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Kelci Mueller

Professor Lo
Race & Social Justice
November 16, 2015
The evidence Brian Wallis presents in his article Black Bodies, White Science is
significant to his argument that race is a political issue, a product of subjective choices made
around issues of power (Wallis 163). Wallis is arguing that race and all of the scientific evidence
to back up the concept of race is nonsense and scientists, such as Louis Agassiz, have a biased
opinion when conducting research on whether or not African American slaves are a different
species all together. Wallis presents his evidence through pictures that are racially biased.
Agassiz a scientist in the mid-1800s did research on several different ethnicities to try and
discover whether or not there are different species of humans. Agassiz took photos, as part of his
research, of slaves in full nudity to try and look at the body to decide whether or not they are the
same as European whites. Wallis points out that taking photos was objective to the research
because it confuses and problematizes its message (Wallis 173) which means that photography
can be biased and so it confuses the actual data that is presented to persuade people to look at it
in the same bias that Agassiz did. These photos were Agassiz way of saying The material form
is the cover of the spirit (Wallis 174), which shows that Agassiz used photos to help him prove
that the shape of the body and the color of the body is solely what makes people of color inferior
and a different race than the whites because of how they look. Field research, which involved
not only the physical measurement of the body, but an assessment of the moral character,

manner, and social habits of each racial type. (Wallis 174), this is Wallis saying that Agassiz
mixed a social judgement with scientific discovery. This causes the scientific research to become
bias because they are using what they look like to decipher what they act like or how they are as
a person.
People of color, according to Agassiz were the nearest approximation to the lower
animals Their complexion is yellowish brown, compared by travelers to the peculiar hue of
Europeans (Wallis 174) is a very biased statement by Agassiz because he based on how they
looked and then they were placed lower than white Europeans. This is why Wallis adds this
statement in because it shows that he has a biased opinion towards people of color. Wallis also
points out even though Agassiz says he has no political motivation with his beliefs on racial
typologies (Wallis 167) in a letter to his mother he states, it is impossible for me to repress
the feeling that they are not of the same blood as us. (Wallis 167). Wallis points out that he is
very contradictory to what he says. Which again leads to his scientific discoveries to be racially
Wallis argument shows that Agassizs research is racially biased and that the science
behind it is flawed because of the bias toward people of color. He argues that pictures can
confuse the evidence at hand, and that Agassiz says one thing and then tells another. Wallis gives
us a clear understanding of why he feels Agassiz is biased and how that can affect his research
and understanding. He shows us that race is just a social bias more than it is a scientific fact.

Work Cited

Wallis, Brian. Black Bodies, White Science: Louis Agassiz's Slave Daguerreotypes. American
Art 9.2 (1995): 3961. Print.