In 1998, a group of American anthropologists garnered attention by questioning the meaning of “race.” These scholars, from a discipline that long supported the concept of race, announced they no longer believed that humans could be categorized into clearly distinct biological groups. Their statement echoed a sentiment increasingly expressed by academics in a variety of disciplines. Scholars today suggest that “race,” as it is understood in the U.S., was invented in the 18th century by English colonists to separate themselves from the Native Americans and Africans also living in colonial America. And, they say, the errant belief in race led to such atrocities as slavery in the South and the Holocaust in Europe. Anthropologist Audrey Smedley (Virginia Commonwealth University), author of the 1998 American Anthropological Association Statement on Race and the award-winning book Race in North America, joins with historian Dirk Philipsen (Virginia State University) in a discussion of the development of race as a concept and how race led to racism.
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