The Existence or Non-existence of Race?: Forensic Anthropology, Population Admixture, and the Future of Racial Classification in the U.S. By Conrad B. Quintyn


In this book, Conrad Quintyn details the two intransigent sides of the race issue in biological anthropology and human biology in order to propose a common-sense compromise. This compromise is interesting because it does not derive from academic armchair philosophy. It takes into account practical issues in the social environment. This book is significant to the field, at this time, because it addresses the following issues, which form the basis for discussing the future of racial classification in America: 1) There is a high frequency of admixture in U.S. population caused by the steady flow of immigrants over the years, resulting in multiracial populations. Hundreds of thousands of these multiracial Americans are demanding visibility, acceptance—and in many cases an identity that is separate from “black” or “white;” 2) Officials in federal and state agencies as well as black and Hispanic political activists worry that allowing people to choose more than one race, or eliminating race altogether, would impact civil rights compliance and educational accountability for students by race and ethnicity; distribution of federal aid to minorities; and minority districting in congressional elections. It might also erode black or Hispanic solidarity and confuse law enforcement, since the FBI, state, and local police depend on race for much of their day-to-day work; and 3) Population admixture has increased the difficulty in determining race using the skull, which has implications for human identification in forensic science.

Quintyn analyzes several critical arguments posed by both sides and proposes a practical compromise which is integral to the future of racial classification in America. First, from the racialists’ perspective, they ask if there is “no such thing as race,” what would it look like if it existed? Furthermore, if the premise is accepted that there are no biological races, and there is much compelling evidence presented in the literature, then how is it that a person of European ancestry is easily distinguished from a person of African or Asian ancestry?

The literature states that no one characteristic, trait or gene distinguishes all members of one so-called race from all members of another so-called race. If this is the case, then why are the genetic disorders Tay-Sachs and cystic fibrosis found in very high frequencies in Eastern European Jews? Why is hypertension found in high frequency in people of sub-Saharan African ancestry? Why are there genetic differences between population groups in the tolerance and effectiveness of pharmaceuticals? Why is the highest frequency of shovel-shaped incisors found in the skull of people of Asian ancestry?

In the decades since 1970, there has been a steady push to increase the racial categories on U.S. census forms. In Census 2000, there was a profound change: respondents were allowed to identify one or more races to indicate their racial identity. Is this causing confusion for law enforcement, since they use racial information to find missing people and apprehend criminals?

What will happen in federal and state governments, since they use racial classifications for administrative purposes, i.e., to monitor civil rights compliance and educational accountability for students by race and ethnicity, to distribute federal aid to minorities, to facilitate minority districting in congressional elections, etc.? Champion golfer Tiger Woods identifies himself as Cablinasian (Caucasian-Black-Indian-Asian).When people see him, do they not identify him as African American? Will designations like Cablinasian confuse a public used to such traditional racial categories as Caucasian or white, African American or black, Native American or Indian, and Hispanic or Latino?

Non-racialists state that skin color, nose shape, eyelid shape, and hair form are the traditional racial traits used in racial identification. Sub-Saharan Africans and Melanesians have dark skin and curly hair. Also, the Khosian (!Kung San of South Africa) and East Asians share a characteristic eyelid shape (fold of skin above the inner border of eye). In the first instance, does it make sense to put sub-Saharan Africans and Melanesians into the same category or race? In the second instance, does it make sense to call Nelson Mandela (who is from the Khosian [Xhosa] population) Asian? In animal taxonomy, race is defined as a subspecies. In turn, a subspecies is defined as a population in the midst of becoming a new species. Are human populations in the midst of becoming different species?

In this book which brings us closer to answering these questions, Quintyn begins with a history of the race argument, with an emphasis on biological anthropology, to give the reader some critical background information. He gives in chronological order several biological definitions of race before discussing its meaning in contemporary society, and touches on race and medicine. In concluding his study, unlike current books on race, he argues that the academic consensus that “there is no such thing as race” is ultimately pointless.