Critical Analyses of Race

LeoCasey at LeoCasey at
Mon Oct 30 19:23:27 MST 1995

In reply to my comments about the development of a critical concept of race,
Robert Perrone writes:

I believe there is no scientific basis for the concept of race and if you can
provide any
evidence to the contrary, please point me to the sources.  More and more
anthropologists, (no, I cannot name any at this time, although a recent front
page article in the Sacramento Bee about this very topic citing
anthropologists and social scientists tended to substantiate my belief) are
revisting the concept of "race" and suggesting that
it has outlived its usefullness, if it ever had any at all.  I believe the
concept tends to classify peoples according to the color of their skin and
that it provides a rationale for certain charlatans to make claims about the
inherent intelligence or lack thereof of
certain "races."  The concept of the innate intelligence of any group of
 people has been proven false. Now, if the concept of "race" has no basis in
science, then giving it up should be seen as a step forward for the struggle
of the emancipation of the working class.  Revolutionaries should not hold on
to false, unscientific concepts.  And because I would argue against the
validity of "race" as a concept does not mean I am
therefore arguing for, or support a concept of a "color blind" society.  Your
argument there is specious.  What I do support is the concept of ethnicities
and cultures, two categories that I believe to be more scientific than

Robert Perrone

Where to begin?

It is hardly news that the classical anthropological conceptions of race,
developed at the point of origin of anthropology as a 'sceintific' discourse
of justification for Western imperialism, are in hopeless disrepair. And, I
might add, this is far from being a recent development. Since the end of
World War II one would be very hard put to find any reputable, non-fringe
anthropologist who would endorse such a conception. The notion that human
biology has created some intrinsic link between certain physiological
phenomena -- pigmentation, features, texture of hair -- and intelligence and
other deeper character traits, a link which finds expression in disparate
cultures, is an irredeemably racist notion, and hardly worth serious
consideration by anyone with the slightest of critical sensibilities.

The fundamental problem with Perrone's analysis is not that he misses this
development by about half of a century, but that he uncritically continues to
use the problematic notion of 'science' which undergirded this earlier
conception of race. As a number of recent studies have shown in some detail
(see, for one well-known example, the work of Harraway), Western science, far
from being external and opposed to racism, the development of Western science
has been inextricably involved with racism. (This analysis is only one part
of a growing understanding of the way in which science itself is socially
formed and constructed.) It is time to put some critical light on the
theoretical framework which provided the ground upon which this
anthropological conception of race took shape.

It is an altogether different matter, I would suggest, to critically analyze
the social construction of the category 'race', and to do so with the express
intent on constructing anti-racist political interventions. Unless one starts
from the rather specious assumptions that social constructions are not 'real'
(a rather strange premise for anyone who wants to rescue anything of value
from the Marxist tradition) and that one can somehow step completely outside
of them in the name of some objectivist science, one needs to understand how
these socially constructed concepts are the products of continuous power
struggles, and are continually transformed by those struggles -- both from
above and below. On my reading, one of the fundamental lessons of
African-American history deals precisely with way in which the freedom
struggle involves battles over the social construction of concepts of race.

This is hardly an original observation on my part. Much of the most
interesting work in African-American Studies (West, Gates, Gilroy, advocates
of Critical Race Theory in Law such as  Patricia Williams and Kimberle
Crenshaw, to name just a few examples) is based on similar premises. It just
might be worth investigating some of this work before one so quickly
dismisses the notion that there is a need for a critical analysis of race and
racial discourse.

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