Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

THE EDITOR'S PAGE: Talking about Race

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

THE EDITOR'S PAGE: Talking about Race

Article excerpt

IT SEEMS like it was a very long time ago now, but it was only the summer of 1997 when President Clinton tried to promote a national dialogue on race. I can recall one or two panels and forums on public television, a few think pieces in magazines of opinion, and a few newspaper editorials. And then it was over.

But we all know that it wasn't over then, and it isn't over now. Race is still the albatross around America's neck. In this issue we offer readers Carol Mukhopadhyay and Rosemary Henze, an anthropologist and a linguist, who argue that at a minimum educators need to understand - and help their young charges understand - that the "races" we "see" are not real, in that "modern humans cannot be divided into scientifically valid, biologically distinct groupings or races." (Their discussion is far more nuanced and bears close reading.)

Of course, different populations of humans do exist, and if anyone needed proof, in mid-December 2002, Science carried an article reporting current work of the Human Genome Diversity Project that showed that a careful genetic analysis of some 400 noncoding DNA "markers" could distinguish populations according to major geographical regions of the world. This touched off a great deal of scientific debate over whether this confirmed the common notion of "race," and that debate continues.

But what wasn't mentioned in general press coverage of the new study was that it didn't make use of the "race" markers that we typically employ in categorizing fellow citizens. No skin color, hair texture, eye shape, height, fat distribution, and on and on. And what Mukhopadhyay and Henze show is that choosing "race" markers different from those commonly used ones will yield some very different "races."

So what? Well, once we've moved our contemporary popular understanding of race out of the realm of biology and put the divisions we create into the category of culture, we can begin to understand that what Mukhopadhyay and Henze offer us is a starting point for discussion, among ourselves and with our students. …

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