Forensic Anthropologists Say ‘Cloaked’ Whiteness Soils Science, Cops Care Less About BIPOC Bones
There’s a marginal group in America, and they shouldn’t be racialized.
I’m speaking of skeletons.
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you. However, what if bones are all you’ve got?
Perhaps supplemental sensitivity’s in order.
Hence, in July of last year, Jonathan D. Bethard and Elizabeth A. DiGangi called their colleagues.
Via the Journal of Forensic Sciences, they asked experts to stop determining the race of skeletal remains.
The duo dished on sinister systems:
Historians of the 21st century will examine the year 2020 and the confluence of seismic events which impacted everyday life in the United States and served to highlight systemic inequalities that have permeated the nation for centuries. Between the devastating COVID-19 pandemic and the homicides of numerous Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement officials, we have all been reminded about the fragility of life, and the failures of our society to live up to the ideals enshrined in the foundational documents which established the United States…
The missive, of course, was fired amid uproar over George Floyd.
To Bethard and DiGangi, it was tackle time:
Tackling these failures seems overwhelming at times… In writing this letter, we direct our comments to the forensic anthropology community in the United States in hopes of sparking a discussion about the long-standing practice of ancestry estimation and changes that are frankly long overdue.
According to the two, biological race is a myth.
And the practice of racially pegging people is particularly problematic due to white supremacy.
Where forensics and crime are concerned, if bones aren’t considered Caucasian, investigating cops might not care:
[A]bundant data demonstrate that not all cases of unidentified people are treated equally. Take for example the well-known “missing White women syndrome.” Numerous reasons may prevent families from providing missing person reports, and it is understood that bias exists in how such cases are investigated and ultimately resolved. … [U]nidentified decedents in some cases may be subjected to inadequate investigative efforts after forensic anthropologists provide an opinion that an ancestry estimate is anything other than European-descended.
Therefore, those in the field must “undertake a critical reflection of physical anthropology’s history to include its past contribution to racist systems and structures persisting today which have led to the premature deaths of countless people of color.”
In January, the duo waxed further with “Uncloaking a Lost Cause: Decolonizing ancestry estimation in the United States.”
[F]orensic anthropologists have not fully considered the racist context of the criminal justice system in the United States related to the treatment of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color; nor have we considered that ancestry estimation might actually hinder identification efforts because of entrenched racial biases.
The writers hazed the “harm” of a confederate monument and commended Critical Race Theory.
Moreover, they delivered depressing news:
Forensic anthropology is cloaked in whiteness.
Social justice and science seem increasingly common cohorts.
Cases in point:
Bethard and DiGangi went to bat for BIPOC:
[W]e assert that by bolstering the biological race concept for law enforcement, whether it is our intention to or not, we are contributing to a justice system that disproportionately harms Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). We are therefore doing a disservice to society in general but BIPOC specifically by continuing to uphold for law enforcement and the public that biological race is real.
So let’s wipe out white privilege:
Denial is used as a tool to uphold the dominant narrative of white privilege and superiority and its consequent racism while disavowing any responsibility for its imposed trauma or inequality.
As noted by The College Fix, not everyone’s on the enlightened authors’ side.
An archaeology article in Science magazine this month dug deep:
When an unidentified body arrives in the laboratory of Allysha Winburn, a forensic anthropologist at the University of West Florida, it’s her job to study the bones to help figure out who the person was when they were alive — to give the biological remains a social identity. … But Winburn, who is white, is now questioning whether she should continue to do so. … Over the past year, the debate about ancestry estimation has exploded in U.S. forensic anthropology, with a flurry of papers examining its accuracy, interrogating its methods, and questioning its assumptions.
No empirical data indicate that forensic anthropological ancestry estimates promote racially-biased investigative outcomes.”
San Jose State anthropologist Elizabeth Weiss told TCF, “If forensic anthropologists abandon determining race, then they are going to be doing victims and their families a big disservice and are engaging in a dereliction of their duty.”
As for Bethard and DiGangi’s beliefs, Elizabeth surmises something’s strange:
“I think it’s this weird phenomenon; they want to place emphasis on the social construction of race (and racism), but want to deny the biological concept of race. Nevertheless, they would never support making the argument that one can self-determine race.”
She followed with, “I suspect that the next problem that will arise in forensics is sex identification…”
I’d say that’s on its way.
After all, sex — like race — may be a social construct.
Anthropologists aren’t alone in their activism; geologists are digging for justice, too.
And in their case, it involves the living:
Here’s to a future where hammers lose their stronghold and mummies are no longer marginalized.
There’s no excuse for bigotry toward bones.
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