The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

George Armelagos and Changing Idea about the Realities of Race, Human Variation, and Racism


1Natural Sciences, Hampshire College, 2Sociology and Anthropology, William and Mary, 3Sociology and Anthropology, Howard University

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George Armelagos holds a pivotal position in changing conceptions about race, human variation and racism over the last half decade. In this paper we sketch out key individuals, events, and trends in Armelagos’ research, writing and mentorship on race, human variation and racism.

As an undergraduate at Michigan and as a graduate students at Colorado in the 1960s, Armelagos was influenced by mentors C. Loring Brace and Jack Kelso, as well as Frank Livingstone, and Alice Brues, exposing him to new and often conflicting ideas about race and human variation. Early on, he took a position close to Brace, who followed his own mentor, Ashley Montagu. For Montagu and Brace, race was a myth.

Armelagos also saw quickly the limitations of the position that race is a mere myth, not least because this position failed to consider how powerful ideologies of race and racism remained all too real and become biological. Since the 1970s, Armelagos has tirelessly and passionately encouraged his students and colleagues to explore how race is both unreal as a way to describe genetic variation and yet very real as lived experience. He has encouraged us to explore the history and continued impact of racism in anthropology and beyond the academy. Armelagos continues to provide his students and colleagues wide intellectual freedom to explore their own ideas and theories. Moreover, are encouraged to explore and speak out by his clear sense of outrage at the “shoddy sciences of race” and continued racism in the academy and beyond.

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