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Brainplay: IS RACE A BIOLOGICAL OR SOCIAL CONSTRUCT?

12th July 2017 (7pm)

The concept and definition of race is still a contentious subject in both science and society. From a scientific view, some would argue that race is a social construct with no biological meaning. In part this has to do with labeling people as “black” or “white” is reductionist and does not explain the complexity of humans. Furthermore, attaching certain attributes to certain races is both flimsy science and dangerous. To a certain extent this is where science and society have intersected to the great embarrassment of science. In the 1800’s Samuel George Morton put forward “scientific” research correlated brain size with intellectual capacity. A large brain and high intellectual capacity and a small skull indicated a decreased intellectual capacity. He then took this to create a hierarchy of skulls putting Caucasians at the top of intellectual ladder whilst people of colour were at the lowest point.
From a societal perspective, race becomes an issue of politics, human rights, and prejudice. Making it very difficult to speak on the subject, especially as the classification of race has been so reliant on the use of one sense, sight. It makes sense to take the cognitive leap of relating features and colour of skin to a specific “race”. However, we now understand that just because someone looks “white” they may in fact have mixed heritage. New companies like 23andMe are confirming that people may not be what they look like, showcasing that most of us are of mixed with people that may not be showcased in a phenotypic manner.
It does seem peculiar that in 2017 we are still having to discuss race, however given that so much of our current politics is being based on a nationalistic agenda, which in part touches the territory of race, we think it is a timely and necessary subject to discuss.
We will be joined by Brett St Louis from Goldsmith University, where he teaches ‘“Race”, Racism and Social Theory’ at its Undergraduate Programme, and Brett also teaches ‘Race, Politics and Ethics’ at the MA programme.
Additionally, Brett is an editorial board member of new formations and Ethnic and Racial Studies journals. His own research is around the conceptual and practical status of race (especially in relation to the epistemological, ontological, political and ethical formations of racial eliminativism), as well as culturalist racism in sport.
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