A Racialized Deconstruction? Ashley Montagu and the 1950 UNESCO Statement on Race



Scholars interested in the politics and conceptual history of race claim that the 1950 UNESCO Statement on Race represented the triumph of anti-racist science, heavily informed by Boasian anthropology and synthetic evolutionary theory, over the science that had defined social Darwinism, eugenics, and the Holocaust. This article moves beyond that acknowledgment by exploring how activists and critics involved in the struggle for human and civil rights engaged the Statement, and by inquiring if and how the Statement, behind the leadership of Ashley Montagu, undermined the very notion of race. This article begins to extend the intertwined history of African American politics and the history of anthropology into the second half of the 20th century, and ultimately highlights a starting point for investigating the convergence of scientific knowledge and political action that have contributed to the confirmed viability of race in the late 20th and early 21st century.