Quest: Race & Racism – American Association of Physical Anthropologists

Source: Nouveau

AAPA Statement on Race & Racism

The following AAPA Statement on Race and Racism was written by the AAPA subcommittee tasked with revising the previous AAPA statement on the Biological Aspects of Race that was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, vol. 101, pp 569-570, 1996. The Committee on Diversity (COD) subcommittee was comprised of (in alpha order): Rebecca Ackermann, Sheela Athreya, Deborah Bolnick, Agustín Fuentes (chair), Tina Lasisi, Sang-Hee Lee, Shay-Akil McLean, and Robin Nelson.

The statement was unanimously accepted by the AAPA Executive Committee at its meeting on March 27, 2019 at the 88th Annual Meeting in Cleveland, Ohio.

This statement can be downloaded as a PDF file here.

Executive Summary: AAPA Statement on Race and Racism

Race does not provide an accurate representation of human biological variation. It was never accurate in the past, and it remains inaccurate when referencing contemporary human populations. Humans are not divided biologically into distinct continental types or racial genetic clusters. Instead, the Western concept of race must be understood as a classification system that emerged from, and in support of, European colonialism, oppression, and discrimination. It thus does not have its roots in biological reality, but in policies of discrimination. Because of that, over the last five centuries, race has become a social reality that structures societies and how we experience the world. In this regard, race is real, as is racism, and both have real biological consequences.

Humans share the vast majority (99.9%) of our DNA in common. Individuals nevertheless exhibit substantial genetic and phenotypic variability. Genome/environment interactions, local and regional biological changes through time, and genetic exchange among populations have produced the biological diversity we see in humans today. Notably, variants are not distributed across our species in a manner that maps clearly onto socially-recognized racial groups. This is true even for aspects of human variation that we frequently emphasize in discussions of race, such as facial features, skin color and hair type. No group of people is, or ever has been, biologically homogeneous or “pure.” Furthermore, human populations are not — and never have been — biologically discrete, truly isolated, or fixed.

While race does not accurately represent the patterns of human biological diversity, an abundance of scientific research demonstrates that racism, prejudice against someone because of their race and a belief in the inherent superiority and inferiority of different racial groups, affects our biology, health, and well-being. This means that race, while not a scientifically accurate biological concept, can have important biological consequences because of the effects of racism. The belief in races as a natural aspect of human biology and the institutional and structural inequities (racism) that have emerged in tandem with such beliefs in European colonial contexts are among the most damaging elements in human societies.

AAPA Statement on Race and Racism


The concept of race has developed hand-in-hand with racist ideologies over the last five centuries, and biological anthropology has played an important role in the creation and perpetuation of both the race concept and racist ideologies. Racist political doctrines should not receive support from scientific endeavors, but in practice racism has been co-constructed with inaccurate depictions of human variation provided by scientists. Over our history, the AAPA, and many of its members, have been complicit in producing and reifying racist ideologies via the misuse, falsification, or biased production of scientific information. We acknowledge this history and stress that we should not paper over it even as we seek to end these practices and prevent the reemergence of misconceptions about race in the future.

While science is often represented as objective, apolitical, and unbiased, many ostensibly biological concepts of race have cultural stereotypes, biases, and ethnocentric views embedded within them. We acknowledge that outdated and inaccurate ideas about race, and racism, still inform scientific research today, and are sometimes embedded in what otherwise appears to be “modern,” technologically-advanced science. We stand against such practices.

As scientists, we strive to eliminate the influences of bias, racial profiling, and other erroneous ways of thinking about human variation from our study designs, interpretations of scientific data, and reporting of research results. This is not simply due to concerns about how non-scientists use scientific research; it is also about how scientists themselves conceive, implement, analyze, and present their research. We offer this statement as a baseline for what we know about race and racism in order to help us do better science and better convey what we know about human biological variation to broader audiences.

What race is and what it is not

Racial categories do not provide an accurate picture of human biological variation. Variation exists within and among populations across the planet, and groups of individuals can be differentiated by patterns of similarity and difference, but these patterns do not align with socially-defined racial groups (such as whites and blacks) or continentally-defined geographic clusters (such as Africans, Asians, and Europeans). What has been characterized as “race” does not constitute discrete biological groups or evolutionarily independent lineages. Furthermore, while physical traits like skin color and hair texture are often emphasized in racial classification, and assumptions are often made about the pattern of genetic diversity relative to continental geography, neither follows racial lines. The distribution of biological variation in our species demonstrates that our socially-recognized races are not biological categories.

While human racial groups are not biological categories, “race” as a social reality — as a way of structuring societies and experiencing the world — is very real. The racial groups we recognize in the West have been socially, politically, and legally constructed over the last five centuries. They developed in tandem with European colonial expansion and the emergence of American and European societies with well-documented histories of being shaped and structured by racial hierarchies, power inequities, economic exploitation, dispossession, displacement, genocide, and institutional racism. These practices are rooted in assumptions of innate, natural differences between Europeans and other peoples, and systems of racial classification are intimately tied to histories of European settler colonialism, empire, and slavery. Classifying human beings into different races has never been wholly innocent, unbiased, or apolitical; racial classification has long served to justify exploitation, oppression, discrimination, and structural racism. Notably, racial categories have changed over time, reflecting the ways that societies alter their social, political and historical make-ups, access to resources, and practices of oppression.

Further Reading