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Upon the Body: Examining the Relationship between Race and Ancestry

C. L Richardson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Upon the Body explores the complex relationship between race and ancestry. The overall aim of this book is to identify problems with the use of ancestry as evidence for racial membership and reimagine race in a way that transcends these problems and undermines racism. Chapter 1 argues that there are problems with the scope of ancestry as evidence for racial membership. Additionally, I contend that there are problems with the inferences made about ancestry on the basis of perceptually experiencing human bodies. The nature and reliability of these inferences poses problems for their use as evidence for belonging in racial categories. Unfortunately, these problems go unrecognized in academic accounts of race and in folk contexts. This lack of recognition offers racism a safe hiding place in both the everyday practice of racial categorizing and in critical academic discussions of race. Chapter 2 argues that the actual purpose of ancestry is to naturalize race in order to lend credence to and maintain an existing social hierarchy. Further, in Chapter 3, I argue that, while it is generally supposed that ancestry resolves problem cases for racial membership, racial categorizing is actually done in perception. Our social training, which teaches us to associate particular visible properties of human bodies with hierarchically arranged racial groupings in the context of an epistemic environment, is responsible for racial categories. I call the various systems that come from this social training Perceptually Educated Systems of Racial Categorizing, or PERC systems for short. Chapter 4 outlines a distinction between ancestry as it pertains to race, or racial ancestry, and ancestry as it pertains to something other than race, or non-racial ancestry. I argue that we ought to eliminate racial ancestry and focus more on understanding and valuing non-racial ancestry in our practices. Finally, Chapter 5 offers a way of distinguishing between social and biological aspects that are currently conflated in our everyday notions of race. I suggest this distinction, much like the distinction between sex and gender, is vital for undermining our existing racialized social hierarchy.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Richardson, C. L, "Upon the Body: Examining the Relationship between Race and Ancestry" (2020). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI27956539.