Anthropologists have been grappling with race since the beginning of the discipline, and we have not kept quiet about it. From Franz Boas’s early critiques of the misuse of the race concept in high school textbooks (Burkholder 2006) to the American Anthropological Association’s Public RACE Project and the #BlackLivesMatter die-in at the 2014 AAA meeting, anthropologists have been committed to educating each other and the broader public about the significance of race. Our engagement with the race concept, however, is full of apparent contradictions. Anthropology contributed to the establishment of a so-called scientific approach to race and to the fundamental critique of that science. We argue today that biological racial categories are not real, while simultaneously emphasizing the centrality of those same categories to patterns of social inequality and structural violence.
This Correspondences session explores the ongoing challenges of articulating anthropological perspectives on race to students and wider publics. How do we, as individuals or as a discipline, teach about race and racism? How do we respond to often pernicious assumptions that race is biologically real and racism is a thing of the past? How are our course choices (topics, readings, assignments, and in-class activities) related to debates about race in contemporary politics? How is race present in classroom dynamics and influenced by the racialization of both students and instructors?
This session is the result of an extended conversation between the Correspondences and Teaching Tools sections of the Cultural Anthropology website. Contributors to this session are:
Provocation: Angela Jenks is a Lecturer with Potential Security of Employment (tenure-track Teaching Professor) in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, and the first Scholar-in-Residence for the Teaching Tools section of the Cultural Anthropology website. She is a medical anthropologist and an advocate for critical pedagogy that engages students’ lived experiences of inequality.
Translation: Jonathan Marks is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is a biological anthropologist who has written widely about race, evolution, and human biodiversity. He is the author, most recently, of Tales of the Ex-Apes: How We Think About Human Evolution (2015). He blogs at anthropomics.
Integration: Leah Zani is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, and the Section Editor of the Teaching Tools section of the Cultural Anthropology website. She studies postwar revival and faith-based development programs in Laos.
Burkholder, Zoe. 2006. “Franz Boas and Anti-Racist Education.” Anthropology News 47, no. 7: 24–25.