What is Race and Will it Ever be Irrelevant?

An anthropological perspective on race in America


Stephen Henderson talks with Dr. Leith Mullings, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the City University of New York Graduate School, about what race is, its historical origins, and what it means today. She is also a contributor to the American Anthropological Association’s RACE Project.  

  • Racialization:  Mullings says that race is a social construct with no sound biological basis, and is the result of racialization.  She says that racialization is imposed on groups to reinforce their inferiority to dominant groups, such as in slavery or under colonialism.
  • Ramifications:  Mullings emphasizes that while race itself is a social construction, racism is real and has serious consequences.  She mentions race-based health disparities between black and white people as one of the effects of racial discrimination. She says that this type of race-based inequality is why the government and census must continue to record race. 
  • Not post-racial:  Mullings says that while we have taken many steps forward, including eliminating slavery and legal public segregation, there have also been steps backwards.  She points out that economic disparity between black and white people has increased again in recent years, and bleieves SCOTUS had “gutted” the VRA and Civil Rights Act.  She says that this does not bode well, especially with gerrymandering. 
  • Cultural and historical context:  A caller points out that racism not only hurts black people and radicalized groups, but also has provided white people with an advantage since the beginning of US history.  Mullings agrees, and says that there are many historical and anthropological works exploring the history and construct of whiteness.  She says that race depends on context, and whiteness has existed in different ways in different times and locations. 

Click the audio link above to hear the full conversation.