Race Unmasked

Race Unmasked: Biology and Race in the Twentieth Century

MICHAEL YUDELL
FOREWORD BY J. CRAIG VENTER
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/yude16874
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  • Book Info
    Race Unmasked
    Book Description:

    Race, while drawn from the visual cues of human diversity, is an idea with a measurable past, an identifiable present, and an uncertain future. The concept of race has been at the center of both triumphs and tragedies in American history and has had a profound effect on the human experience.Race Unmaskedrevisits the origins of commonly held beliefs about the scientific nature of racial differences, examines the roots of the modern idea of race, and explains why race continues to generate controversy as a tool of classification even in our genomic age.

    Surveying the work of some of the twentieth century's most notable scientists,Race Unmaskedreveals how genetics and related biological disciplines formed and preserved ideas of race and, at times, racism. A gripping history of science and scientists,Race Unmaskedelucidates the limitations of a racial worldview and throws the contours of our current and evolving understanding of human diversity into sharp relief.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53799-5
    Subjects: General Science, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. IX-XII)
    J. CRAIG VENTER

    The concept of race is a deeply embedded historical challenge for human societies, one that Michael Yudell clearly illustrates in this excellent book. In my research on the human genome, we have also found race to be a social construct, not a scientific one. Despite the many claims otherwise, science and scientists are not infallible or unbiased when it comes to conceptualizing race. After all, as this book shows, some very notable scientists, even some from recent history, have espoused “scientific theories” to support their racial beliefs. Classification of species has been a part of science for centuries; thus scientists...

  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XIII-XVIII)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-12)

    Race, while drawn from the visual cues of human diversity, is an idea with a measurable past, identifiable present, and uncertain future. The concept of race has been at the center of both triumphs and tragedies in American history and has had an unmistakable impact on the human experience. It is a term used both casually and scientifically; a way people and groups choose to describe themselves and their ancestors; a way scientists and societies have chosen to describe and interpret the complexity that is human diversity and difference; and a way that doctors and public health officials make decisions...

  6. 1 A EUGENIC FOUNDATION
    (pp. 13-30)

    “There is, unquestionably, a larger popular interest in races and racial traits now than ever before,” claimed Charles Davenport in 1921. A biologist by training, Davenport was the leader of the American eugenics movement during the first three decades of the twentieth century and wrote and lectured widely on the subject. “For some people race seems to be equivalent to European country of origin,” declared Davenport, echoing in his statement what at the time was a race concept that conflated skin color with nationality. Those, for example, of Italian, Polish, and German descent were popularly and often scientifically believed to...

  7. 2 CHARLES DAVENPORT AND THE BIOLOGY OF BLACKNESS
    (pp. 31-44)

    If Francis Galton was the theoretician of eugenics, then Charles Davenport was its engineer and American torchbearer. In the United States, from the turn of the twentieth century until his death at age seventy-seven in 1944, Davenport was both the public and academic face of eugenics.¹ Through his writings, speeches, and indefatigable advocacy on behalf of eugenic doctrine, Davenport established himself as the doyen of the American eugenics movement. Though Davenport lived just long enough to witness his field in decline in the United States (and its horrific successes on the European continent), during his lifetime he oversaw an expansion...

  8. 3 EUGENICS IN THE PUBLICʹS EYE
    (pp. 45-56)

    “I doubt if there has ever been a moment in the world’s history when an international conference on race character and betterment has been more important than the present,” said Henry Fairfield Osborn, the noted paleontologist and American Museum of Natural History president, in his opening remarks to the Second International Congress of Eugenics.¹ The congress, held at the museum in September of 1921, was a gathering of prominent American and European eugenicists who came together to promote and popularize a eugenical vision of the world. To Osborn and his heredity-minded colleagues, eugenics was a social movement that could have...

  9. 4 THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL AND THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RACE
    (pp. 57-74)

    The final report of the Joint Commission on Racial Problems capped more than a decade of efforts by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences to grapple with the scientific and sociological meanings of race in America. In his final report in 1931, committee chairman and Columbia University psychologist Robert S. Woodworth described a plan to build racial orphanages to study the biological, psychological, and sociological meanings of race in controlled environments. According to the report, this “comprehensive study of child development in different races would be an important contribution to the study of race differences.” The...

  10. 5 COLORING RACE DIFFERENCE
    (pp. 75-94)

    By the middle of the 1920s, the National Research Council’s (NRC) race committees had transitioned from the study of white ethnics to the study of black-white differences, resulting in the formation of the Committee on the Study of the American Negro. In the wake of the anti-immigrant Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, which closed the door to new immigration, and growing concern over how a demographically changing African American population would impact American society, the NRC felt a need to understand the “vital statistics of the Negro population.” Hence, it diverted the focus of its racial research to concentrate on issues...

  11. 6 BIOLOGY AND THE PROBLEM OF THE COLOR LINE
    (pp. 95-110)

    In 1906 W. E. B. Du Bois, then a young social scientist at Atlanta University, issued a forceful and elegant challenge to racial science with the release ofThe Health and Physique of the Negro American.¹ In the pages of his book, Du Bois attacked the very foundation of America’s racial ideology, calling into question the legitimacy of the race concept at a time when science was being exploited in the service of racist ideas and practices, and ideas about racial difference were increasingly becoming part of natural science’s lexicon. Despite the boldness of the study and its importance as...

  12. 7 RACE AND THE EVOLUTIONARY SYNTHESIS
    (pp. 111-138)

    The evolutionary synthesis in biology, a historic moment for the biological sciences, was the union, in a Darwinian context, of theoretical population genetics, experimental genetics, and natural history.¹ The synthesis resolved several outstanding, and until that point seemingly intractable, issues for biology. First, it reached accord that natural selection was the mechanism that accounted for evolutionary change. This also meant the acceptance of evolution as a gradual process. Second, the synthesis resolved the long-standing issue of how to explain evolutionary phenomena. According to Ernst Mayr, himself an architect of the synthesis, the consensus that emerged on this issue understood that...

  13. 8 CONSOLIDATING THE RACE CONCEPT IN BIOLOGY
    (pp. 139-166)

    On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the caseBrown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The Court’s unanimous decision struck down legal segregation in America’s public schools. “In the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate-but-equal’ has no place. Separate education facilities are inherently unequal,” Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the decision.¹ This victory for justice, this blow against institutionalized racism, was a historic moment in the intensifying civil rights movement and marked its most significant victory against legalized segregation to date.² Debates still rage today regarding the impact of the desegregation...

  14. 9 CHALLENGES TO THE RACE CONCEPT
    (pp. 167-178)

    The 1950 and 1951 UNESCO statements on race embodied contradictions in the race concept that would surface over and over again in American scientific thought and in the popular expression about race. Two events in the 1960s—events that have been well documented in the historical literature as prime examples of scientific racism—are also significant in the way that they embody the ambiguities of a modern biological race concept. The first, the publication in 1962 of University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Carleton Coon’sThe Origin of Races, was a direct challenge to Dobzhansky’s evolutionary-synthesis-era conception of race.¹ The second event...

  15. 10 NATURALIZING RACISM: The Controversy Over Sociobiology
    (pp. 179-200)

    On December 18, 1975, after a long illness, the biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky died. As an architect of the evolutionary synthesis in the biological sciences, a distinguished teacher and mentor to a generation of students at Caltech, Columbia, and Rockefeller, and a public intellectual, Dobzhansky left an indelible mark on his discipline, on the sciences more generally, and on the times in which he lived. Eulogized by the Royal Society, Dobzhansky was remembered for his singular contributions to the field and as “a man ready to adjust his views in the light of increasing knowledge and not ashamed to admit past...

  16. 11 RACE IN THE GENOMIC AGE
    (pp. 201-210)

    The 1953 discovery of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) by Francis Crick and James Watson ushered in a new era in the biological sciences. Just at the moment that the evolutionary synthesis had become the core theoretical construct in biology, a revolution in molecular biology was quickly emerging. Watson and Crick discovered DNA’s double-helical structure by building on discoveries by biochemists including Oswald Avery, Maclyn McCarty, and Colin MacLeod (their work showed that nucleic acids, not proteins, constituted genes),¹ Erwin Chargaff (his greatest find—that in all organisms the ratio between the nucleic acids adenine and thymine to guanine...

  17. EPILOGUE: Dobzhanskyʹs Paradox and the Future of Racial Research
    (pp. 211-218)

    In 1998 the public health psychiatrist Mindy Fullilove published an article in theAmerican Journal of Public Healthchallenging the utility of race as a variable in health research, pointing to the risks of relying on an archaic and imprecise way to organize human diversity and calling upon the field “to abandon race as a variable in public health research.” The race concept “is an arbitrary system of visual classification that does not demarcate distinct subspecies of the human population,” Fullilove asserted, arguing that the concept could not “provide the information we need to resolve the health problems of populations.”...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 219-258)
  19. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 259-274)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 275-286)