Historically, the notion of a race has been used by societies to distinguish people based on their social and physical characteristics and thus classify each person as belonging to a particular group which could define their personality. In the past, race division entailed a hierarchy which meant that individuals representing one race were viewed as superior to those of another race. Today, the problems related to race usually concern the consequences of this historical injustice and the ways to resolve it. In the US, every week, stories emerge on how police exhibit preferential treatment to white citizens and act in an extremely cruel fashion when confronting African Americans.
Many believe that such conduct on the part of the police is the outcome of systemic racism. Thus, nowadays, it becomes particularly significant to discuss the idea of race and how it should be perceived by people. There are several attitudes towards the notion of race. Yet, viewing race as a social construct is scientifically correct since this approach reflects the sociological value of this term and recognizes the fact that race is not biological.
One of the primary arguments in support of the idea that race is a social construction is that in various societies in the world, people tend to view races differently. Essentially, individuals of the same ethnic origin and ancestry can be perceived as belonging to separate races depending on the country. For instance, a person who has both white and black parents can still be considered white in Brazil, while in the US, they will be more likely to be called black (Race).
One of the examples of such people is Barrack Obama, who is considered the first African American president of the United States despite the fact that his mother is white. Moreover, people of both Asian and European ancestry in the US tend to perceive themselves as sharing more similar qualities with whites than Asians (Onwuachi-Willig). Such evidence demonstrates that race varies not only in different societies but also within the limits of one country. Therefore, race should be understood as a notion which is determined by the attitude of certain societies towards people of different physical appearance.
Yet, there is also an assumption that race is biological, in other words, that every person can be categorized based on their particular genome, which is inherent strictly to their race. People who espouse this attitude usually claim that whites and African Americans are different not simply in terms of their phenotype but also in terms of their genes. As a result, this position implies that a person of one race may not possess certain characteristics and even talents which will be common among representatives of another race.
Yet, this view is essentially false since scientific evidence shows that genomes of people of different races are similar. As studies show, members of racial groups do not have biological or genetic traits which all of them share and which would lead to a clearly-defined biological boundary between different races (Race). In other words, there are no genetic aspects which individuals would possess simply based on their race. Thus, defining race as a biological concept is not consistent with scientific knowledge.
Yet, it is important to note that despite the fact that race cannot be viewed as biological, genetic differences between people of various ethnic descents do exist and should be addressed. It is clear that a group of individuals living in a certain area for many centuries will, to some extent, have a different genetic composition compared to another group on the other side of the planet. Nevertheless, the concept of race cannot be applied in this case since there will still be multiple similarities in terms of the genome between these groups. As a result, other terms can be proposed which could describe the genetic diversity of all people on the planet. Namely, the terms such as “ancestry” and “population” can replace race because these terms better reflect the relationship between genes and people. Additionally, a more precise terminology is also important in the context of medical care.
For instance, some researchers tend to differentiate between northeastern from southeastern Asians, which goes against the notion of one Asian race. This division is particularly useful in terms of treating illnesses which can be more common among groups living in the south or in the north (Race). Evolution does not affect all members of one race in the same way. Otherwise, it would lead to millions of people having the same genome. Even in the most unified groups, there will still be genetic differences which prove the idea that race is not biological.
Seeing race as biological is not only wrong but also potentially dangerous for the social stability of societies and relationships among their members. Viewing race as a biological concept often leads to racism and assumptions that some races are superior to others simply because of their genetic characteristics. Such beliefs have common in the past centuries, but there are still certain groups of individuals that refuse to accept the fact that all ethnicities share the same genes.
Assumptions about race also lead to speculations on the subject of genetic selection and populations’ behavioral patterns and tendencies towards certain activities. These false theories have significant consequences for the well-being of societies. Education people on the topic of race and its relations with biology is essential for avoiding racial conflicts and discrimination.
The absence of any link between race and biology leads many people to believe that the concept of the race then should not be used at all. Some people may also say that there are not individual races but rather only one – the human race. In theory, this approach is correct, and it would be the most reasonable one for every society to embrace since it would not draw any distinctions and ensure equality. Yet, it completely ignores the sociological value of the term race. In other words, people have used the idea of race not only to describe individuals of various ancestries but also to establish unjust institutions based on the differences they observed.
To this day, certain people tend to view others in terms of the race they belong to. Traditionally, races which had the larger population in a society dominated the rest of the races. In the US, this translated into white people having privileges such as being perceived as competent and not having a proclivity towards crime (Onwuachi-Willig). In this context, refusing to accept the concept of race does not change the situation. Instead, it makes people ignore the existing racial issues.
Thus, society has to embrace the attitude towards race as a social construction since it is both not grounded in the biological argument and helps highlight racial problems. Race as a social construction means that societies define races based on their particular criteria, which may vary from country to country. Additionally, this view recognizes the fact that people belonging to a certain race may be discriminated against. Perceiving a race as a social construction allows society to understand the systemic flaws in it. Dividing citizens into black and white ones has been at the center of the American political system for many decades.
Today, this trend continues, yet race no longer has any biological implications but only social and political ones. Studying the notion of race from the perspective that it constitutes a social construction and provides people with an opportunity to see the roots of the systemic inequalities and develop approaches to resolve them.
The idea of race has been a point of contention for many centuries, yet today it is clear that it does not have a biological nature and that it exists as a social and political phenomenon. Societies around the world tend to view races differently. For instance, one person can be recognized as both white in Brazil and black in the US. The idea that race is biological is false since scientific research has proven the fact that people on different continents share the same genes. Yet, it is also important not to disregard race completely since it may cause societies to ignore systemic problems related to racial discrimination and inequality.
Thus, viewing race as a social construction is the most reasonable attitude for any society. First of all, it highlights the fact that race is not biological but artificially created and defined by individuals. Yet, it also can help expose the political and social issues which have been historically associated with the idea of racial division and find new solutions.
Onwuachi-Willig, Angela. Race and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs. The New York Times. 2016. Web.
Race. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2020. Web.