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The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference Paperback – June 24, 2011
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The subtitle of the book is-How Scientists Think and Teach About Human Difference. Her goal in writing this book:
"The fundamental objective of this book is to convey how scientists' concepts of race are transmitted to the public through formal education and other institutions."
The book meets this stated objective very well indeed, dealing only with race, thus the five-star rating. In Chapter 3 (Textbook Race) and Chapter 4 (Teaching Race) we learn how concepts about race are first presented in high-school-level textbooks and then by college professors in lectures, discussion and readings. The author is most troubled by the discovery that the presentations are predominantly "essentialist" rather than "constructivist". I am most troubled by the discovery that both textbooks and college professors display considerable difficulty presenting any consistent scientific picture of race. The quotations from two anthropology professors in the same department (Chapter 4, p. 103) illustrate this difficulty. If professors cannot do better than this, what can we expect of their students?
Chapter 4 (Learning Race) deserves close and critical reading since it tells us (intentionally) not only how college students conceptualize race but also (unintentionally) what non-scientific factors the author believes should determine how we are to conceptualize race.
The author is be deeply troubled when students "cast race as ethnicity" and expresses her rejection of the students' approach in thoughts such as the following: "This shift to ethnicity defuses the topic of race in several ways..." "In this way, it (casting race as ethnicity) avoids questions of power, inequality and contemporary racism..." This position appears in many places in the book; "conflating race with ethnicity" is absolutely unacceptable for the author. It appears to me that suddenly we have left the domain of how scientists think about race and have been told to consider a non-scientific factor, the shifting from the "problematic realm of racial difference" to "the less charged discussion of ethnic identity".
My original interest in the literature of American racial classification arose from efforts to find out why American demographers and sociologists so readily base their research on the unscientific categories used by the Census Bureau. Anyone this who has puzzled over this practice (hundreds of New York Times readers who commented on articles by Susan Saulny in 2011) will find Chapter 6, Race Concepts Beyond the Classroom to be of particular interest. The author does very well in presenting and commenting on the innumerable inconsistencies and conflicts in the designation of races. She reminds us that the Census Bureau's race categories are not "scientific" but are shaped by the input of "demographers and other social scientists." Given her presentation I am forced to ask in just what context the author thinks these racial categories are useful or usable. Given her reports of her personal experience with medical personnel in the United States and Italy it appears that she does believe telling a nurse or physician (Only In America) which category (African American or Black) is medically valuable. My experience reading medical studies of birthing issues faced by African women in Sweden tells me that stating a race is of little or no value, presenting details about ethnicity is invaluable. Professor Morning apparently does not agree with my view. Space does not permit explaining here.
Her commitment to the use of the word race in every possible setting is the last thing to which I wish to call attention. I found in tens of sentences that I could easily substitute another word for her chosen word - race. This sentence from the conclusion illustrates this commitment and her belief that we must continue to focus on the race of each individual:
"...even if I personally cannot tell what race my neighbor is just by looking at her, this does not mean that she does not have a race..."
Why this insistence that each individual must have a race? I simply do not understand this. I meet almost every day individual refugees from just about everywhere. These refugees, for example Somalis or Kurds or Assyrians, insist on describing themselves in terms of ethnicity or nationality, never in terms of race. Knowing the details of their ethnicity can be important (see note above on birthing issues) but knowing their race is of no interest, either to me or to the Swedish government and medical care system. Only in America is race of such importance.
I recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone who wants to learn how various groups of people living in the United States must deal with being placed in a race box instead of being treated as an individual with, perhaps, an ancestry that is African+European+American Indian+and Asian becoming, strange as it may seem "black" in the race box.
Read the book and then ask the American sociologist nearest you why racial terminology is so heartily embraced by them.