Cover Page


The Authors

Copyright page




1 Regarding Race


2 Introducing Race

Realizing Race

A Recent Human Invention

3 Creating Race

4 Human Mismeasure

5 Inventing Whiteness

6 Separate and Unequal


7 Introduction

Isn’t Race Biologically Obvious?

Humans Do Vary Biologically

Variation ≠ Race



8 Skin Deep?

Life Under the Sun: An Evolutionary Balance

Sun: The Motivator

Skin Color

Skin Color, the Sun, and Evolution

Skin Color Does Not Explain Deeper Traits


9 Sickle Cell Disease

Medical History: The Discovery of Strangely Shaped Red Blood Cells

What is Sickle Cell? Genetics and Physiological Consequences

The Sickle Cell Story: Unnatural History of the Mosquito, Humans, and Malaria

Race and Sickle Cell


10 The Apportionment of Variation, or …


Ashley Montagu and the Myth of Race

Richard Lewontin and the Apportionment of Variation

Updating Lewontin: The Structure of Genetic Variation Today


11 The Evolution of Variation

A History of Moving and Mixing

The Evolution of Human Variation

Mixing and Moving



12 Introduction

13 Race and the Census

History of the U.S. Census and Race

Why Is Race a Question on the Census?

Separating Black from White

Counting Mexican Ancestry

Issues of the 2000 Census

The Multiracial Question

The Multiracial Question: For and Against

How Was the 2010 Census Different for Counting Race?

African or African American?

Language Issues: Who is Counted and what are they Called?

Counting Hispanic and Latino Ancestry

Was the 2010 Census Successful on Issues of Documenting Race?

14 Race and Education

Closing the “Achievement Gap”

Affirmative Action: Undoing Inequality

15 Linking Race and Wealth

Land Ownership in Colonial Times

The Housing Market

How Do Recent Immigrants Manage to Enter the Housing Market?

The Wealth Gap Persists

16 Race and Health Disparities

Race, Discrimination, and Stress

Race and Hypertension: The Cultural Meaning of Skin Color

Environmental Racism

BiDil and Race in Medicine

Race and Health Disparities: Conclusions

17 Conclusion

What Still Needs to be Done: The Future of Race in America and Beyond


Race and Immigration

Continued Exploration of White Privilege

The Cultural, Political, and Economic Implication of Changing Demographics

The Paradox of “Colorblindness” and the U.S.’s Continual Focus on Race

Race and Human Rights



The Authors

Alan H. Goodman is Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty at Hampshire College. A biological anthropologist who has written extensively on human variation and the biological consequences of inequality and poverty, he co-leads the national public education project sponsored by the AAA and funded by NSF and the Ford Foundation. Goodman is a past President of the AAA.


Yolanda T. Moses is Professor of Anthropology, Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Excellence and Equity at the University of California, Riverside. A cultural anthropologist, she has published extensively on issues of social inequality in complex societies and cultural diversity in higher education in the United States, India, and South Africa. She chaired the National Advisory Committee composed of distinguished scholars and curators that designed the original exhibit and website. She co-leads the national public education project sponsored by the AAA and funded by NSF and the Ford Foundation. Moses is past President of the AAA.


Joseph L. Jones is former RACE project manager for the American Anthropological Association. He also has written extensively on race and the stresses of enslavement. He is finishing his dissertation from University of Massachusetts Amherst on “The Political Ecology of Early Childhood Lead Exposure for Enslaved Africans from the New York African Burial Ground.”





Are we so different?


“Seward Montessori Graduation”

The imaginary of whiteness


The “Great Chain of Being”


Lorenz Fries’s Caribbean cannibals


The Landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth




The first Africans arrive in Jamestown


Metacom, or King Philip


Carolus Linnaeus


Systema Naturae


Thomas Jefferson


Nott and Gliddon’s Types of Mankind


Blumenbach’s five races


Samuel Morton


Frederick Douglass


Native American lifeways display c. 1902


Anténor Firmin




Franz Boas


1917 Army Beta test for “innate intelligence”


Jesse Owens at start of record-breaking 200 meter race in the 1936 Olympics


“The Inheritance of Racial Features”


Reconstruction of the head of Kennewick Man


The Irish were seen as an inassimilable ingredient in American society


Visit of the Ku-Klux


Native children were forced to attend boarding schools


Anti-Chinese sentiment evidenced in “Workingmen’s Party” poster


The Cliff Dwellers’ Village at the 1904 World’s Fair


Booker T. Washington


The Birth of a Nation


Lucky Brown Pressing Oil


The cast of Leave It to Beaver


“Race tag”


Slave auction advertisement


Harriet Tubman


Dred Scott


Mid-19th century advertisement encouraging westward migration


“Some reasons for Chinese exclusion”


Composite photograph of the heads of justices from various years


Wong Kim Ark


Thurgood Marshall


Social Security poster


Japanese Americans bound for internment at Manzanar


George McLaurin was required to sit apart from white students


Rosa Parks was arrested for violating segregation law


President Johnson signs Civil Rights Act into law


U.S. Presidents

Race is not “in the blood.”


Jeff Van Gundy and Yao Ming


Race is like a gun. Discovery of Nat Turner


Kenyan children


Girls from Oslo


Cube of variation


“The Tall and Short of It”


Drawing of silhouettes of individuals from short to tall


Individuals as well as groups vary by skin color


Life under the sun


Vitamin D metabolism


Map of predicted human skin colors based on annual UVR exposure and other environmental factors


Cut away of a layer of skin and the location of the melanin-producing melanocytes


Inuit children


Example of childhood rickets


Radiograph of a child with rickets


Von Luschan color tiles


Example of use of a skin reflectance spectrophotometer


Walk from Nairobi to Oslo


Normal red blood cells and sickled red blood cells


The structure of hemoglobin


How individuals might inherit sickle cell disease and sickle cell trait


Cross section of a blood vessel with normally shaped red blood cells and sickled red blood cells


History and evolution explains sickle cell


Anopheles minimus


Pathway by which individuals contract malaria


Distribution of malaria


Distribution of the genetic variation that causes sickle cell disease


Frank Giacomazza and his daughter, Angelina


Three views of human genetic variation


Venn diagram of human genetic diversity


“21 A Bus”


Dominos provide a visual metaphor for the spread of genetic variation


A pointillist view of human evolution and variation based on the work of Kenneth Kidd


Major route of genetic migration


How objects developed in one area show up in another


“Long-nosed god” ear ornament c. 1150 and 1350 C.E.


Costa Rican jade pendant


Henry Greely


Rick Kittles


Alondra Nelson


Kimberly TallBear


Duana Fullwiley

The controversial school mascot, “Chief Illiniwek.”


Students and a faculty advisor from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota


U.S. census race categories, 1790–2010


Enslaved African American family


Closing the gate on racially undesirable Chinese immigrants


Japanese Americans being relocated to internment camps


Alabama physician Josiah Nott


Asian immigrants arriving at Angel Island, about 1910


Romina Takimoto


South Asian girl


Deportees waiting at a train station in Los Angeles, March 9, 1932


Immigration reform activists protest in Washington, DC


Now the children in this family can choose how the census classifies them


Kemi Adeyemi


“I am a person”


“I’m a grown man who just exposed my breasts to a complete stranger”


A wide range of people are classified together within the census’s “black or African American, or Negro” category


Tinbete Ermyas


Jessica Masterson


United States Census Bureau 2010 questionnaire


Busing. Boston, 1976


Students in classroom


President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the GI Bill into law


Tuskegee Institute (later, Tuskegee University)


Supporters and opponents of affirmative action


President Lyndon Baines Johnson


2003 U.S. Supreme Court


Native lands today


Cherokee lands


President Andrew Jackson


The Trail of Tears


The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo transferred just under half of Mexico’s land to the U.S.


Del Valle family, Rancho Camulos, Ventura County, 1888


American Progress


California, c. 1920


Heart Mountain Relocation Center, 1942


U.S. home-ownership rates, 2005


1937 map of Syracuse, New York, showing “undesirable” neighborhoods


Displaced New Orleans residents take shelter in the Houston Astrodome


Lynju Yang and John Sou Yang


Race and the wealth gap




Incidence of Hypertension


Measuring blood pressure


Industrial pollutants have a disproportionately high impact on racial minorities and the poorer members of society




Figure 0.1 Are we so different?.


Not unlike the networks of meaning and actions that coalesce and continually refashion the powerful idea of race, writing a multiauthored book on race comes about through the synergies of multiple personal, institutional, and professional connections. Invaluable to us, we have also had a large, complex, active, and supportive beehive of supporters. This is especially true of this project and this book.

Race also looks different depending on one’s experience, place, and history. We expect, then, that this book will strike each reader in slightly different ways. As is the tendency with the exhibit and website, readers may gravitate to areas of the book that have particular, individual interest and meaning. However, we have designed this book with a clear beginning, middle sections, and conclusions to best develop knowledge and analysis. As a companion to the larger project called RACE: Are We So Different? the book is meant to be read from front to back, and as a sort of primer on race (as well as human biological variations and racism). We hope that our main messages are expressed in ways that resonate with all readers.

The project that led to this book first took recognizable shape in 1997. One of us, Yolanda Moses, then president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the world’s largest and foremost organization of professional anthropologists, called together a group of scholars from the subfields of anthropology to talk to each other about what race means in their subfields.

The participants came out of that session at the annual meeting of the AAA with a clear consensus that, rather than occupying conceptually different universes, we had many points of agreement: much more agreement than difference. We came to our points of agreement from different intellectual histories and with different observations and data. We found that subfields of anthropology, such as linguistic anthropology, archaeology, biological anthropology, and political anthropology, highlighted diverse aspects of the complexly protean idea of race and the dynamics of racism.

Remember the parable of blindfolded individuals touching different parts of an elephant? One touches the tail and thinks she has a snake. Another touches the trunk and thinks he is feeling a wall. It was much like that. It was clear that working together, and ultimately with colleagues from other fields from physics to the humanities, we could best describe and understand the whole of the elephant in our midst that is race and racism.

Finally, it was clear just how harmful the idea of race had been in the hands of individuals with the power to maintain and benefit from a racial status quo. Systems of inequalities was built and maintained around the unchallenged idea that racial differences and inequalities were biological and natural. These notions reverberate today. However, it is clear that they are refutable and simply based on bad science. This is why we felt compelled to educate that race is powerful, but not based in genes or biology, rather than a cultural and changeable concept.

We concluded then that a necessary step toward change had taken place: we had talked to each other and realized that we could communicate and, in combination, we could articulate a complex idea. However, the necessary step is not sufficient to make changes. We needed as well to do more than talk to our colleagues and college students. This book would not be possible without them, and we hope that with it, we will reach more college classrooms. We also need to elevate the public discussions about race, bringing it back to fundamental issues, such as how race came about in history and was invented and how race and human variation are different. And we needed to try and include everyone in the discussion.

The RACE public education program, of which this book is a part, was launched by a steering committee under the guidance of the AAA and the staff leadership of Dr. Peggy Overbey. The tangible results include a website ( that was created by S2N Media, Inc. (led by Kathy Prusinksi) and a museum exhibit that was designed and built with our museum partners, the exceptional staff of the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM), led by President Eric Jolly and the project headed by Robert Garfinkle and Joanne Jones-Rizzi. To them we owe our first and deepest gratitude. This book would simply never, never happen if not for Robert, Joanne, their creative and resourceful team, and their courageous and collaborative spirit.

The museum exhibit, originally a huge undertaking of over nearly fifty components and 5,000 square feet is currently touring the country until 2015. It has been such a huge success that a similarly sized and nearly identical exhibit was recently constructed as well as a smaller version of 1,500 square feet for smaller, community venues.


This book is an outgrowth of the ten years of work that went into the conceptualization, research, and construction of the website and especially into the creation of the components of the museum exhibit. Many people and organizations assisted AAA in developing, producing, and implementing the RACE: Are We So Different? public education program. They include the Project Advisory Board members: Michael L. Blakey (College of William and Mary), Louis Casagrande (Children’s Museum of Boston), Robert Hahn (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Faye Harrison (University of Florida), Thomas Holt (University of Chicago), Janis Hutchinson (University of Houston), Marvin Krislov (Oberlin College), Richard Lewontin (Harvard University), Jeffrey Long (University of New Mexico), Shirley Malcom (American Association for the Advancement of Science), Carol Mukhopadhyay (San Jose State University), Michael Omi (University of California–Berkeley), Kyeyoung Park (University of California–Los Angeles), Kenneth Prewitt (Columbia University), Enid Schildkrout (Museum for African Art), Theodore Shaw (NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund), Marcelo Suarez-Orozco (New York University), David Hurst Thomas (American Museum of Natural History), Russell Thornton (University of California–Los Angeles), and Arlene Torres ( City University of New York).

Additionally, AAA staff contributed extensively to the project. They include William Davis, executive director; Elaine Lynch, deputy executive director; Suzanne Mattingly, controller; Susannah Bodman and Lauren Schwartz, former media relations associates; Lucille Horn, former meetings director; Khara Minter, former meetings coordinator; Stacy Lathrop and Dinah Winnick, former managing editors, Anthropology News; Oona Schmid, director of publishing; Damon Dozier, director of public affairs; Amy Goldenberg, managing editor, Anthropology News; Mark Booker, production editor, Anthropology News; and Carla Fernandez, meetings planner and exhibits manager.

Felica Gomez worked as an intern on the project and coauthored the family guide published on the RACE Project website. Amy Beckrich served as project assistant, helping to coordinate the massive project and keep everyone in line. Because of her excitement about the project, Mary Margaret Overbey left a permanent position at AAA and was for many years the force behind the project as its director through to the completion of the website and exhibit.

The exhibit and the book have benefited immensely from collaborations with California Newsreel. Under the directorship of Larry Adelman, California Newsreel produced the exceptional video “Race: The Power of an Illusion” (see This award-winning documentary film has been an inspiration to our project, and in fact we have portions of two interviews in this book.

A number of eminent scholars from a cross-section of disciplines graciously agreed, under tight deadlines and time constraints, to write and include their voices in the form of guest essays; our profound thanks go to Kamari Clarke, Faye Harrison, Nina Jablonski, Kenneth Kidd, Ian Haney López, Carol Mukhopadhyay, Michael Omi, Nell Irvin Painter, Mica Pollock, Susan Reverby, Audrey Smedley, Deborah Thomas, Arlene Torres, Bonnie Urciuoli, and Joseph Watkins. Other individuals have been directly quoted or featured in the book via excerpts from “Race: The Power of an Illusion” or via their inclusion in the museum exhibit. These include scientists Joseph Graves and Richard Lewontin. The story of sickle cell is movingly told by Frank and Vickie Giacomazza.

At Wiley-Blackwell, we have been guided and encouraged by Rosalie Robertson and Julia Kirk. Rosalie saw at the very start the importance of our project. In an incredibly efficient manner, she and Julia were able to elicit seven insightful and very constructive manuscript reviews that we used, hopefully to enhance our final product. We also wish to thank these anonymous reviewers. Julia Kirk has been a fabulous work partner as she stewarded us through the complexities of soliciting over a hundred permissions for the plethora of photos and images for the book and for the many other logistics of producing a book as multifaceted as this one. Charlotte Frost took a very complex book and turned it into one with a pleasing layout and colour scheme. Felicity Marsh was a great work partner in editing and design work.

Neither would this project have come about without the financial support of many individuals who have allowed us to use images and text (see individual credits). Major financial support for the project was provided by the AAA and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Ford Foundation specifically provided funding to start this project and to produce the book that you are now holding. We express our deep gratitude to the funding Program Officers: Al Desena at NSF and Margaret Wilkerson, Gertrude Fraser, Irma McClaurin, and Irene Korenfield at the Ford Foundation.

In the course of this project, we have all benefited from help in many forms and from many people. Alan Goodman wishes to thank numerous students, staff, and faculty at Hampshire College and other venues, not least the 8th graders at Amherst Regional Middle School, Massachusetts, who helped in thinking through the best way to communicate ideas around race and human variation: In the early 1990s my colleagues and I helped organized “teach-ins” on race, not because of any crisis but just to educate about the myriad ways that race permeates our (mostly white) lives. My father taught me to be critical and always question my position.

I have learned immensely about the power of stories from filmmakers Larry Adelman, Christine Sommers, and Lew Smith and exhibit developers including Joanne Jones-Rizzi and Robert Garfinkle. In addition to advisory board members, many colleagues have helped me personally, including, but not limited to, Larry Adelman, George Armelagos, Lee Baker, Michael Blakey, Joseph Graves, Faye Harrison, Evelynn Hammonds, Thomas Leatherman, Richard Lewontin, Jonathan Marks, Michael Montoya, Lynn Morgan, Leith Mullings, Dean Robinson and Banu Subramanian. Chaia Heller, my spouse and cultural anthropologists, added tremendous insight into how to communicate the power of the idea of race, not to mention giving daily moral support. Some comfort that ideas permeate comes about when my daughter Ruby Goodman, age 8, explains to Stella Gordon, age 5, that her dad is going to Texas to talk about racism. Stella asks what racism is and Ruby replies that “it is when white people are mean to black people.” Stella responds “what if a black person is mean to a white person” and Ruby says “that’s also racism but it is less common and less hurtful than white people being mean to black people.” We hope this book will help to unveil some of the systems behind race and racism and why racism hurts.

Yolanda Moses wishes to thank the many people who have helped to make this project a reality for her and who have given her personal support over the years. At UC Riverside, the intellectual contributions of Tom Patterson, Wendy Ashmore, Christine Gailey, Sang Hee Lee, and T. S. Harvey have been invaluable to me as I have worked on ideas for this book. I thank them for that support. A special thanks goes to the students in my classes who challenged me to explain the intricacies of the social construction of race and human variation in ways that tracked with their everyday experiences of race and racism. I want to thank the following graduate students who helped me with various tasks connected to this book from basic research to helping to track down numerous permissions. They are Scott Smith, John Gust, Jenny Banh, Priscilla LoForte, Isabel Placentia, Richard Alvarez, and Doris Logan. Special thanks to staff members Felecia Garrett and Sonia Zamora who helped me to type early drafts. And finally to my family, my husband Jamrs F. Bawek, of almost forty years, and my two grown daughters, Shana and Toni, who have been my sounding board for my ideas, research, and activities for this project since its inception. To my 90-year-old mother, Willie Lee Moses, I give thanks for her encouragement to complete this project so that others may know what it means “to not live a day of your life without thinking about race.”

Joseph Jones would first like to thank Alan Goodman and Yolanda Moses for their invaluable support and guidance towards realizing a vision of public anthropology and social justice. Numerous others who share this vision gave generously of their time and knowledge and helped me to understand better the uses and limits of race in human culture and biology. They include Michael Blakey and Mark Mack (who together introduced me to the worlds of anthropology at Howard University), Faye Harrison, Audrey Smedley, R. Brooke Thomas, Alan Swedlund, Bob Paynter, John Bracey, Maddie Marquez, Dula Amarasiriwardena, Warren Perry, John Higginson, and many more at University of Massachusetts–Amherst and outside of the academy. I hope their varied insights and influences come through as you read this text.

My family has been a well of support and inspiration. Danielle, my wife, graciously provided necessary time, encouragement, and feedback as the manuscript took form. In typically honest, 5-year-old fashion, my curious little Nia has begun to ask straightforward questions about human diversity. Her questions reaffirm the need to educate young children proactively about difference and race. To my mother and late father, Mary and Robert Jones, I am grateful for so many enduring lessons and of course for your decades of steady love, support, and confidence. My efforts here are an extension of your inability to settle for racism. May this book help others to see through social inequality to the truth of human equality.


Regarding Race

Figure 1.1 “Seward Montessori Graduation” (part of Lake Street USA series, 1997–2000). Photograph by Wing Young Huie.


Is race real? Sometimes, it depends – obviously?

Talking about race or afraid to talk about race; talking too much or too little. It does not matter. We never seem to get very far.

How do we get out of this gridlock?

Our answer: start asking and resolving different questions about race. Most people think race is real, and they are obviously right. Race is real. But race is not real in the way we think of it: as deep, primordial, and biological. Rather, race is a foundational idea with devastating consequences because we, through our history and culture, made it so.

The purpose of this book is to lead readers to understand how race is and is not real. Simply focusing on diversity and acceptance, as is common today, misses the deeper roots of race, racial thinking, and overt racism. On the other hand, a purely scientific and objective approach fails to tell the full story of how race has shaped historical events and continues to be a powerful influence on individual lives. It certainly does not tell all about the variation in how race is experienced among individuals and over time and place.

In this book we aim to bring together a combination of science, history, and personal experiences. The result we are hoping for is surprisingly liberating. Race has come to be a knotted ball of history, culture, identity, and biology. We aim to untangle that ball. Once unraveled, one understands much more about the physical differences among us, and how race became such a powerful force.

We know that race seems obviously real to anyone immersed in North America’s dominant culture. Race seems visually real. Every day, one can observe difference in outward form between individuals. Interestingly, rather than biology, race is real because of the everyday ways in which we interpret differences and invest meaning into those biological differences. It might seem counterintuitive, but race is also biological in that the idea of race, and specifically living in a racial society with differential access to resources, has effects on the body that are manifest in infant and adult mortality. If race is an illusion, then it is an unusually powerful one.

Yet, what we have internalized as evidence that we have seen with our own eyes of the “facts” of race such as differences in skin color and other so-called markers of race, simply have no inherent or deeper sociopolitical significance other than what our culture attaches to them. There is human linguistic, cultural, biological, and genetic variation. But these variations are not racial in that they do not “naturally” partition individuals into races.

A key insight from anthropology is that what we see as real is often due to what our worldviews predispose our minds to see. In much the same way that we used to think the sun revolved around the earth, we see variation as race only because the idea is all around us and is unquestioned. As Spellman president Beverly Tatum says, race is like smog. If we are in it, it is all we see. Moreover, it obstructs clear vision of the true nature of difference. It is time to lift the smog.

In this book, the companion to an award-winning website and museum exhibit, we hope to show how the idea of race continues to have consequences, every day, for all of our lives. Race is not only a social construct, it is a powerful social contract. The Constitution of the United States listed enslaved Africans as three-fifths of a person. While the Thirteenth Amendment changed this formulation,1 the racial contract is much deeper than laws and “official” statements. It is particularly enduring because the idea of race is deeply etched into our minds and institutions. We want to expose the social contract and thereby expose the deep roots of racial thinking. Just as weeds will return if they are not pulled out by the roots, we will not get beyond racism unless we pay attention to the roots – to its foundational ideas.

As fundamentally woven into our minds and institutions as the idea of race became and is still, we can change the way that we understand race, and even how race is embedded in institutions. We will not do so by avoiding race or pretending that it is not salient. Rather, we do so by engaging with the science of human variation, the history, culture, and politics of race and the everyday lived experiences of race and racism.

Our students and those who visit the exhibit often have “ah ha” moments in which they come to forever see race differently. Suddenly, race is seen to not be natural but an idea and product of culture. Amazing! Fortunately, too, those insightful moments do not require advanced training in genomics, anthropology, philosophy, or any other discipline. Rather, the only requirement is openness to questioning assumptions that we thought were obviously true.

Imagine that you have lived your life in a landscape that has never led you or those around you to question that the earth is anything but flat. You go to a mountaintop and you look into the clear distance and notice that the horizon appears to bend down. That bend is a sign that the earth is round. It is time to pay attention to signs like that. However, be forewarned. The results are mind bending. Changes from seeing the earth as flat to round are what scientists call paradigm shifts. A paradigm shift, or a change in worldview, can be disorienting, and it takes a while to readjust.

In addition to making a novel argument, this book has another unique feature: it is a companion to the hugely successful national public education project, RACE: Are We So Different? Developed by the AAA, this project consists of a set of traveling exhibits,2 a website, and additional educational materials. The project is organized around three powerful themes: (1) race is a recent human invention, (2) race is about culture and not about biology,3 and (3) race and racism are imbedded in institutions and in everyday life. The book is similarly organized with a section on history, followed by one on science and another on lived experience.

We hope that this book will be engaging to those who have visited the website or exhibit as well as to those new readers. For those who have visited the website and exhibit, here you will find more detailed explanations and the back stories that could not be explained in a walkthrough of an exhibit. With over one hundred images and photographs, we aim to capture the sense that images explain and illustrate and also enhance what can best be explained by succinct writing.

The book in your hands aims to be a fundamental primer on the idea and reality of race and how the idea connects to institutional and everyday racism. Human races, we argue, are not “out there in nature.” Rather, humans invented race.

Combining insights and examples from the realms of science, history, and individual stories, our aim was to write and assemble a book that is serious yet engaging and lively. Our main goal is to move readers beyond the false dichotomy of human races as being real or not. We want readers to appreciate how contemporary social and biological analyses show that race is real and ways that they show that race is surprisingly outmoded (chiefly as a way to think about genetic differences among us). We want this to be a book that deeply transforms its readers. We want everyone to have an “ah ha” moment.

Five central arguments of this book are as follows:

1 The idea of race was invented. Race was invented as a way to categorize and rank groups and by extension, individuals. The invention did not happen in an isolated laboratory or at one place in time. Rather, this scientific and social idea slowly took hold and became more and more real through European exploration and colonization and slavery in the Americas. In the 18th century race might have made sense because the physical (or phenotypic) differences between Europeans and others seemed to be great.
       While just a human invention that is explored in the first section of this book, the idea was politically powerful because the belief in separate and unequal races was the only potentially moral and ethical justification for the inhumanities of colonization and slavery. In the first section of this book we will tell the gripping story of the interlinked social, religious, political, and scientific histories of race. Closely following the exhibit, the story is outlined in four parts.
2 Human biological variation is real, obvious, wonderful, and necessary. We do vary. The second section of this book provides a primer of human genetic variation; that is, how variation is patterned within individuals and among individuals and groups. Evolutionarily speaking, even if it is not the spice of life, variety is certainly a required ingredient for the survival of our species.
3 The idea of race does not explain human variation. The biggest myth of race is that we humans have biological races and that on a biological or, more precisely, on a genetic level our race determines a good deal about how we differ from each other and our potentialities. The science of human variation, however, tells us otherwise. Race-as-genetic-variation is a myth. Race neither explains variation nor is a useful genetic construct. In this book, we will use a number of interrelated examples to show why this is so.
4 Race is both stable and protean. The idea of race is something we all share – to a degree. We argue that race today is much the same, on a fundamental level, as it was a hundred or even three hundred years ago. But the realities of race – how the ideas get into lived experiences – morph from place to place and time to time. Here, we have the opportunity to share how some of those diverse lives were lived racially. What was it like to be a Native American and to see Europeans for the first time? What was it like to be a Japanese American during World War II? It is our expectation that understanding how race differs among diverse groups provides a deeper understanding of each group and about race itself.
5 We own the future of race. How we continue to understand and use race is up to us. We hold the core belief that our book will contribute to a fundamental overhaul of how various publics think and talk about race. By explaining how the power of race was used in the past to divide us, in this book we will show how this new knowledge is power to understand and reunite. Once we understand what race is and is not, race ceases to become a ready excuse for the intolerable differences in our wealth, health, and other core indicators of equality and experiences of life.

Race is a recent human invention.
    It’s only a few hundred years old, in comparison to the lengthy span of human history. Although not scientific, the idea of race proposed that there were significant differences among people that allowed them to be grouped into a limited number of categories or races. Yet, are we so different? All humans share a common ancestry and, because each of us represents a unique combination of ancestral traits, all humans exhibit biological variation.
    From the beginning, the idea of race was tied to power and hierarchy among people, with one group being viewed as superior and others as inferior. Despite disproving notions of hierarchy and removing social, economic and political barriers, the legacy of race continues to shape the lives and relationships of people in the U.S. and around the world.
    This book may challenge popular understandings about race, raise questions, and spark critical thinking. We hope the exhibition, public website and educational materials produced by the RACE Project will foster dialogue in families and communities around the U.S. and help better relations among us all.
American Anthropological Association

RACE Exhibit Introductory Video Transcript
    What is race?
    What do we really know about race?
    Here’s what we do know: Race is a short word with a long history in the United States of America. Think of the history of America and our ideas of race together, mixed-up, and ever-changing. Just like this painting, race was created. It is a powerful idea that was invented by society.
    Race is an enduring concept that has molded our nation’s economy, laws, and social institutions. It is a complex notion that has shaped each of our destinies. Many of the ideas we now associate with race originated during the European era of exploration.
    Europeans like Christopher Columbus traveled overseas and encountered, and then colonized or conquered peoples in Africa, Asia, and the Americas who looked, talked, and acted much differently from them. Naturalists and scientists then classified these differences into systems that became the foundation for the notion of race as we know it today.
    In the American colonies, the first laborers were European indentured servants.
    When African laborers were forcibly brought to Virginia beginning in 1619, status was defined by wealth and religion, not by physical characteristics such as skin color.
    But this would change.
    Over time, physical difference mattered, and with the development of the transatlantic slave trade, landowners began replacing their temporary European laborers with enslaved Africans who were held in permanent bondage. Soon a new social structure emerged based primarily on skin color, with those of English ancestry at the top and African slaves and American Indians at the bottom.
    By 1776, when “all men are created equal” was written into the Declaration of Independence by a slaveholder named Thomas Jefferson, a democratic nation was born with a major contradiction about race at its core. As our new nation asserted its independence from European tyranny, blacks and American Indians were viewed as less than human and not deserving of the same liberties as whites.
    In the 19th and 20th centuries, the notion of race continued to shape life in the United States. The rise of “race science” supported the common belief that people who were not white were biologically inferior. The removal of Native Americans from their lands, legalized segregation, and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II are legacies of where this thinking led.
    Today, science tells us that all humans share a common ancestry. And while there are differences among us, we’re also very much alike.
    Changing demographics in the United States and across the globe are resulting in new patterns of marriage, housing, education, employment, and new thinking about race.
    Despite these advances, the legacy of race continues to affect us in a variety of ways.
    Deeply held assumptions about race and enduring stereotypes make us think that gaps in wealth, health, housing, education, employment, or physical ability in sports are natural. And we fail to see the privileges that some have been granted and others denied because of skin color.
    This creation, called race, has fostered inequality and discrimination for centuries.
    It has influenced how we relate to each other as human beings. The American Anthropological Association has developed this exhibit to share the complicated story of race, to unravel fiction from fact, and to encourage meaningful discussions about race in schools, in the workplace, within families and communities.
    Consider how your view of a painting can change as you examine it more closely.
    We invite you to do the same with race. Examine and re-examine your thoughts and beliefs about race.

1 Additional laws were also passed by most states against miscegenation (interracial marriage).

2 Currently, there are two 5000 square foot exhibit traveling around the country and a smaller exhibit of nearly 1500 square feet.

3 Paradoxically, race is not a biological or genetic construct, but it does have biological consequences. Some of these consequences of race, especially for health and wealth, will be highlighted in this book.



The imaginary of whiteness, captured here, is too often not considered part of the invention of races. Whiteness is taken for granted as a standard of beauty and normalcy, thus providing access to power, yet is a relatively recent invention. Courtesy of the Science Museum of Minnesota/C. Thiesen.



Introducing Race

The world got along without race for the overwhelming majority of its history. The U.S. has never been without it.

David Roediger, How Race Survived U.S. History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon

Realizing Race

A social contract … cognitive smog … a dangerous myth … a powerful illusion … Race metaphors abound, and these examples express as well as any the reality of race in contemporary society in the United States. Race, today, is everywhere. Whatever confusion and disagreements exist around its definitions or delineations, few would argue this point. And understandably so! We live in a society saturated with race. Racial thinking has infiltrated and now influences in some way or another everyone’s experiences of health, education, romance, friendship, work, religion, politics – virtually every arena and aspect of our lives. These influences can be painfully obvious or virtually imperceptible, but they are ever present. As a result, over time most of us develop strongly held racial beliefs based on these accumulated experiences and a steady stream of images and other forms of information that reinforce confidence in our ability to see race. Eventually, we become race experts, or at least experts on how we see and experience “the races” – their physical characteristics, their behaviors, and especially their inherent or essential differences.

We debate the nature and extent of contemporary racism among family and friends, in online forums, and even through intermittent “national conversations,” usually prompted by current events and plagued by predictable sound bites. Occasionally, the shared experiences and beliefs of others may cause us to revisit and rethink our own. Yet, rarely do these exchanges reveal or probe the powerful cultural underpinnings of our collective commitments to race and racism. Think about it. How often do the second glances required to guess someone’s “proper” race lead us to second-guess the premise of race-as-biology or the notion of racial phenotypes – or to question our desire to “race” them in the first place? We are much more likely to puzzle over such individuals’ nonconformity to racial criteria disproven long ago. Sure, those of us still counting may quibble over whether humanity divides into three, four, five, or more races. However, few take the logical leap of allowing this apparently minor detail to challenge our belief in race as a way of defining, categorizing, and inevitably ranking human difference. Taking this step can prove challenging even for those of us who struggle to void the “racial contract” (Mills 1997) and reject notions of racial supremacy. In failing to engage such basic questions and issues, or in doing so only superficially, we undermine our ability to understand race and unlearn racism.

Coming to terms with our varied and shared histories of race and racism is a good starting point for those who would reverse this trend. There is more at stake in our collective ability or failure to face our racial pasts squarely than the repetition of past mistakes or misdeeds because these are living histories. They live with and within us, and keep us from moving forward together as equals. At times, historic episodes of race and racism resurface, quite literally, to reshape both past and present. This was the case in the early 1990s when construction workers “rediscovered” Lower Manhattan’s 17th- and 18th-century New York African Burial Ground. The subsequent unearthing of artifacts and skeletal remains of over four hundred individuals from this early African American cemetery helped to spur broad interest in the underexplored and underappreciated history of northern slavery (Blakey 2010).