September 2019: Humanists and Racial Bias

To watch a video of this talk, click here.

Bias is everywhere in our society – so began biological anthropologist Greg Laden, providing numerous examples from recent news at our September Community Gathering. And humanists aren’t immune from exhibiting bias because we all are products of our environment.

Greg Laden

Our biology, our genetic makeup, Laden argued, is not the culprit as much as is our culture. Our individual and collective humanity arises from a combination of effects – genetic, environmental, learned, accidental factors – all mediated by culture. A culture, here in America, which is uniquely and intractably racist.

While some progress has been made, further reducing racial bias will take time. We must change the culture – and integration, Laden asserted, is key to that endeavor.

During the Q & A, Laden reminded us that we’ve been a multicultural country since our inception. We were out of time so we couldn’t tease out that truth much, but I left thinking about the re-vamped multicultural history that I used to teach high school students. It’s a history that too many Americans never learned about or want to deny. That takes us back to Laden’s opening remarks: bias is everywhere – even our past history lessons were riddled with bias.

— Audrey Kingstrom



    • John-Anthony Burchall on October 9, 2019 at 9:11 am
    • Reply

    It was a shame that there was scant little opportunity for discussion. Were there such an opportunity, l would have reminded the dear presenter that Anthropology, is a rational, scientific, humanistic, evidence-based project initiated and sustained in Europe’s Colonial Racist Paradigm. Anthropology is the name given to the practice where Europeans came into their colonial outposts in Africa and the Caribbean to “study” the natives. Those natives were /are my people. Anthropology then is the handmaiden of European Racism and Colonialism and Genocide . It is the quintessential tool of European humanism. My people being slaves, were irrational and sub human. I would have liked to have talked about that. But time was short. This is the beauty of the Scientific Method. The only evidence that matters, is the evidence that the European gaze deems worthy. My people were always the objects of this gaze. We had no choice. The Europeans always had the bigger guns and the Christian God’s firm support. Now you have Scientific, empirical absolutism, based in the theory of Evolution in place of your Christian God. Under the guise of rational objective science and it’s methods, Anthropology meant death to the indigenous cultures of the world because we failed to approximate European norms. Thanks a lot Anthropology! The untold suffering your Science has visited on my people can never be atoned for over the last 150 years. Too bad there was no discussion allowed. Time was short and only one European male voice was permitted to hold court for 95 percent of the meeting. Humanists are such lovers of inclusion and democratic participation! This meeting was evidence of these facts. From that point of view it was another unqualified success. We the descendants of Africa are not, now nor were we ever the concern of European Enlightenment Rationality and Humanism both Religious and Secular. Unless of course Europeans wanted our bodies to do the labor and our resources to enrich themselves! This is simply Racism dressed up and perfumed. I am not impressed with this. This kind of presentation may work for the majority populations of Minnesota and their understanding of Humanism, but l am a child of Africa and I am a descendent of Slaves. Good European Humanists owned my people as slaves. I will not dishonor my people whose bodies and resources were the Engine that drove the European Renaissance, the European Enlightenment and what you all affectingly call Science. I demand that your Humanism include my people and you stop patting yourselves on the back for being progressive, and culturally sensitive. You are neither of those things. On behalf of my people the non humans, those deemed 2/3 of a human by the Rationality and Humanism of the racist US Constitution in the first 80 years of its existence, we the people Thomas Jefferson and James Madison owned say NO. Your Humanism is an elite and exclusive European club. Doubt me? Just examine your membership and your Humanistic heroes. There is a certain monochrome fidelity and consistency there. It is eminently rational and unapologetic in its racism. Anthropology won this battle. One European male voice dominated the entire meeting. Congratulations!

    • Greg Laden on April 7, 2020 at 5:58 pm
    • Reply

    Mt Burchall,

    Hi, I just saw this note, thanks for the comment.

    I don’t need the reminder! Not only are Anthropologists required to carefully study the history of their own discipline to get their doctorates (this is not true in all fields) but as should have been at least somewhat clear in the talk (I discussed this in the beginning) but that history has been part of my academic activities.

    Anthropology as a discipline post dates most of the history you link to it. Once it emerged there were multiple lines, including old world and new world divisions, object of study divisions, etc. But one of the main divisions was about race. Anthropology as it came to be practiced in most of Europe, South Africa, Canada, and several American institutions match the description you provide. At more or less the same time, emerged a counter-racism strain in Anthropology that has always been strong, and that ultimately led to the Statement on Race that I referred to in my talk.

    I agree that it is a shame we did not have more time for Q&A. You should approach the society about having more discussions about this topic.

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