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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: February 2021

Chapter 4 - Climate and Race

from Part I - Climate and Its Discontents

Summary

“Climate and Race” begins with a scene from Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989), considered in the context of scholarship on urban heat islands, to make evident one crucial mode in which anthropogenic climate and racial grouping intersect now and will do so going forward. That established, the chapter then jumps backward in time, to the early modern period, and works gradually forward, to witness the long history of how people in Europe and America theorized the intersection of climatic and human variety. In distinction from what geneticists now contend about the ways that racial categories fail to correlate with miniscule genetic variations between human groups, and in distinction from ancient and early modern theorists who believed that bodies were so porous as to be composed differently by different environments and changed as they relocated, the most consequential modern race theorists gained traction by attending to bodily surfaces, and defining them as indexes of invisible and immutable features underneath. The chapter traces the ways in which this modern concept developed and how climate featured as an aspect of, and at times as a counterpoint to, this history of thinking.