Cultural Anthropology and Racism

June 19, 2018 Anthropology

How have cultural anthropologists sought to combat racism? Intro: The concept of race became a way of rationalizing a socioeconomic divide between cultures. The ‘superior’ invading colonies wished to keep a distinct difference between themselves, and these ‘inferior’ cultures. They focused on the differences between peoples, believing that physical and cultural differences were a good reason to treat a group of people differently. Rationalized slavery and conquest.

Cultural anthropologists knew that race was merely a social construction and sought to combat it by debunking biological racism, and sharing their research to strive towards racial equality. Point One: The concept of race. -A ‘race’ is defined as being a sub-species, and because humans are known as one species, with no sub-species, the concept of race is effectively redundant. -Developed around the 16th century by Europeans, who used it to allocate a group of people, plants, or animals with common ancestry or origin.

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In relation to humans, the controversy surrounded whether or not all humans were related to Adam and Eve and subsequently, where this ‘race’ belongs in God’s creation. Point Two: Ethnocentric ideologies and racism -Comparisons between races/ ranked categories brought about ethnocentric ideologies (separation of oneself from other cultures, “us” and “them”) -Concentration on the differences between cultures and peoples, giving dominating colonies an unquestionable excuse to invade/take ‘lesser’ cultures for slavery etc.

Reinforced global inequalities of economic/social conditions. Point Three: How cultural anthropologists have sought to combat racism -Cultural anthropologists aimed to discredit the supposed scientific arguments for race. -Through a lot of ethnographic fieldwork and research, Franz Boas proved that there was no direct correlation between head shape and racial type, proved the concept of race as being completely useless, and challenged scientific racism. -W. E. B Du Bois strived for racial equality, and addressed problems of African-American oppression.

Conclusion: To conclude, the concept of race is not a scientifically defined barrier, but a way for ‘superior’ peoples to dehumanize an ‘inferior’ group. Invading Europeans endeavored to rank other groups and emphasize differences, in order to justify displacing another culture. Cultural anthropologists such as Franz Boas and W. E. B Du Bois sought to combat this through discrediting supposed biological evidence for the concept of race, and seek solutions for racial inequality.


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