I’m almost finished talking about the “race” concept in my cultural anthropology class. As much as possible, I’m emphasizing two important points--humans are biologically variable and that the usual conception of “race” found in American culture is a social construction that doesn’t adequately describe that biological variation (though it does nicely serve as an ideological justification for social, political and economic stratification).
When talking about human biological variation, I employed the “braided river” metaphor to demonstrate that differences do exist without assuming discrete little bundles of racial groups. I am teaching a class in cultural anthropology at the time, so it’s a bit of a challenge to get across the idea without the benefit previous discussions of population genetics to set the stage. In my recent class, I added the straw man idea of “pure races” to serve as a contrast to a braided genetic history. A “pure race” being a genetically homogeneous human population with great antiquity.
This was helpful as it seemed to resonate with the class and provided a clear opposite to the idea I was attempting to communicate. I found it a good conceptual teaching tool that demonstrates something important in the negative by using a concept that’s easily accessible to students. It’s problematic that they all so quickly understood the idea of “pure races,” but it does create a visible target to deconstruct.