The myth of race The troubling persistence of an unscientific idea

Robert W. Sussman, 1941-

Book - 2014

Biological races do not exist -- and never have. This view is shared by all scientists who study variation in human populations. Yet racial prejudice and intolerance based on the myth of race remain deeply ingrained in Western society. In his powerful examination of a persistent, false, and poisonous idea, Robert Sussman explores how race emerged as a social construct from early biblical justifications to the pseudoscientific studies of today. The Myth of Race traces the origins of modern racist... ideology to the Spanish Inquisition, revealing how sixteenth-century theories of racial degeneration became a crucial justification for Western imperialism and slavery. In the nineteenth century, these theories fused with Darwinism to produce the highly influential and pernicious eugenics movement. Believing that traits from cranial shape to raw intelligence were immutable, eugenicists developed hierarchies that classified certain races, especially fair-skinned "Aryans," as superior to others. These ideologues proposed programs of intelligence testing, selective breeding, and human sterilization -- policies that fed straight into Nazi genocide. Sussman examines how opponents of eugenics, guided by the German-American anthropologist Franz Boas's new, scientifically supported concept of culture, exposed fallacies in racist thinking. Although eugenics is now widely discredited, some groups and individuals today claim a new scientific basis for old racist assumptions. Pondering the continuing influence of racist research and thought, despite all evidence to the contrary, Sussman explains why -- when it comes to race -- too many people still mistake bigotry for science.

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Subjects
Published
Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press 2014.
Language
English
Physical Description
ix, 374 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 315-349) and index.
ISBN
9780674417311
0674417313
Main Author
Robert W. Sussman, 1941- (-)
  • Early racism in western Europe
  • The birth of eugenics
  • The merging of polygenics and eugenics
  • Eugenics and the Nazis
  • The antidote : Boas and the anthropological concept of culture
  • Physical anthropology in the early twentieth century
  • The downfall of eugenics
  • The beginnings of modern scientific racism
  • The Pioneer Fund, 1970s-1990s
  • The Pioneer Fund in the twenty-first century
  • Modern racism and anti-immigration policies
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix A : The eugenics movement, 1890s-1940s
  • Appendix B : The Pioneer Fund
Review by Choice Reviews

Anthropologist Sussman (Washington Univ. in St. Louis) does a masterful job of tracing racist thought in western Europe and the US from 15th-century polygenics through the eugenics of the 20th century to the continued racism and anti-immigration stances of today's radical Right.  He discusses the importance of the idea of culture as developed by Franz Boas and his followers in scientifically disproving these views, but points out that while it "is the concept of culture that enables us to disprove the biologically deterministic anti-environmental view of racial inequality . . . , it is the reality of culture that continues to keep this same racist view of humanity alive."  Although the racists at whom Sussman directs his message are unlikely to read it or to credit it if they do, this book should be in every library, from high school through public to university, in hopes that it will affect some minds before they become completely shuttered by prejudice. Summing Up: Essential. All high school, public, and academic levels/libraries. --L. L. Johnson, Vassar College Lucille Lewis Johnson Vassar College http://dx.doi.org/10.5860/CHOICE.188164 Copyright 2014 American Library Association.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Sussman, an anthropology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, explores and explodes the concept of race. He contends that, in the face of a longstanding scientific consensus that race possesses no biological basis, many people still mistakenly believe that traits like aggression, intelligence, and generosity can be traced to it. Noting that racial distinctions between humans have no biological basis is not new, Sussman makes his contribution by exposing the ways that academic "science" is invoked to authorize an outmoded concept. He traces the history of ideas about race, moving briskly from the Spanish Inquisition to Linnaeus and Kant, and offering a detailed discussion of eugenics. Lest readers imagine this is all in the distant past, Sussman devotes his last three chapters to the funding mechanisms that keep racist research alive today. He shows that "science" has been used in efforts to overturn civil rights legislation, and he examines the ways racist discourse has become intertwined with immigration policy. This book, which is both provocative and commonsensical, will be useful to scholars, but may also spark a broader conversation. (Oct.) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Although eugenics is now widely discredited, some groups and individuals claim a new scientific basis for old racist assumptions. Pondering the continuing influence of racist research and thought, despite all evidence to the contrary, Robert Sussman explains why—when it comes to race—too many people still mistake bigotry for science.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Biological races do not exist—and never have. This view is shared by all scientists who study variation in human populations. Yet racial prejudice and intolerance based on the myth of race remain deeply ingrained in Western society. In his powerful examination of a persistent, false, and poisonous idea, Robert Sussman explores how race emerged as a social construct from early biblical justifications to the pseudoscientific studies of today.The Myth of Race traces the origins of modern racist ideology to the Spanish Inquisition, revealing how sixteenth-century theories of racial degeneration became a crucial justification for Western imperialism and slavery. In the nineteenth century, these theories fused with Darwinism to produce the highly influential and pernicious eugenics movement. Believing that traits from cranial shape to raw intelligence were immutable, eugenicists developed hierarchies that classified certain races, especially fair-skinned “Aryans,” as superior to others. These ideologues proposed programs of intelligence testing, selective breeding, and human sterilization—policies that fed straight into Nazi genocide. Sussman examines how opponents of eugenics, guided by the German-American anthropologist Franz Boas’s new, scientifically supported concept of culture, exposed fallacies in racist thinking.Although eugenics is now widely discredited, some groups and individuals today claim a new scientific basis for old racist assumptions. Pondering the continuing influence of racist research and thought, despite all evidence to the contrary, Sussman explains why—when it comes to race—too many people still mistake bigotry for science.