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RACE: Are We So Different?

Monday, April 30, 2007

The largest-ever public education project on race in America was recently launched by the American Anthropological Association. Hampshire College professor Alan Goodman is president of the AAA and a member of the project's advisory committee. The nearly $4 million project, funded through grants from the National Science Foundation and Ford Foundation, is called RACE: Are We So Different?

The project began a decade ago with collaboration among a diverse group of anthropologists discussing how to use their public voice to engage with race and racism. The result is a fresh and provocative look at race, racism, and human biological and genetic variation. It includes a 5,000-square-foot traveling museum exhibit that will make its way around the country over the next five to seven years (created in partnership with the Science Museum of Minnesota). There is also a website that includes among its contents educational materials for parents and teachers.

Race and racism affect the places we live, the people we hang out with, date and marry, the things we buy, the sports we play, the schools we attend. Race and racism continue to have consequences for wealth and health. Yet, is race real? The idea of race maps very poorly onto the structure of human genetic variation.

Race is no longer a valid scientific way to describe human genetic variation, explains Dr. Alan Goodman, professor of biological anthropology at Hampshire College. Race should be understood as a social, historical concept, not as a genetic concept. But, race is very real as a powerful ideology with enduring consequences, shaping how we see ourselves and others.

Goodman hopes the RACE project and traveling exhibition generate significant public discussion. "I hope individuals will visit multiple times and bring their families and get a conversation going," he said. The exhibit is filled with interactive activities allowing visitors to examine the history of the idea of race, the experience of race in the United States, and how race relates to health, wealth and education.

"For an organization like the American Anthropological Association to step up to the plate and do this is very unusual," Goodman said. It is also unusual for a professor from a small liberal arts college to be elected president of his field's national organization. The AAA is the world's largest professional organization of anthropologists and others interested in anthropology. Goodman's history of scholarship and leadership on anthropological issues surrounding race is one reason that his peers chose him to lead the organization during the development and launching of such an important project.

Media contacts:
Dr. Alan Goodman, Professor of Biological Anthropology at Hampshire College and president of the American Anthropology Association: contact Elaine Thomas, director of college communications, Hampshire College, 413.559.5482,

Dr. Peggy Overby, Principal Investigator and Project Director, RACE Project, American Anthropological Association, 703.528.1902, ext. 3006,

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