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How We Communicate About Race Matters Department of Communication Colloquium Series UNC Greensboro N


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Title: How We Communicate About Race Matters Department of Communication Colloquium Series UNC Greensboro N

How We Communicate About Race Matters!Department
of Communication Colloquium SeriesUNC Greensboro
November 13, 2006
  • Dr. Joseph L. Graves, Jr.
  • Dean University Studies Professor of Biological
  • North Carolina AT State University.
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement
    of Science

For background information, see
  • J.L. Graves, The Emperors New Clothes
    Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium,
    Rutgers University Press, 2001 The Race Myth
    Why We Pretend Race Exists in America, Dutton
    Press, with a new authors preface to the soft
    cover edition, 2005.
  • Video resources Race The Power of an Illusion
    (California News Reel), 2003.
  • The PBS video, African American Lives, 2006.

What do our students think about race?
Table 1. J.L. Graves, Between a rock and a hard
place Teaching the biology of human genetic
variation and the social construction of race,
Race in the College Classroom Pedagogy
Politics, TuSmith Reddy, 2002.
Table 2. Fall 2001 Responses to Pre-Test
Questions The maximum number of responses for any
question is 40. Please identify your own race.
How many races can you name?
Farleigh Dickinson University Global Challenge
Survey Spring 2005, N 100 students, 50
females 50 males
FDU Global Challenge Survey Spring 2005, N
100 students, 50 females 50 males
Data collected by Dawn Koch, Joanne Velvarde,
Chang ShuMing, Akeela Careem
(No Transcript)
(No Transcript)
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NCATSU - Analytical reasoning
  • Only 5/60 and 3/60 had taken any formal courses
    in Critical Thinking or Philosophy, but 29/60
    rated themselves as critical thinkers.
  • The mean self-rank on mathematics skills was 2.76
    /- 0.67 and for scientific literacy was 2.43 /-
    0.64 on a 4 pt scale (Excellent 4, Good 3, Fair
    2, Poor 1).
  • Only 1 student in this survey had less than 3
    years of science/math courses.
  • Science courses included ES, Bio, Chem, Physics.
  • Math courses included A1, A2, Geo, A3, Pre-Calc,

This result is consistent with other studies
that demonstrate that Americans do not realize
how poorly they are doing in science and
mathematics. In other words, we are in denial!
NCATSU Fall 2006
  • Analytical Reasoning Pre-Test
  • 21. Which of the following is true concerning
    human evolution?
  • a. The earliest humans lived at the same time as
    the dinosaurs
  • b. Humans evolved over 250,000,000 years ago.
  • c. Peking and Neanderthal humans are the
    forerunners of todays modern humans.
  • d. Modern humans evolved within the last 250,000
    years and have less genetic variability than one
    tribe of African chimpanzees.

NCATSU responses
Who deserves the blame for this sad state?
  • Graves, J.L. Why we should teach our students
    about race, The Natural Selection newsletter of
    the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, Winter
    2002, and reprinted in Reports of the National
    Center for Science Education, May/June 2002, pp.
  • In this article I suggest that our high school
    and university curricula are responsible for the
    vast majority of our students having little to no
    understanding of the concept of race.
  • The fault lays with both camps the humanities
    and the sciences, in part because of their
    ongoing lack of dialogue with each other.

Sad State II
  • In 2004 I participated in a NSF/AAA conference on
    the concept of race. Top scholars were invited
    from the biological and social sciences, as well
    as the humanities. The collapse of meaningful
    discussion at this conference supported my
  • Geneticists, social scientists, and humanists at
    the conference were talking past each other,
    mainly because they could not grasp how different
    each others definition of race was from each

Common dictionary definitions are severely flawed
  • Main Entry 3raceFunction nounEtymology
    Middle French, generation, from Old Italian
    razza1 a breeding stock of animals2 a a
    family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the
    same stock b a class or kind of people unified
    by shared interests, habits, or characteristics
    a is unclear and b is a
    cultural definition
  • 3 a an actually or potentially interbreeding
    group within a species also a taxonomic
    category (as a subspecies) representing such a
    group b BREED c a category of humankind that
    shares certain distinctive physical traitsa c
    are incorrect biologically and b does not apply
    to humans
  • 4 obsolete inherited temperament or
    disposition5 distinctive flavor, taste, or
  • Source Merriam Webster On-Line

Note on Definitions Biological Race
  • morphology (phenotype)
  • Geographical location
  • Population based (frequency of genes)

Socially Constructed Race Arbitrarily utilizes
aspects of morphology, geography, culture,
language, religion, etc. in the service of
a social dominance hierarchy.
Race The Queen of Interdisciplinary concepts.
  • Almost everyone (including scholars of race) go
    back and forth between the biological and social
    aspects of race in their daily lives.
  • This is partial reason for the absence of a
    consistent language for discussing race.
  • For example, who is white and what are
    whiteness studies. This term has little
    meaning in the biological concept of race, but
    profound meaning in the social construction of

The Queen
  • For example, a New England Journal of Medicine
    Study (2006) examined the genetic ancestry of
    persons who self-reported themselves as black
    from the city of Cleveland, Ohio.
  • This study used Ancestry Informative Markers
    (AIMS) and examined over 1000 individuals.
  • However, it found that only 4 of the individuals
    in the sample, that self-reported as black, had
    more than 50 African ancestry. The most common
    percentage observed was between 0 10 African,
    the second most frequent percentage was 70 80.

The Queen II
  • There was also a broad diversity of percentages
    observed in this group from less than 10 through
    to greater than 90.
  • Conversely, 93 of those who self-identified as
    white had greater than 50 European ancestry,
    with the most common percentage greater than 90
  • We can explain this disparity in the genetic
    composition of African and European Americans due
    to the legacy of slavery in America, the race
    classification schemes it produced, and the
    Hartmann study.

Queen III
  • Consider the recent Hartmann study from Am. J.
    Sociology that demonstrates that whites value
    their white identity more than previously
    appreciated, yet conversely they do not
    understand how that contributes to white
  • With these data we can better understand the
    cultural practice of hypodescent and its genetic
  • Graves, J.L., The Meaning of Race in the African
    American Experience in C. McDaniel and T. Johnson
    (Eds.), The African American Experience in
    Diasporic Perspective, Tapestry Press 2006.

Learning Outcomes Things every student should
know about race.
  • Race is an interdisciplinary concept and at the
    center of a wide variety of scholarship
    concerning the human condition.
  • The vast majority of Americans utilize the
    socially defined concept of race on a daily
  • The social and biological definitions of race
    differ. When we refer to the biological
    definition of race, neither physical nor genetic
    variation can demonstrate the existence of race
    in modern humans. Cultural definitions of race
    dont fit existing popular schemes either.

Things every student should know about race.
  • The Biological Race Concept utilizes aspects of
    morphology (physical traits), geographical
    location, or population based measures, (e.g.
    the frequency of genes) to classify subdivisions
    within a given species.
  • The Socially Constructed Race Concept arbitrarily
    utilizes aspects of physical features, geography,
    culture, language, or religion in the service of
    maintaining a social dominance hierarchy.

Things every student should know about race.
  • Due to the fact that membership in socially
    constructed race serves social hierarchy, these
    categories may have biological effects. For
    example, being a socially constructed black
    person in America, can impact both your longevity
    and reproductive opportunities.
  • Health disparity is an example of a longevity
    effect, marriage patterns and infant mortality
    are examples of reproductive effects. These
    effects result from environmental not genetic

Age-specific mortality of smokers.
Things every student should know about race.
  • Individuals with ancestries from multiple
    geographic regions of the world, defy socially
    defined racial categories.
  • Individuals with ancestries from regions on the
    margin of major continental regions also define
    socially defined racial categories, such as
    Ethiopians, Northern Africans, Middle Easterners,
    or Central Asia.

Things every student should know about race.
  • Modern humans are remarkably genetically uniform
    compared to similar biological species. This is
    because modern humans are recent productions in
    the history of life.
  • Modern humans evolved in a world that featured
    other intelligent hominids. The available
    evidence suggests that our species evolved in
    Africa, and that archaic forms of humans in
    Europe and Asia went extinct.
  • African Americans are a population whose genetic
    ancestry includes African, European, and American
    Indian genes to varying degrees. They are also
    characterized by a culture that utilizes elements
    from African, European, and American Indian

Things every student should know about race.
  • Individual identity is complex and all
    individuals have multiple identities.
  • Stereotyping results from the elementary logical
    fallacies of composition (individual to group)
    and division (group to individual.)
  • Since both biological and social definitions of
    race are commonly used, when writing and speaking
    about race, you should always identify which
    concept you are referring to and consistent
    language should be used. The principal of
    parallelism should be applied.

The conversation and the imperative
  • In, Between a rock and a hard place, I argued
    that every university should pay careful
    attention to how it addresses the concept of race
    in its curriculum.
  • In this regard, the curriculum must be
    intentional, must have clear and well formulated
    learning outcomes and must be made available to
    everyone of your students.
  • One of the reasons I became Dean of University
    Studies at NCATSU was to implement this
    curriculum, as part of our over all general
    education core which is organized around
    interdisciplinary scholarship and critical
  • University Studies
  • I found upon my arrival, that our students are
    actually more confused about racial ideology,
    than the students I taught at Arizona State!

Why we have failed to interrogate race properly
  • The toolkit was inadequate, in that disciplinary
    methods were applied to explain an
    interdisciplinary phenomenon.
  • The social dominance hierarchy had no real
    investment in dismantling one of its most potent
    ideological props.
  • For historical reasons, those in opposition to
    the hierarchy, were limited in their
    perspectives. African American Studies, for
    example, is dominated by persons of humanist

Why we failed to interrogate race
  • The New Genetics of the African Slave Trade
    discussion group. This group was convened by Drs.
    Henry Louis Gates and Evelyn Hammonds, of the
    W.E.B. DuBois Institute at Harvard this last
  • I just returned from a workshop in Edinburgh,
    Scotland sponsored by the Economic and Social
    Research Council of the UK.
  • These were some the highest level discussions of
    race and identity, that have ever been
  • Both meetings joined humanists with molecular,
    population, and evolutionary geneticists!

What is to be gained by an interdisciplinary
approach to Race?
For example, we can understand how social
dominance has biological effects.
Race/ethnicity, income, and home ownership (NJ,
We can understand how social hierarchy causes
disease in those who are dominated
  • Neuroscience has begun to look at many genetic
    variants between individuals that correlate to
    behavior, such as addiction.
  • Cocaine addiction is linked to dopamine
    transporters, genetic variation exists in humans
    at these loci.

One type of such harm has been shown
experimentally in other primates
  • Social subordinate Macaques were more likely to
    self-administer cocaine (addiction.)
  • This was lower in monkeys housed alone or who
    were socially dominant.
  • African American college students who reported
    suffering racist harassment were twice as likely
    to use tobacco daily, Bennett et al. 2005, AJPH.

Morgan et. al. Nature Neuroscience, Vol. 5 No.
2, February 2002.
We can understand how long-standing injustice
impacts life expectancy
  • Studies of malnutrition in rats showed that
    maternal effects on adult health extended over
    several generations.
  • We have already seen that differential stress
    exposure plays a role in predisposing some
    African Americans to hypertension.
  • Offspring of alcoholic mothers show FA in their
    teeth, FA has been linked to lower IQ in college
  • Numerous studies show that lasting adult
    pathology can result from stress in the maternal
    environment Desai et al. 1995 Hales et al.
    1996 Napoli et al. 1997 Waterland and Garza
    1999 Mustillo, S. et al. 2004 Collins et al.,
  • Another recent study showed parental exposure to
    racial discrimination had negative impacts on the
    mental health of their pre-school aged children,
    Caughy et al. 2004.

Who benefits Critical thinking across the
  • The most important skill we can provide our
    students for the 21st century is critical
    thinking Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat.
  • Critical thinking is a prerequisite for examining
    social injustice.
  • To truly develop this capacity in our students,
    faculty must begin cooperating across
    disciplines, particularly with regard to thorny
    problems such as social dominance.

Graves Laboratory, Summer 2001
The discussion must go beyond the academy
  • Tony Brown's Journal When We Say Race, Do We
    Mean Culture?
  • Dr. Joseph Graves suggests that race does not
  • PBS - Sun Jan 23 2005 at 230 PM PST - 30 minutes
  • Participant in PBS Documentary Race The Power
    of an Illusion, Spring 2003, California News Reel
    Producers, http//

End Notes