WhatAnthropologists mean by the statement, “‘the division of people into discreteso-called races is not supported scientifically, but has become a social reality,”is that all human beings are biologically the same regardless of their racialbackground and that humans are the ones who really categorize each other intoracial groups. According to the lecture slides, “Anthropologists now agree that’biological race’ is a construct created by humans, and that there is only onehuman race. However, race is a social reality” (Stovall, 4).
This is indeedcorrect because it is scientifically proven that all humans around the worldshare a last common ancestor with each other. We are the same regardless of thecolor of our skin and way of thinking. The notion of racial group was originallyproposed by individuals who categorized each other based on thesecharacteristics. This is even proven by Lee D.
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Baker, author of the well-writtenbook, From Savage to Negro: Anthropologyand the Construction of Race 1896-1954, who states that racial categories “inthe United States have little to do with natural history and a great deal to dowith social and political history” (Baker, 1). Thereis indeed a large amount of evidence that suggests that the origin of raceshave more to do with social history. In his book, Baker states that, according toa social anthropologist named Audrey Smedley, the same exact traits used by theEnglish “to depict the Irish as savage in the seventeenth century were used toclassify African Americans and Native Americans as savages during the followingthree centuries” (Baker, 12). This implies that England is the country wherethe origin of racial categories dates back to. It came to be when the Englishwere in conflict with the Irish.
And while it was not a direct contributingfactor, this may have eventually led a contributing factor to the idea of categorizingpeople in the United States which was conquered by many early Europeansettlers. According to the lecture slides, the term “race” in the United States”was a social mechanism invented during the 18th century to refer to thosepopulations brought together in colonial America: the English and otherEuropean settlers, the conquered Indian peoples, and those peoples of Africabrought in to provide slave labor” (Stovall, 12). This means that the term isutilized by certain people in the United States to refer to people of differentphysical, social, and cultural traits. The history of anthropology as a discipline, coming toits own in the mid-to-late 19th century as the U.S. was engaged in a debateabout enslavement of African people, does absolutely connect to the constructionof so-called racial categories.
The lecture slides mention that the original Americananthropologists “contributed to supporting the enslavement/genocide of AfricanAmericans and Native Americans by providing pseudo-scientific analysisindicating the inferiority of people of color” (Stovall, 5). This is proven in Baker’sbook, which emphasizes how a physician named Josiah Nott, being part of theoriginal school of Anthropology, “hailed from Alabama and desperately believedthat Negroes and Whites were separate species” and “discussed the naturalinferiority of the Negro in an explicit effort to help proslavery forces fendoff the Abolitionist movement” (Baker, 15). He claimed that black people arebiologically different from white people because they are of separate species,meaning that they had a different common ancestor than that of white people. Sincehe claimed this in the mid-19th century, he likely encouraged thebehavior of some white people to continue demeaning black people as they still thoughtit was the right thing to do. Fortunately, his claim can be contradicted by theabove statement of present-day anthropologists.
While it is true, according tosome individuals, that we have different skin colors or belong to a certainsocial or cultural group, we are all equal human beings who are still part ofthe same species that originated from the same common ancestor. Sources:Baker, Lee D. From Savageto Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896-1954. University ofCalifornia Press, 1998.
Stovall, M. TheConstruction of Race—Part One, Accessed: January 17, 2018