Episode 38: Skulls and Skin (Seeing White, Part 8)

May 17, 2017

Scientists weren’t the first to divide humanity along racial – and racist – lines. But for hundreds of years, racial scientists claimed to provide proof for those racist hierarchies – and some still do.

Image: Skulls in the Samuel Morton Collection, University of Pennsylvania Museum. Photo by John Biewen

Resources for this episode:
Fatal Invention, by Dorothy Roberts
The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter

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2 comments on “Episode 38: Skulls and Skin (Seeing White, Part 8)

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  1. Henry Lowengard Aug 29, 2017

    Also good relevant reading: The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould. He goes through lots of “scientific” attempts to find race, and to put whatever gets defined as white on top. This extends to IQ tests, which were really for evaluating Army recruits, not for ranking brainpower.

  2. I love this series. I have a question about an example used in this episode. It compared people with Zimbabwean roots and Somali roots to illustrate that race does not exist biologically or genetically. I thought it was interesting that the comparison stated, that folks with Somali roots have more in common with folks with European roots than folks with Zimbabwean roots. I think it is interesting first, because it still relies on borders created in part by colonization and brutality. Second, if we allow for some gross generalization, there are some phenotypic differences between people who identify ethnically as Somali and people who identify as part of one of the predominant ethnic groups in Zimbabwe. In fact, within Somalia, there has been some nationalistic, ethnocentric rejection of communities who are called, sometimes derogatorily “Bantu” in Somalia. Many of the ethnic groups in Zimbabwe are also sometimes referred to as Bantu, referring to a shared grammar structure and other shared elements of language, culture, and geography. All that to say, as of now, I would not feel comfortable sharing this example in East Africa because it may, in practice, confirm some existing assumptions about racial and ethnic hierarchies.

    I realize this is a big, giant ask here – Are there examples that illustrate the intended point that don’t a) rely on colonized borders and/or b) don’t have this complicated a relationship with ethnic/national identity, phenotype, etc.? (in addition to the very helpful point that we ALL share more in common genetically and there is more diversity within constructed racial groups than between).

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