Many eloquent writers are trying to come to terms with the not guilty verdicts in State of Florida v. George Zimmerman. Leith Mullings’s essay is one of the best I’ve seen. She’s the president of the American Anthropological Association. “Anthropology,” she writes, “is the discipline that fostered and nurtured ‘scientific racism,’ a world view that transforms certain perceived differences into genetically determined inequality and provides a rationale for slavery, colonialism, segregation, eugenics, and terror.”
She notes as well that “our discipline also has a significant tradition of anti-racism that emerged from the tumult leading to World War II,” and, a little later: “In the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, cultural anthropologists in particular have understood race to be a social construction—not a biological given (indeed, this is almost a mantra). Race is constructed in the sense that racial hierarchies are created at specific historical moments, frequently linked to labor exploitation, conquest, nation-building, and racialized definitions of citizenship.”
The essay contains a link to Charles Blow’s excellent New York Times op-ed, “The Whole System Failed Trayvon Martin.”
Leith Mullings is also the widow of the late Manning Marable, author of the stunning, Pulitzer Prize–winning Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.