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Race and the Development of Anthropological Theory

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Race is a social construct that has influence all aspects of the American world view and life. The idea of race was constructed in America to justify slavery of Africans, stealing from and killing Native Americans, and prejudice against immigrants. Boas was took a stand on this subject that was not in line with mainstream perceptions on the subject. Another differing view was Du Bois who had some similarities in view and differences from Boas. Even with their legacies showing that race is not a biological reality, the power and impact of race can still be felt today, even though it is seen as a social construct by anthropologists.

Racial categories in America was developed to be used as a sorting device. First in the 17th and 18th centuries settler societies, which gave race a place in US history. The origins of the concept of race are in the religious discourses which were suggesting that there was a difference between the races. These ideas were used to create the concept of white and white superiority in order to justify slavery and justify the brutal treatment of Native Americans. Jefferson in Notes on the State of Virginia ponders the idea that black slaves are mentally and bodily inferior to white people. He also talks about how Native Americans are like Europeans they just need to be civilized (The Stories We Tell). The concept was used to sort out those that made up 'civililized socity' and those that did not, potentially being sub-human beings. These distinctions lead to the sociatal acceptance that blacks were able to be enslaved for life, and that Native Americans could be mistreated, killed, robbed, and such because they were lesser then the white race. Sorting like this lead to easy explainations for attrocities t...

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...Souza that their influence has actually perpetuated racism (Liss, Diasporic Identities, p. 127-128). Which I am in disagreement with, I think that work of Boas and Du Bois did help to move anthropology forward in its thinking about race. Anthropology sees race as a social construct, instead of a biological fact. The problem of color though was not just the problem of the 20th century it was also the problem of the 21st century. Even with the outward signs of progress like a black president, the concept that race issues don't exist anymore, and such, there is still talk in terms of race. Not just talk, the fact that in 1991 African American males had a 29% chance of imprisonment, Latino men had an approximate 16% chance, while white males had less than a 4% chance (Roediger, How Race Survived U.S. History, p. X). Race is still an issue that needs serious attention.
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