Posted on February 3, 2012

Blakey: ‘Racism’ Key to Any Discussion of Race

Kristen Green, Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 3, 2012

Refusal to acknowledge racism is “the new racism,” a renowned anthropologist who directed the scientific research of New York City’s African Burial Ground told a packed room at the Science Museum of Virginia, which recently unveiled an exhibit on race.

Michael L. Blakey, a professor at the College of William and Mary, spoke at the museum as part of a series of community conversations about race in Richmond associated with the exhibit.


Blakey said during initial discussions about putting together the exhibit, “Race: Are We So Different?,” some of those involved suggested the word “racism” could not appear in the exhibit materials.

He said he questioned how a discussion on race and racism could happen if nowhere in the exhibit does the term racism appear, but he understands the sentiment. “People run from the word,” he said.

The exhibit, unveiled last weekend, challenges the concept of race and explores it from biological, cultural and historical points of view. The exhibit debunks the concept of a scientific component to race. It does, in fact, include the word racism.

Blakey traced the roots of the concept of race back to slavery. He said enslaved people were deemed to be “something less than fully human.”

Race, he said, “became a means of justifying the unjustifiable,” he said.

Later, it was a way to justify Jim Crow laws, immigration restrictions, the eugenics movement and other forms of white privilege.


“White privilege persists,” Blakey said. “How does one justify white privilege in an officially anti-racist society?”

He said there is no scientific difference between people of different races.

“We know people do look different from one another, but we will find that this variation is really very small, very superficial,” he said.