Education Jour- nal, Spring 2003, in press. 1 9 . American Anthropological Association, “A A A Statement on Race,” www. a a a n e t . o r g / s t m t s / r a c e p p. htm; and American Association of Physical An- thropologists, “AAPA Statement on Biological Aspects of Race,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, vol. 101, 1996, pp. 569-70. 20. Alison S. Brooks et al., “Race and Ethnici- ty in America,” in Ruth O. Selig and Marilyn R. London, eds., An t h ro p o l o gy Ex p l o red: The Be s t of Smithsonian An t h ro No t e s (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press), pp. 315-26; E. L. Cerrini-Long, “Ethnicity in the U.S.A.: An An- thropological Model,” AnthroNotes, vol. 15, no. 3, 1993; William L. Merrill, “Identity Tr a n s f o r- mation in Colonial Northern Mexico,” Anthro- Notes, vol. 19, no. 2, 1997, pp. 1-8; and Boyce Re n s b e r g e r, “Forget the Old Labels: He re’s a New Way to Look at Race,” AnthroNotes, vol. 18, no. 1, 1996, pp. 1-7. 21. Hilda Hernandez and Carol C. Mukhopa- dhyay, Integrating Multicultural Perspectives in Teacher Education: A Curriculum Resource Guide (Chico: California State University, 1985); and Conrad P. Kottak, R. Furlow White, and Patri- cia Rice, eds. The Teaching of Anthropology: Prob- lems, Issues, and De c i s i o n s ( Mountain Vi ew, Calif. : Mayfield Publishing, 1996). 22. Faye Harrison, “The Persistent Power of ‘Race’ in the Cultural and Political Economy of Racism,” Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 24, 1995, pp. 47-74; and Ida Susser and T h o m a s Patterson, eds., Cultural Diversity in the United States: A Critical Reader (Malden, Mass.: Black- well, 2001). K

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