What traits used by the English “to depict the

What
Anthropologists mean by the statement, “‘the division of people into discrete
so-called races is not supported scientifically, but has become a social reality,”
is that all human beings are biologically the same regardless of their racial
background and that humans are the ones who really categorize each other into
racial groups. According to the lecture slides, “Anthropologists now agree that
‘biological race’ is a construct created by humans, and that there is only one
human race. However, race is a social reality” (Stovall, 4). This is indeed
correct because it is scientifically proven that all humans around the world
share a last common ancestor with each other. We are the same regardless of the
color of our skin and way of thinking. The notion of racial group was originally
proposed by individuals who categorized each other based on these
characteristics. This is even proven by Lee D. Baker, author of the well-written
book, From Savage to Negro: Anthropology
and the Construction of Race 1896-1954, who states that racial categories “in
the United States have little to do with natural history and a great deal to do
with social and political history” (Baker, 1).

There
is indeed a large amount of evidence that suggests that the origin of races
have more to do with social history. In his book, Baker states that, according to
a social anthropologist named Audrey Smedley, the same exact traits used by the
English “to depict the Irish as savage in the seventeenth century were used to
classify African Americans and Native Americans as savages during the following
three centuries” (Baker, 12). This implies that England is the country where
the origin of racial categories dates back to. It came to be when the English
were in conflict with the Irish. And while it was not a direct contributing
factor, this may have eventually led a contributing factor to the idea of categorizing
people in the United States which was conquered by many early European
settlers. According to the lecture slides, the term “race” in the United States
“was a social mechanism invented during the 18th century to refer to those
populations brought together in colonial America: the English and other
European settlers, the conquered Indian peoples, and those peoples of Africa
brought in to provide slave labor” (Stovall, 12). This means that the term is
utilized by certain people in the United States to refer to people of different
physical, social, and cultural traits.

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            The history of anthropology as a discipline, coming to
its own in the mid-to-late 19th century as the U.S. was engaged in a debate
about enslavement of African people, does absolutely connect to the construction
of so-called racial categories. The lecture slides mention that the original American
anthropologists “contributed to supporting the enslavement/genocide of African
Americans and Native Americans by providing pseudo-scientific analysis
indicating the inferiority of people of color” (Stovall, 5). This is proven in Baker’s
book, which emphasizes how a physician named Josiah Nott, being part of the
original school of Anthropology, “hailed from Alabama and desperately believed
that Negroes and Whites were separate species” and “discussed the natural
inferiority of the Negro in an explicit effort to help proslavery forces fend
off the Abolitionist movement” (Baker, 15). He claimed that black people are
biologically different from white people because they are of separate species,
meaning that they had a different common ancestor than that of white people. Since
he claimed this in the mid-19th century, he likely encouraged the
behavior of some white people to continue demeaning black people as they still thought
it was the right thing to do. Fortunately, his claim can be contradicted by the
above statement of present-day anthropologists. While it is true, according to
some individuals, that we have different skin colors or belong to a certain
social or cultural group, we are all equal human beings who are still part of
the same species that originated from the same common ancestor.

 

Sources:

Baker, Lee D. From Savage
to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896-1954. University of
California Press, 1998. 

Stovall, M. The
Construction of Race—Part One, Accessed: January 17, 2018