COMPSCI 1BA3 Chapter Notes -Brain Size, Ethnocentrism, Samuel George Morton
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October 6, 2013
Notions about “race”
Many centuries have passed with anthropologists pondering about the notion of
“race”. The idea and development of “race” has been a topic of discussion, and
continues to be to this very day. Myths and notions about “race” have been in circulation
as early as the eighteenth and nineteenth century (Moses 2013: page 114). These
views separate humankind into different categories based on their physical attributes,
intelligence, and athletic abilities (Moses 2013: page 114). As anthropologists have
come to realize, looking at “race” from a holistic approach, it is more of a socially
constructed notion developed by society than a biological creation (McGarry 2013).
Firstly, early scientists believed that “race” was created on the basis of
biologically visible physical attributes. They grouped individuals into categories based
on characteristics such as skin colour, nose shape, and hair texture (Moses 2013: page
114). This would mean that all people who look alike based on those attributes would be
considered as one “race”. A scientist by the name of Carl Linnaeus created 5 racial
categories in the 1700’s which were informally known as Africanus, Americanus,
Asiaticus, Europeanus, Monstrosus (McGarry, 2013). He grouped all the people in the
world into these 5 racial categories. As visible by the name, he thought that all people in
each of these 5 continents biologically looked alike and could therefore be grouped
together with the exception of Monstrosus, which was the racial category for the
disabled(McGarry, 2013). Although an early theory, there are many problems associated
with it. The physical attributes of humans are not biological, but rather based on
geographical variations. An example of this is the skin colour, which Linnaeus
considered a biological feature. Skin colour varies for individuals based on the level of
melanin needed in their bodies to survive the type of land and location they reside in.
Individuals living closer to the equator will have a higher level of melanin to protect them
against UV which means their skin will be darker than that of someone living farther up
north with lower levels of melanin (McGarry, 2013). Our bodies are suited to adapt to
environments that we live in so they can survive. Due to this, the physical features of
humans adapt to best suit their environment and their living conditions. Therefore, due
to these variations being geographical, and not biological, categorizing individuals with
certain physical characteristics is illogical.
Additionally, intelligence and “race” were and are, to some extent today, known to
be related. Intelligence is seen as a biological attribute, one that everyone is born with.
Scientists concluded that certain “races” were more intellectual than others due to their
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