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?
Burkholder, Zoe. 2006. “Franz Boas and Anti-Racist Education.” Anthropology News 47, no. 7: 24–25.
Posts in This Series
When I first started teaching undergraduates, I presented my “What is race?” lesson more often than any other. It made an appearance in nearly every course; I k... More
Why is race a topic in the anthropology curriculum? Because, if we understand anthropology to be the study of humans as group members (Boas 1928), then the natu... More
When I lead class discussions on race relations in the United States and Latin America, I am often asked if race is similar to caste systems in India and if cas... More