Newton’s Free Library hosts authors Graves and Goodman for a discussion on race

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Authors Joseph L. Graves Jr. and Alan H. Goodman joined the Newton Free Library and Ashland Public Library on Wednesday evening for a virtual discussion of their book Racism, not race: answers to frequently asked questions.

The title of the book speaks of its unique question-and-answer format. In the book’s 11 chapters, Graves and Goodman unpack more than 160 questions on topics such as human genetic differences, institutional racism, whiteness, and the meaning of “post-racial.”

Racism, not race was published on December 7, 2021 by Columbia University Press.

“We wrote this specifically for readers who want to work toward greater human equity and for readers who fear saying the wrong thing, and in many cases these two groups overlap,” Graves said.

Graves is a professor in the Department of Biology at North Carolina A&T State University and a board member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His other works include The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race in the Millennial and The Myth of Race: Why We Claim Race Exists in America.

Goodman is professor of biological anthropology at Hampshire College and past president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). Currently, he is one of the directors of the AAA’s Public Education Project on Race and has contributed to several books, including Race: Are we so different?.

Graves and Goodman infuse their scientific knowledge into their writings on race. Their book and other work seeks to differentiate biological reality from the socially constructed concept of race and human origins, according to the event’s program.

Goodman used simplified categories of European, African, and Asian as surrogates for race to demystify socially constructed racial categories and explain that race is not a biological concept. He concluded by citing archaeological evidence that the first members of the human species emerged in Africa. Other “races” came from migrant groups who were a subset of the African gene pool, Goodman explained.

“Human variation is real,” Goodman said. “It’s wonderful. … That’s what evolution is all about. But [evolution is] not race, and reducing human variation to race is, I think, scientific violence. But it can also be real violence, because violent acts of underlying racism [and] in subtle acts of racism there is sometimes the idea that biological race matters.

One example of how racism fuels socioeconomic inequality in the United States is the statistical differences between black infant mortality and white infant mortality, Goodman said. The disparity is rooted in intergenerational trauma, subtle everyday racism, poverty and lack of adequate medical care, rather than biology and the unsustainable “science” of race, according to Goodman.

Both authors agreed that the United States was at a pivotal moment in its history.

“One of the reasons we wrote this book is to recognize where this nation is at right now when it comes to white supremacist ancestry,” Graves said. “We risk losing the thin veneer of democracy that remains in this country if we don’t directly address white supremacy and racism.”

While discussing the erosion of democratic principles in the United States, Graves highlighted the experiences of his parents.

“My mom and dad grew up under Jim Crow, where their life could be snuffed out at any time for…harassing a white person,” Graves said. “And a lot of the people they grew up with died on lynching lines on trees all over Brunswick County in Virginia in the 1930s, in the 1940s.”

Addressing the painful legacy of racism and lingering institutional inequality — particularly in the way the education system fails to encourage critical thinking, according to Graves — is essential if the nation is to address the many other crises it faces, Graves said.

The solution isn’t as simple as erasing the “race” category from census forms and “getting rid of race,” according to Goodman.

“We have to get rid of racism before we get rid of race,” he said. “It’s not calling people different races that causes racism. It is to think that there are inherent differences [and] values.”

Featured Image by Connor Siemien / Heights Editor

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