A MOST DANGEROUS ERROR: the boasian myth of a knock-down argument against racism

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A genealogy of the English word racism shows that its dominant sense was shaped by Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, and Ashley Montagu around 1940 in order to establish a broad consensus against a narrow form of antisemitism found among some anthropologists in Nazi Germany. Their strategy, which was to challenge the biological concept of race on which racism, on their account, was said to be parasitic was subsequently adopted by UNESCO in 1950 and is still advocated by many today. But this approach was not formulated to address anti-black racism. The limitations of this strategy were quickly exposed by black thinkers such as Oliver Cromwell Cox and Frantz Fanon. They understood that the problem was a form of systemic racism that could not be separated from the economic inequalities produced by slavery and colonialism. It could not be reduced to a system of thought open to scientific refutation: the problem had been misdiagnosed from the outset.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)92-103
Number of pages12
JournalAngelaki - Journal of the Theoretical Humanities
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 4 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Philosophy
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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