cover image The Race Myth: Why We Pretend Race Exists in America

The Race Myth: Why We Pretend Race Exists in America

Joseph L. Graves. Dutton Books, $24.95 (285pp) ISBN 978-0-525-94825-4

A former professor of biology and African American studies summarizes the history and science of race from its early identity as a""scientific fact"" to its current status as a social construction in this unevenly argued book. Graves is adept at simplifying complex ideas--such as natural selection, sexual selection and genetic distance--so they can easily be understood by readers with only a passing familiarity with the basics of biology. And his first chapter, in which he uses evidence from the human genome project to prove that there is only one race of human beings and explains why physical differences are not an accurate reflection of genetic difference, is particularly fascinating. When it comes to discussing race as a contemporary cultural and political phenomenon, however, Graves rarely rises beyond half-hearted analysis, and he concludes almost exclusively with statements about white social domination. For example, when discussing the O.J. Simpson trial, he declares that""if they white people had Simpson at hand, they would have taught him ... that as a black man, he would never get away with violating a white female's innocence."" Elsewhere, his diatribe against the mistreatment of minorities in academia is vitriolic enough to sound conspiratorial. (""Promotion and tenure for nonwhites,"" he says,""often boils down ... to how palatable ... they are deemed by those who maintain white social domination within that university."") Unfortunately, such broad generalizations pervade much of the book and suggest that it is less interested in provoking intelligent debate than it is on replacing one set of stereotypes with another. Fans of Stephen J. Gould may recognize many of this book's better arguments from his seminal volume The Mismeasure of Man, which presented them in much more thoughtful detail..