UNESCO and the Statements on Race in the Making

Friday, January 5, 2018: 8:30 AM
Marriott Ballroom, Salon 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Perrin Selcer, University of Michigan
This paper analyses the production and reception of UNESCO’s Statements on Race from 1950, 1951, 1964 and 1967 to track the consolidation of a scientific consensus on the biological significance of race. The race statements played a key role in the establishment of the postwar liberal antiracist orthodoxy, and their history illuminates broader dynamics in the production of scientific scripts intended to influence political debates. The consensus was rooted in the synthesis of physical anthropology and population biology but depended on a parallel strengthening of antiracist social norms in the international community. As much as race, conflicts over the race statements were disputes over scientific authority – over who, if anyone, should be authorized to speak for science. Because international civil servants and activist scientists had to negotiate disciplinary, national, and international politics to achieve an acceptable consensus, a close reading of this history reveals the importance of shifting political and social meanings of equality on scientific statements of biological facts. Two central ironies that emerge are the shifting association of bell curves from representations of liberal racial tolerance to icons of enduring racism and the importance of increasing racial and national diversity in the international scientific community to discrediting biological determinism.
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