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By Francine BaroneResearch Associate, University of KentAnthropologists have dedicated much time to deconstructing and denouncing racial myths (see, for example, the AAA’s statement on race from 1998) and, as a result, the idea that “race does not exist” has been as strongly absorbed into the anthropological canon as cultural relativism. More recently, collaboration between social and physical anthropologists reaffirms that race is “not an accurate or productive way to describe human biological variation” (Edgar and Hunley 2009: 2) while scientifically detailing the genetic evidence for actual human variation. Still, dismissing fixed racial categorization as biologically unsubstantiated has done little to eradicate the very real presence of race in everyday life. So what has all the effort we have spent in deconstructing race actually achieved?Teaching raceIn Race Reconciled?, Edgar and Hunley address one of the main concerns I will concentrate on here; namely, how preconceived notions of race present a challenge for educators:Specialists in informal education talk about “naïve notions,” which, in the context of education in biological anthropology, are the ideas our students have when they walk in the doors of our classrooms. Often, these ideas are typological, even when they are not racist. Although we have now been teaching for generations that races do not exist, these naïve notions persist and they continue to have social and scientific consequences. This may be because we have failed to offer a clear and satisfactory explanation that meshes with students’ lived experience (2009: 3).Is it possible that the idea that races do not exist is itself becoming a “naïve notion” within anthropology?
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