This week brings what I consider to be the most important lecture of the course. The topic is race as a cultural or social construct. Since race has such a large effect on people in our culture, it is important to know the current state of research on human variation and how race is an inaccurate model for it. Without the support of biology, race is a cultural construct, which places it in the realm of cultural anthropology.
The lecture on race was split into three parts. The first was the history of the race concept, stemming directly from the previous class on colonialism. The second part was about how the biological race concept was refuted anthropologically, first by Franz Boas, and then by other studies. The last third as about the genetic evidence against biological races and a conclusion that emphasizes the role of culture in giving meaning to racial categories.
As I mentioned at the end of the last post, this class was going to be observed by the full time anthropology professor at the college. When she walked in, I was having a discussion in class about how we do not consider the cultural diversity of distant places. As an illustration, I had an image of a shirtless Korean man with a tattoo of Africa on his shoulder and a wild set of dreadlocks. That was the best time for someone evaluating me to walk in!
I wrapped up the lecture and left the class so the students could fill out their evaluation forms for the visiting observer to collect. As I sat outside, I had a few good conversations with my students as they left the room, some with students who never spoke. I spoke with the professor as well when everything was done. She said I had some good ideas in my class, which was great to hear.
Maybe it was I had told my class how important it was to attend this lecture for the evaluation, but everyone was there and they were really engaged with the lecture, even before the guest arrived. Understanding the many arguments from anthropology and biology about why race is a cultural construct is no easy task, but the class had a lot of good observations and questions throughout the whole lecture. Actually, I was so happy with how the class went that I was pretty euphoric for a few hours afterward. It’s a good feeling, but it also meant that I did not get anything done the rest of the day.
Week 9 was the last full single-topic lecture for a while. Next week, there is no topic as the students prepare for the next exam and work on the poster project. The week after that is the exam and half a class on… culture and technology? When I wrote the syllabus, the second half of the course was sketchier than the first half since it was so far in the future. I may change the topic, though I can’t think of anything in particular right now. My remaining classes are on globalization, activism (which will also cover medical anthropology), and the current state of research (another filler topic).
See you after class!