“Race is a construct.”
Yes, yes it is.
Race is a construct, like religion, gender, and national borders are constructs.
People will happily kill you over a construct. Show me a national border which is not defended by armed soldiers. Show me a gender boundary which is not defended by violence and inequality. Show me a religious worldview which has no history of blood spilled, whether its adherents were being eradicated or forcing their views on others.
Yes, humankind draws a lot of arbitrary lines in the sand, lines which we use to define physical space, sexual space, spiritual space, political space. The fact that these lines are often arbitrary does not mean that these lines are not dangerous live wires through which powerful currents flow.
When anthropologists say “Race is a construct”, what we’re saying is that our ideas of race have no basis in sound biological science. In biology, “race” is a category of taxonomy that has some rational basis in geographic isolation, or mathematical variance within the DNA of a species. In order for a “race” of animals to exist, they have to be a strain that has enough in common with each other, and enough difference from other population groups, to justify the term.
There are very few human populations that have so much biological difference from other humans, and so much geographical isolation, that you could legitimately argue they might be a “race”. I could argue that the Sherpas and the people of the Andes might be the beginning of a “race” of humans, because of their physical adaptations to high altitude…but even that would be a stretch in the eyes of some biological anthropologists.
All the rest of us, scientifically speaking, are just “ethnicities”. We have ancestry, we can have some physical features that correlate to some broad geographic area, but our cultural constructs of “race” are not rationally defined scientific categories. They are historically defined political categories–we simply use race as a way to legitimize the distribution of POWER and RESOURCES in a given society.
Anyway. Upshot of all this is simple:
On behalf of other anthropologists, I’d like to ask people to stop misusing the principles of my scientific discipline to try and shut down important conversations about race.
It’s not helping.