Monday, April 3, 2017

Race and biology; the spectrum


I asked students to classify these balls into different categories. Two things happen:
1)Some students pick a trait such as size or color to classify the balls or, 2)Students classify the balls based on the sport of each such as basketball, soccer, etc...
This is a metaphor for race and how we classify people. 1)First, we choose to use traits such as skin color to classify them, but the divisions between these traits are arbitrary divisions. If you lined up all of the people (or balls) in the world according to a trait, the divisions would be less obvious. It would look more like a spectrum that changes gradually blending into one another.  Here is a post from soc images that displays the spectrum of human colors.



So why all the fuss about skin color? Nina Jablonski explains the significance of skin color in her Ted Talk here: The article Skin Deep by Nina Jablonski and Chaplin from Scientific American explains the science behind skin color and how around the world, skin color would look more like a spectrum than distinct groups. 2)Second, when we categorize the balls into sports or people into races we are constructing a social category that only exists because we say it should. Ask students to define what a basketball is.  The only true definition is "any ball that society says is a basketball."  The same is true for race. Whatever the society says is a distinct race, is a distinct race in their eyes.   Race, like sports, are social constructions.  Here is more about skin color.
What's the point? Click here to see why there is no way of biologically separating people into "races." Race doesn't exist in any scientific sense. This is a difficult concept because I think that race is a biological hegemony in America - that is, it is so accepted that we never question it. For more info you can checkout the April 22, 2005 episode of Odyssey, a radio program that used to air on Chicago Public Radio. This episode about the genetics of race and if you listen carefully to the caller segment, you can hear a very interesting high school sociology teacher commenting. [Listen the program here (the good part is after 35:26)]

Here is an explanation about how genetic diversity spread out over time and how that led to varying populations of diversity but not distinct groups.


Jefferson Fish also explains how race doesn't make sense in the article title Mixed Blood from Psychology Today, 1995.


The idea that race is not biological can be difficult to accept/process because race is so ingrained in our society that we never question it.  It gets validation from many places, including our very own anatomy class! (click here for a clarification of the anatomy forensic lesson).

What are some assumptions you have had about race? Have you learned erroneous information regarding race? Why is this not a part of curriculum in American schools especially in light of the profound impact the idea of race has had on this country?

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