11 votes

How scientific taxonomy constructed the myth of race

7 comments

  1. Echinops
    Link
    After having an education in biology I'd mostly disagree with this sentiment. The most common definition of species (I know there are more and it is never always cut and dry) is anything able to...

    After having an education in biology I'd mostly disagree with this sentiment. The most common definition of species (I know there are more and it is never always cut and dry) is anything able to interbreed freely in nature and produce viable offspring. Which all of humanity is capable of doing. I find that more unifying than divisive personally. The skull measurers of the past were simply racists that didn't try to understand biology.

    8 votes
  2. [5]
    brombo
    Link
    This article has some good information, but I would disagree with the idea that Linnaeus' hierarchical taxonomy is some large permeating force in racism's existence today. It seems to me that a...

    This article has some good information, but I would disagree with the idea that Linnaeus' hierarchical taxonomy is some large permeating force in racism's existence today.

    It seems to me that a large underlying factor of post-eugenics racism is not just that human 'races' are thought of as comparatively superior or inferior, but rather that physical distinction in human populations represents some significant differences in internal features (think of some races being better at running, or others at math, and so on).

    The fact that differences in skin tone could point to internal differences (which is untrue) need not mean that one 'race' is superior or inferior, but simply that physically distinct populations are fundamentally different. To me, this seems like what racism is--that humans beings are categorized from surface-level appearances rather than say culture or religion or country or any other potentially meaningful method of categorization. Taxonomical hierarchy need nothing to do with it, any baseless system of classifying people is doomed to cause prejudice

    Scientific racism has been so long debunked (popularly by Franz Boas in the early 20th century) that it's hard to think of it as the pervasive force that the author of this article claims it to be. To historically put racism only in these terms of is just too simple. Even when trying to think about racism historically, it's an odd place to start. The idea of the great chain of being has existed since the time of the Ancient Greeks

    3 votes
    1. [3]
      monarda
      Link Parent
      I read an article earlier today: The Long Shadow Of Colonial Science, which I thought about posting but did not because I had never heard of the publication. It has a very similar theme to the one...

      I read an article earlier today: The Long Shadow Of Colonial Science, which I thought about posting but did not because I had never heard of the publication. It has a very similar theme to the one posted.

      Here's some excerpts:

      In time, the classification of plants became a natural stepping-stone to a more sinister classification of humans. In 1758, the Swedish botanist and taxonomist Carl Linnaeus — whose name lives on at the Linnean Society of London, which prides itself as “the world’s oldest active society devoted to natural history” — classified humans into four groups that corresponded to the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa and were organized on the basis of color: red, white, yellow and black. The color of skin was then made to correspond to the “humors” — the four main fluids of the body that were thought in medieval science to determine a person’s physical and mental qualities.

      This human taxonomy would have long-ranging impacts on the emergence of the social category we now know as race. Caucasians were characterized as white, sanguine and muscular and Africans as black, phlegmatic and lazy. Skin color, of course, evolved independently of other traits like mental abilities and behavior, and there is no evidence to suggest that there are genetic differences between populations.

      Race science served the logic of colonialism in many ways. The assumed superiority of Europeans legitimized the impulse to dominate. It also allowed for the dismissal of indigenous systems of cultivation and food systems as not agriculture. In other words, it justified taking over land under the assumption that indigenous communities were racially incapable of being stewards of it. This colonialist (racist) logic was the same that was used to justify slavery in the United States.

      About a 130 years later we have this:

      Pitt-Rivers claimed to have coined the term “typology” in his 1891 essay “Typological Museums.” Considering material culture the “outward signs or symbol of particular ideas in the mind,” typological displays placed artifacts of the same type from different cultures together and arranged them from left to right to create a superficial visual sequence in order of “primitiveness” to “sophisticated” and “specialized” forms. Other ethnographic museums across Europe took up such displays to position cultures in relation to others, with Europe always at the apex of development.

      For Pitt-Rivers, the concept of evolution as scientific truth justified his politics. The theory of cultural evolution justified the existing social order and the expansion of the British Empire. It also encouraged a dangerous form of racism.

      In an earlier essay, “Primitive Warfare,” Pitt-Rivers claimed that civilization has always been “confined to particular races, whose function it has been by means of war and conquest, to spread the arts amongst surrounding nations, or to exterminate those whose low state of mental culture rendered them incapable of receiving it.” These were not unusual comments, nor were they merely academic. Many anthropologists at the time were comfortable with the genocide of Aboriginal Tasmanians in the 1820s and 30s. They were convinced that Tasmanian society remained a paleolithic one and thus its extermination was, in fact, necessary.

      So scientific racism followed a "rational" progression to justify heinous crimes against those that were not of the correct race. The fact that we had to denounce that it held any credence (after WWII) should be proof that it infiltrated the way we did things. These hundreds of years of scientific racism that were considered reasonable, but has since been debunked, in no way limits the effects that that historic work has on the ingrained racism that exists now that might want to seek to justify it's own assumptions. Just because it was debunked does not erase the validation that it gives to peoples racists thoughts now. It also set up a system that those affected are still seeing those affects today.

      8 votes
      1. [2]
        ImmobileVoyager
        Link Parent
        Interestingly enough, that word, coined in 1793 by Johan Blumenbach, has long been disused everywhere except in American English.

        Caucasians

        Interestingly enough, that word, coined in 1793 by Johan Blumenbach, has long been disused everywhere except in American English.

        1 vote
        1. Sand
          Link Parent
          Good riddance. It's unfortunate that some people still believe in races.

          Good riddance. It's unfortunate that some people still believe in races.

          1 vote
    2. viborgu
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      While it may not technically fit the definition of scientific racism, there is a strain of white supremacist thought known as "race realism" that shares a similar pseudoscientific basis, and which...

      Scientific racism has been so long debunked (popularly by Franz Boas in the early 20th century) that it's hard to think of it as the pervasive force that the author of this article claims it to be

      While it may not technically fit the definition of scientific racism, there is a strain of white supremacist thought known as "race realism" that shares a similar pseudoscientific basis, and which has sadly lingered at the more blinkered fringes of mainstream culture after being popularized in Charles Murray's The Bell Curve. His racist rationalizations were adopted by some of the "Dark Enlightenment" and rationalist crowd, for example Sam Harris:

      3 votes
  3. Staross
    Link
    I only knew Haeckel for his awesome drawings, but yeah it's pretty bad :

    I only knew Haeckel for his awesome drawings, but yeah it's pretty bad :

    The Caucasian, or Mediterranean man (Homo Mediterraneus), has from time immemorial been placed at the head of all races of men, as the most highly developed and perfect. It is generally called the Caucasian race, but as among all the varieties of the species, the Caucasian branch is the least important, we prefer the much more suitable appellation proposed by Friedrich Müller, namely, that of Mediterranean, or Midland men. For the most important varieties of this species, which are moreover the most eminent actors in what is called “Universal History,” first rose to a flourishing condition on the shores of the Mediterranean. The former area of the distribution of this species is expressed by the name of “Indo-Atlantic” species, whereas at present it is spread over the whole earth, and is overcoming most of the other species in the struggle for existence. In bodily as well as in mental qualities, no other human species can equal the Mediterranean. This species alone (with the exception of the Mongolian) has had an actual history; it alone has attained to that degree of civilization which seems to raise man above the rest of nature.

    3 votes