Ancestral Diversity in Skeletal Collections Perspectives on African American Body Donation

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Allysha P. Winburn
Antaya L. Jennings
Dawnie W. Steadman
Elizabeth A. DiGangi


African Americans comprise approximately 13% of the U.S. population,  6% of missing persons, and 51% of homicide victims (Kochanek et al. 2019; National Crime Information Center [NCIC] 2018; U.S. Census Bureau 2010). However, African American remains are underrepresented in the documented skeletal samples resulting from body donations to U.S. taphonomic research facilities. If forensic anthropologists are to rise to the challenge of identifying remains from this segment of the U.S. population, and if heritable differences among human populations are to be distinguished from the embodied differences acquired by marginalized individuals, a deeper understanding of African American skeletal biology is essential. This understanding is contingent on Black donors participating in whole-body donation to anthropological research facilities—participation that may be undermined by a legacy of mistrust between Black communities and the traditionally White-dominated scientific and medical establishments. This review paper synthesizes data from medical research on cadaver and organ donation, as well as anthropological literature on structural violence, embodiment, and the collection and curation of human remains, to present multiple perspectives on increasing African American body donation to anthropological research. We focus on historical, structural, and cultural factors potentially contributing to Black donor reluctance, providing a perspective often lacking in discussions of skeletal curation. We aim to generate debate and discussion within the field of forensic anthropology
and among community stakeholders about how skeletal research can better serve Black communities.

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