The constraints of racialization: How classification and valuation hinder scientific research on human variation


Human biological variation has historically been studied through the lens of racialization. Despite a general shift away from the use of overt racial terminologies, the underlying racialized frameworks used to describe and understand human variation still remain. Even in relatively recent anthropological and biomedical work, we can observe clear manifestations of such racial thinking. This paper shows how classification and valuation are two specific processes which facilitate racialization and hinder attempts to move beyond such frameworks. The bias induced by classification distorts descriptions of phenotypic variation in a way that erroneously portrays European populations as more variable than others. Implicit valuation occurs in tandem with classification and produces narratives of superiority/inferiority for certain phenotypic variants without an objective biological basis. The bias of racialization is a persistent impediment stemming from the inheritance of scientific knowledge developed under explicitly racial paradigms. It is also an internalized cognitive distortion cultivated through socialization in a world where racialization is inescapable. Though undeniably challenging, this does not present an insurmountable barrier, and this bias can be mitigated through the critical evaluation of past work, the active inclusion of marginalized perspectives, and the direct confrontation of institutional structures enforcing racialized paradigms.

Am. J. Phys. Anthropol.
Tina Lasisi
Tina Lasisi
Postdoctoral Researcher in Biological Anthropology

My research interests include human phenotypic variation in hair morphology and skin pigmentation.