In Conversation with Maya Bahl on Hypothetical Redefining of “Ethnicity” and “Race”
Maya Bahl is an editor and contributor to The Good Men Project with me. She has an interest and background in forensic anthropology. As it turns out, I hear the term race thrown into conversations in both conservative and progressive circles. At the same time, I wanted to know the more scientific definitions used by modern researchers including those in forensic anthropology. Then I asked Bahl about conducting an educational series. Here we are.
1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: If in some hypothetical reconstruction of the definitions of race and ethnicity, knowing what you know, how would you redefine the concepts for a new, more accurate term, and idea, based on the modern science?
Maya Bahl: I would keep the traditional definition of race tracing itself from genetics and biology and ethnicity being socially constructed intact, but to also anticipate variation, both in measurements and in the people themselves.
From time immemorial there has been variation in human populations, where in Western history, for instance, we have seen this with each conquest made by Alexander the Great as he extended his rule towards Asia and there being inter-relationships as a result.
Racial Fusion Theory has been suggested in explaining whether Alexander the Great’s prominence was for practical reasons in sustaining the Greek Empire or if it was to make one race, as Alexander and his legion had married into Persian populations.
Humans are 99% similar genetically, with skin colour seeming to be the only distinguishable exception, so my definition for a people-centric discipline would more than ever be to anticipate variation!
2. Jacobsen: When examining these issues, with the prior articles covering the standard colloquial and professional definitions, and knowing sectors of society will use these for divisive rhetoric and political gain, what are the main cautionary notes about the complexity of the subject matter for those wishing to look into the evidence and theories?
Bahl: This general field is constantly evolving, and so with it there’s bound to be conflicting information, where making sure sources are legitimate and sound is a sure way to get to the truth. Another way in ensuring certainty is to check in with official international and national associations and organizations.
3. Jacobsen: You are mentored by forensic anthropologists. What are they currently researching? What is the current reach or edge of the research in forensic anthropology?
Bahl: Having studied Anthropology at Bridgewater State University, I first became inspired by the subject from an introductory class that was taught by Dr. Ellen Ingmanson, where in her bone lab classroom I got the inspiration of identifying human bones.
Dr. Ingmanson’s work is mainly in biological anthropology and with studying primates in understanding the evolution of intelligence and how it relates to cultural behaviour.
She conducts observational research through object manipulation, tool use, communication, social skills, behavioural variation, infant development, ecology, and nonhuman culture, and ensures the care and protection of her subjects from her knowledge of primate behaviour.
There have been many advances in technology in Forensic Anthropology, so there has been a lot of news surrounding more effective methodologies and systems that get to the truth. Also, there have been more observational breakthroughs, like whether baby laughter would compare with a chimpanzee.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Maya.