S2 E8: Skulls and Skin

May 17, 2017

Scientists weren’t the first to divide humanity along racial – and racist – lines. But for hundreds of years, racial scientists claimed to provide proof for those racist hierarchies – and some still do.


Image: Skulls in the Samuel Morton Collection, University of Pennsylvania Museum. Photo by John Biewen

Download a transcript of the episode.

Resources for this episode:
Fatal Invention, by Dorothy Roberts
The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter

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14 comments on “S2 E8: Skulls and Skin

  1. Henry Lowengard Aug 29, 2017

    Also good relevant reading: The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould. He goes through lots of “scientific” attempts to find race, and to put whatever gets defined as white on top. This extends to IQ tests, which were really for evaluating Army recruits, not for ranking brainpower.

  2. I love this series. I have a question about an example used in this episode. It compared people with Zimbabwean roots and Somali roots to illustrate that race does not exist biologically or genetically. I thought it was interesting that the comparison stated, that folks with Somali roots have more in common with folks with European roots than folks with Zimbabwean roots. I think it is interesting first, because it still relies on borders created in part by colonization and brutality. Second, if we allow for some gross generalization, there are some phenotypic differences between people who identify ethnically as Somali and people who identify as part of one of the predominant ethnic groups in Zimbabwe. In fact, within Somalia, there has been some nationalistic, ethnocentric rejection of communities who are called, sometimes derogatorily “Bantu” in Somalia. Many of the ethnic groups in Zimbabwe are also sometimes referred to as Bantu, referring to a shared grammar structure and other shared elements of language, culture, and geography. All that to say, as of now, I would not feel comfortable sharing this example in East Africa because it may, in practice, confirm some existing assumptions about racial and ethnic hierarchies.

    I realize this is a big, giant ask here – Are there examples that illustrate the intended point that don’t a) rely on colonized borders and/or b) don’t have this complicated a relationship with ethnic/national identity, phenotype, etc.? (in addition to the very helpful point that we ALL share more in common genetically and there is more diversity within constructed racial groups than between).

  3. Jeff Francois Dec 10, 2017

    Ask the wrong questions in science and you’re bound to get the wrong answers.. Race is more a technology than an identity. This and much I’m learning. Thanks

  4. Mac White Jan 16, 2018

    Great series and information. I prefer reading over listening and was doing fine with this through Part 7. Beginning with Part 8 and on through Part 14 your format has changed and I no longer seethe option ‘download a copy of the transcript’ which gave me the opportunity to print. Could I please get some help with this issue? Thanks so much.

    Mac White
    Austin, Tx

    • cdsduke Jan 16, 2018

      Individual episode pages past Part 7 have been updated with links to the transcripts! Apologies for any inconvenience,


  5. Muoi Sau Apr 13, 2020

    Science is amazing! How they can tell the species?

  6. Brian K Freeland May 25, 2020

    This was very thought provoking for the listeners as well as the speakers.

  7. Amy Atchley Jun 15, 2020

    Wow, I seriously caught a glimpse into an alternate future where companies and politics aren’t guiding our science, but rather a vision of a more just, sustainable future, just in the last 2 minutes of this podcast. Wow.

    • Robert Stanton Jun 23, 2020

      Fabulous series.

      A “must” for any person who has an open mind and is willing to relearn or learn for the first time where whiteness comes from.

      A compulsion for exploitation and mans thirst for power has done so much damage over the course of history


  8. Thank you for another insightful and gut wrenching episode. EVERYONE needs to listen to this series. I simply do not have the words to express how important the work of this series is. Thank you so much.

  9. Celia Harte Sep 15, 2020

    About the discussion on science — there’s a mythology that it’s value-free; when I was an undergrad in the mid-1970s, there was a notion of value-free social science, which I thought was ridiculous and challenged. All “science”, all research is not free of values. We hold them as humans and they affect our work. And this doesn’t mean there are not objective facts – such as in the genome project. But “science” isn’t automatically value-free.
    Thanks so much for this series – it’s thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate, wonderful!

  10. Carrie Ebner Sep 22, 2020

    I wish more people understood what science is not. Science is not about proving. It is about subjecting a hypothesis to the most rigorous scrutiny. The principle of falsification is the most important grounding in an experimental study.

    I wish one sentence could have been said that the field of science aims to disprove, and that is what makes it helpful to the aim of truth. The field of pseudoscience is what these first, evil anthropologists and eugenicists were practicing under the name of science.

    Those people doing believing in race studies in order to separate the human race were guilty of motivated reasoning. Confirmation bias is the most overlooked mental fallacy: we deliberately look for or CREATE confirming instances of our beliefs. Very dangerous when money and status are involved.

    I think the best test you can apply to self or others is this:
    1. Someone states a so-called fact about the world.
    2. Ask, do you believe that is true?
    3. Assuming they/you believe this thing, ask WHY would you WANT to believe that.

    I have been listening to this mesmerizing series in preparation for a discussion I’m having tonight (9/22/20) around the inquiry What is ‘whiteness’? I sent the link to this to several people and hope some come prepared detach from their race and their faulty beliefs.

  11. Dave Leuthe Oct 5, 2020

    The new enlightenment is beginning from your research into what really happened. I am realizing for the first time what we were taught was a carefully crafted history to justify what white Europeans decided they wanted to become rich and powerful. The concepts are so deeply embedded in society now that it hard to understand how privileged I am and how to undo it in society and economic systems that depend on these concepts. It seems to be deepening beyond color culture and racial concepts towards an elite ruling class that maintains and grows it’s wealth from consumer control and the development of working poor that continues to lose benefits to ensure corporate profit.

    We are glad you are doing this series to start to expose the walls of injustice that need to be dismantled. It will not be easy as it is human nature to hold on tight to power and lifestyles to which we have become accustomed to. Keep pushing the truth!

  12. Dennis Costarakis Oct 29, 2020

    Excellent. Whenever anyone I’m talking to uses the words race, racist, racism and other derivatives of those words, I immediately ask them “What race are you talking about?” That usually brings them up short. If they are ignorant and tell me blacks, hispanics, Asian, etc., I tell them there is only one race currently on planet Earth. I then tell them the human race, Homo Sapiens, originated in South Africa, and therefore all our early ancestors were black. Bigots don’t like to hear that and refuse to accept it. I tell them you can’t change facts to suit yourself. If they are interested, I tell them where to find the facts.