Metro, Newton

Newton Free Library Hosts Authors Graves and Goodman For Discussion on Race

Authors Joseph L. Graves Jr. and Alan H. Goodman joined the Newton Free Library and the Ashland Public Library on Wednesday night for a virtual discussion of their book Racism, Not Race: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

The title of the book speaks to its unique question-and-answer format. In the book’s 11 chapters, Graves and Goodman unpack more than 160 questions on topics such as human genetic differences, institutional racism, whiteness, and the meaning of “post-racial.” 

Racism, Not Race was published on Dec. 7, 2021, by the Columbia University Press. 

“We wrote this specifically for readers who want to work towards greater human equity and for readers who are nervous about saying the wrong thing, and in many cases, these two groups overlap,” Graves said.

Graves is a professor in the biology department at North Carolina A&T State University and a fellow on the Council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His other works include The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium and The Race Myth: Why We Pretend Race Exists in America

Goodman is a professor of biological anthropology at Hampshire College and is a  former president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). Currently, he is one of the directors of the AAA’s public education project on race and has contributed to several books, including Race: Are We So Different?.

Graves and Goodman infuse their scientific backgrounds in their writings on race. Their book and other works seek to differentiate biological reality from the socially constructed concept of race and human origins, according to the event’s program.

Goodman used simplified categories of European, African, and Asian as stand-ins for race to debunk socially constructed race categories and explain that race is not a biological concept. He concluded by citing archeological evidence that the first members of the human species emerged in Africa. Other “races” came from migrating groups that were a subset of the African genetic pool, Goodman explained.

“Human variation is real,” Goodman said. “It’s wonderful. … That’s what evolution is based on. But [evolution is] not race, and to reduce human variation to race is, I think, scientific violence. But it also can be real violence because underlying violent acts of racism [and] in subtle acts of racism sometimes is the idea that biological race has some salience.”

One example of how racism drives socioeconomic inequality in the U.S. is the statistical differences between Black infant mortality and white infant mortality, Goodman said. The disparity is rooted in intergenerational trauma, subtle everyday racism, poverty, and a lack of adequate medical care, rather than biology and the untenable “science” of race, according to Goodman.

Both authors agreed that the U.S. is at a pivotal moment in its history. 

“One of the reasons we wrote this book was because we recognize the moment that this nation is in right now with regard to the ascendance of white supremacy,” Graves said. “We are in danger of losing the thin veneer of democracy that remains in this country if we do not take white supremacy and racism on directly.”

While discussing the erosion of democratic principles in the U.S., Graves highlighted the experiences of his parents.

“My mother and father grew up under Jim Crow, where their lives could be snuffed out at any moment for … sassing a white person,” Graves said. “And many of the people that they grew up with did die on lynch ropes on trees all over Brunswick County in Virginia in the 1930s, in the 1940s.”

Resolving the painful legacy of racism and the continued institutional inequity—particularly in how the education system doesn’t encourage critical thinking, according to Graves—is essential if the nation is to confront the many other crises it faces, Graves said. 

The solution is not as simple as wiping the “race” category from census forms and broadly “getting rid of race,” according to Goodman.

“We have to get rid of racism before we get rid of race,” he said. “It’s not calling people different races that causes racism. It’s thinking that there’s inherent differences [and] values.”

Featured Image by Connor Siemien / Heights Editor

February 27, 2022