Posted on September 15, 2004

Taking Off the Color Blinders

Joel Achenbach, Washington Post, Sep. 15

A hundred social scientists and geneticists gathered this week in Alexandria to sort out the meaning of race, and didn’t, quite.

If there was a consensus that emerged from two days of conversation, it’s the notion that race is a cultural construct. Investigations into the human genome have so far failed to turn up any evidence that there’s such a thing as, for example, a Caucasian. Human beings are genetically rather homogeneous compared with other animals. But the lack of biological support for traditional categories of race does not change the fact that race is a lived reality. The exhibit should discuss this “paradox of race/no-race,” in the words of anthropologist Micaela diLeonardo.

It will take a long time for people to grasp the illusory nature of race at the biological level, Goodman said. It’s like understanding that the Earth isn’t flat. It looks flat when you’re walking around, but if you go up high enough in an airplane you can see the curvature. Someday, he said, people will no longer be flat-Earthers about race. They will see with different eyes.

He identifies himself, incidentally, as a white person.

“Culturally I’m white-ified,” he said. “People see me as white. That has something to do with how I look, but it has nothing to do with biological variation.”