Human Adaptation ANTH 200
Christopher Newport University
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This 8 page Class Notes was uploaded by Stefanie Cassin on Monday October 5, 2015. The Class Notes belongs to ANTH 200 at Christopher Newport University taught by Kenneth Routon in Fall. Since its upload, it has received 7 views. For similar materials see /class/219478/anth-200-christopher-newport-university in anthropology, evolution, sphr at Christopher Newport University.
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Date Created: 10/05/15
Lecture 01 February 2010 HUMAN ADAPTATION As your textbook makes clear ideas about human diversity have played an in uential role in human relations throughout history and still in uence political and social perceptions While it would seem that more objective knowledge of human variation have replaced the dangerous misconceptions and stereotypes of earlier generations many distortions and myths about human difference remain One of the most enduring examples of misconceptions regarding human variation is the concept of race The Concept of Race Most English speakers have a general sense of what race means 7 namely the physical differences usually and especially surface features like skin color that distinguish major types or divisions even breeds ofthe human species Although race is said to relate to physical or biological factors there is wide consensus today that races are not real or objective entities but are rather social constructs This would mean that the reality of race is rooted in a set of beliefs and attitudes about human differences and NOT actual biological differences themselves In other words biological variations between groups have no special meanings except what we humans give to them If we want to understand race then we need to look not to biology but to the social cateogries and meanings imposed on and intended to explain human variation It s not difficulty to show that race is often a slippery vague and problematic term For instance when a black person and a white person have a child what race is the child In the US that child would likely be called black But in Brazil Haiti or Cuba that child would likely be called mulato a blend or mix two or more races And what about someone like Tiger Woods The worldfamous golfer has himself publically declared that he is not black since his ancestry includes African Caucasian Asian and Native American Nevertheless most Americans still consider him black The truth is that different societies or even the same society at different historical moments have answered these questions differently A big part of the problem here is that the term race has been repeatedly only vaguely de ned if it has been de ned at all The head of the Human Genome Project Francis Collins is quoted as saying it is essential to point out that race and ethnicity are terms without generally agreedupon de nitions Both terms carry complex connotations that re ect culture history socioeconomic and political status as well as a variably important connection to ancestral geographic orgins Others point out that the problem is that the notion of race has been imported from common sense attitudes to science leaving science scrambling to nd some concrete empirical ground for ideas rooted in the human imagination and therefore always falling short There are at least 5 critical objections to the concept of race 1 no one has ever been able to specify exactly how many races there are that is totally clear and beyond question Even those who rmly accept the notion have never agreed with one another on this 2 V all race classi cations are selective 7 that is they select certain physical characteristic such as skin color as determinative and ignore or downplay the importance of others In doing so they usually do not explain how and why these particular traits were chosen as the relevant ones why skin color and not blood type for example 3 the classi cation evaluations and applications of race have clearly changed over time 7 for example not so long ago English speakers used the term race in reference to many different things such as regional national andor cultural identity 7 as in the French race the Scandinavian race the Arab race and even in reference to species 7 as in the human race Human groups who never considered themselves as a single identity 7 such as the Native American race 7 were subsumed under one category by outsiders 7 in this case explorers missionaries and colonists 7 as are people who are quite physically diverse 7 as in the Hispanic race which includes white people black people Indian people and every conceivable mixture of these 4 Some researchers have calculated that there is more physical and genetic variation within a socalled race than between groups lumped into different race categories 5 nally and most importantly race classi cations have never simply been about physical characteristics 7 rather the physical characteristics 7 such as skin color 7 are seen as symptomatic or sufacelevel manifestations of underlying psychological emotional intellectual and even moral qualities In other words the skin color of a person not only supposedly says something about their belonging to a group based on physical distinctions but reveals something essential about their psychological state the level of their intelligence their ability to distinguish between right and wrong good and evil The Development of the Race Concept According to some historians the concept of race and its evil corollary racism is a modern notion Prior to around 1508 the word race did not appear in the English language However as Europeans acquired more experience with peoples from other parts of the world through exploration and as they acquired power over those people through slave trading and colonization differences in body and behavior became more of a concern to them The most familiar system of race categories appeared in the work of the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus 17071778 In a book published in 1740 he divided the human species into four subtypes based on color 7 white black red and yellow 7 and later gave them scientificsounding names 7 Homo europaeus Homo afer Homo americanus and Homo asiaticus Moreover these four subtypes were not merely physically distinct according to Linnaeus but were also associated with geographical and often quite offensive mental and behavioral attitudes l Homo europaeus was described as white sanguine cheerful muscular Hair owing long Eyes blue Gentle acute inventive Covered with close vestments Governed by laws 2 Homo afer black phlegmatic sluggish relaxed Hair black frizzled Skin silky Nose at Lips tumid swollen or distended Women without shame presumably a reference to going around topless Crafty deceptive indolent habitually lazy negligent Anoints himself with grease Governed by caprice or whim 3 Homo americanus reddish choleric erect Hair black straight thick nostrils wide face harsh beard scanty Obstinate stubborn merry free Paints himself with fine red lines Regulated by customs 4 Homo asiaticus sallow yellow melancholy stiff Hair black Eyes dark Severe haughty proud arrogant avaricious greedy Covered with loose garments Rules by opinions Linnaeus eshed out his taxanomy con ating physical psychological and cultural traits with the inclusion of even mythic human species such as Homo ferus a hairy and mute quadruped and Homo monstrosus a race of cavemen who roamed about at night All this from a man of science a man who as far as I can tell never set foot outside of Europe A German physiologist by the name of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach 1752 1840 expanded on the work of Linnaeus by propsing 5 races Caucasian African American Asian and Malayan south east Asian peoples Now Blumenbach did admit that there was considerable variation within the primary races as he called them He also conceded that races were not entirely discrete But going beyond merely distinguishing the races he also ranked them in terms of their alleged antiquity and perfection The first race in time and quality was the white Caucasian race As the original primeval form of humanity Caucasian he said were the most beautiful All the nonCaucasian races were deemed a product of degeneration from the first ideal type At the time many Europeans accepted the bibilical explanation for differences between human groups The most popular religious idea at the time explained human diversity as a result of innate social dispositions and something they called degeneration Degenerationism held that prior to the destruction of the Tower of Babel supposedly built by Noah s descendants in order to reach heaven all people belonged to a single civilization When God destroyed the Tower this single civilization splintered creating differences in language and dispersing people in different directions throughout the globe Some of those people degenerated losing their civilization and eventually becoming savages while others advanced being considered closer to God Over the next couple of centuries race typologies multiplied and morphed The failure to achieve any uniformity in the number and classification of races did nothing to exstinguish the drive and desire to categorize the world s people in this way No one it seems stopped and asked the most obvious question 7 why the obsession with race What is the point of racial classification What do such classifications really achieve What will these classifications be used for And more importantly what social function effect and impact do these attempts to classify the world s people have on human life The question of why people want and need to identify races and to build race classifications is of immense significance The question has the benefit of shifting attention away from race and systems of classification toward what we might call racial thinking Why do some of us look out onto the world through a racial lense Why filter the reality of human diversity in this particular way Does it benefit some while marginalizing others Mismeasuring Mankind and the Colonial Imagination It is no secret that Western societies developed a concern over race and racial classi cation in the context of political and cultural domination over nonWestem societies during the age of exploration conquest slave trading and colonization One one hand the concept arose as a result of Westemer contact with people quite different from themselves Western travelers and scholars were simply interested in explaining these differences Why were these people so different Why did they act in what seemed to be nonsensical and reprehensible ways On the other hand as the relationship between Western and nonWestem societies came to be increasingly based on forms of exploitation and domination the concept of race transformed into a moral justification for slavery and colonization So a particular concept of race evolved a concept that over time has acquired 5 basic components race is an exclusive and discrete biological characteristic or entity V 2 races are fundamentally unequal and the relations between races are necessarily hierarchical some are better than others the outer physical characteristics of races such as skin color are merely surface manifestations of inner realities such as behavioral intellectual temperamental moral and other essential qualities LA V 4 all the qualities that define a race are natural and genetically inherited as a single indivisible bundle 5 the difference and hierarchies between races are immutable 7 that is they fixed and cannot be altered or transcended What the concept of race accomplished 7 in the context of slavery colonization and postcolonial forms of racial segregation and discrimination 7 was the task of naturalizing what are in reality political economic class and cultural inequalities by claiming that the victims of these inequalities possessed intrinsic naturally inferior qualities that could never be overcome As a result the nineteenth century became the great era of measuring mankind Anthropometry came into being during this century 7 this refers to the measurement of human bodies to determine individual and group 7 that is racial 7 physicial characteristics Certain measurable traits soon became to mark race classifications 7 facial angle the slope of the lower face and cephallic index measurement of the skull or brain case and its shape The implication of all this are obvious If some races were naturally inferior it made little sense to preach the equality of the races It even seemed reasonable to subordinate and restrict them and certainly interbreeding miscegenation was to be avoided because it resulted it polluted supposedly pure races Ironically in some cases interbreeding was actually encouraged as a means to improve inferior races 7 so for example in places like Haiti Cuba and Brazil some attempted to whiten their race a means of improving their social status This was because more opportunities for advancement were available to the mulato class Finally races were not the only ones subjected to physical measurements Around 1900 many arriving immigrant groups were measured in this way It was believed that various immigrants groups were biologically prone to drunkeness idleness crime violence and even poverty So all sorts of vices and social improprieties were explained in biological terms The effort was to identify these types and improve them through selective breeding This is known as eugenics the scientific practice of improving a population or species through selective breeding or genetic engineering to breed out bad traits and breed in good ones The Modern Anthropological Critique of Race The confusions abuses and outright faslehoods of racial thinking could not escape criticism forever and cultural anthropology contributed signi cantly to this critique The elaboration of the concept of culture combined with the growing body of research on nonWestem peoples provided anthropologists with a unique and authoritative perspective from which to judge the discourse of race One of the rst and strongest voices to challenge racial thinking from an anthropological perspective was Franz Boas Boas argued in publications throughout the late 1920s and again in the 1940s that it was virtually impossible to determine with certainty what hereditary traits were associated with the life of the mind the emotions and behavior not to mention morality Rather the variability of intelligence and personality within a group and more important the ease and rapidity with which individuals change in new circumstances convinced him that cultural experience was as important as if not more important than socalled racial descent To put it much more simple terms Boas argued that learning rather than biology was more important when it came to behavior intelligence temperment and morality A socalled race Boas argued l was not a xed physical type not a homogeneous immutable biological essence but rather a vague division of humanity with much internal variety 7 for example not all socalled Caucasians have blond hair and blue eyes If anything what people call race 2 is a statistical abstraction one that focuses only on extreme forms while ignoring the diverse distribution of features from which these H J 39 f 39 traits are 39 J Finally 3 Boas asserted that physical traits as much as mentalbehavioral ones are plastic malleable and subject to environmental pressures not xed permanent inheritances children and grandchildren of immigrants differed measurably from their ancestors in head shape and height But arguably the most vociferous critic of racial thinking was Ashley Montagu who called race man s most dangerous myth For Montagu racial thinking was simply and tragically a way of translating cultural differences into physical ones 7 that is a means of naturalizing culture The real issues here he argued are status and caste issues in which resources opportunities and social value are differentially assigned to groups these groups are then closed to each other spatially through such social practices as segregation and sexually by rules of racial endogamy In a racial system he continued physical characeristics are merely the pegs upon which culturally generated hostilities are made to hang
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