This is unlike anything I have ever posted; for that reason, I am choosing to post it! I think it is important to reveal my dynamic side as well as my not-so-dynamic side (yes, I do thoroughly enjoy painting my nails and being fashionable, but even more so I enjoy reading and writing about complex ideas such as this). This is an essay I recently wrote for my Intro to Sociology class for college. I found this topic to be intriguing, and I enjoyed researching and studying the concepts throughout the past two weeks. I have to view these ideas (and all the other ideas studied in this class) through a sociological perspective. Meaning I try to leave out personal bias, opinion, and thought. Of course, that isn’t always as easy as it seems! I must tell you that these concepts are based on factual evidence provided by professors, biologists, anthropologists, geneticists, and professionals in their field of study. I hope you take the time to read (it is quite lengthy, my apologies!) and maybe it will inspire you as it has me to find faith in humanity again.
Let me warn you: this is an educational blog post. It may not be as popular as my others but I still wanted to share it with you guys!
This is written as informal discussion post so all in-text citations have been excluded and proper format isn’t required.
“Race is a socially constructed category composed of people who share biologically transmitted traits that members of a society consider important . In America, for several years we have used physical differences to classify people into four or five groups we call races. Races are categories that are assumed to be unchanging. Meaning, once you are in a race it is often very difficult to escape the racial group and all of its stereotypes and prejudices that come along with it. Race assumes that genetics sets us apart; however, these things aren’t rooted in biology, but instead ascribed to biology according to biological anthropologist, Alan Goodman. Americans have had many assumptions about different races and what characteristics pertain to certain races. For example, blacks are better athletes, Asians are more intelligent, whites are wealthier, and Hispanics are hard workers. These assumptions are often generalizations we call stereotypes. Among these assumptions are also the beliefs that interracial marriage lessens the integrity of a society, racial inequality is essential to a functioning society, certain diseases cause racial groups to die earlier, and races have genetically determined traits for sexual appetites and reproductive capacities. According to pbs.org, race is a modern idea. In fact, ancient societies did not divide based on physical differences as we do today, but instead on religion, class, status, and language. We as a society have developed these groups that often lead to lost job, business, and marriage opportunities. So, how do we as a society “unmake” what we have “made”? Race, though it seems simple and fixed, is often complex and changing. First, we must define what our perceptions are about race. Then, determine the facts of race; and lastly, more forward towards a goal that benefits society, and every race in it, as a whole.
Race is assumed by most (including myself prior to my research on these topics) to be a genetically inherited trait. I think most people do not think any differently of this concept due in part to the fact that they don’t actually think about this concept. Race is a socially accepted idea in America. Because we accept this as Americans, we also accept all of the issues that come with it. It is important to realize that yes race is real, but not in the terms that most people think it is. What I mean is that no, race is not real in the theory that one inherits it genetically from the traits passed down from his or her mother and father. One does not inherit race the same way he or she inherits eye color, hair color, hair texture, skin color, body shape, musical, athletic, and intellectual ability, personality tendencies, and other genetically determined traits. However, one does get ascribed a race based on these inherited qualities. For example, an African American male does not inherit a gene that labels him “African American”. He does, however, inherit a gene (or multiple genes) that control his skin color. Furthermore, based off the premise held by the color of his skin, that we as Americans have institutionalized, he is classified as African American. Although this concept is clear cut and comprehensible, the complexity of disapproving race as a biological concept would be a major paradigm shift in society. For it to be accepted that race is indeed something we have “made up” would be as to the ancient philosophers accepting that the world is indeed not flat: a concept not easily accepted. I noted during the Race: The Power of Illusion video that race has no definite physical markers. Some determine race based on skin color and some determine it by hair texture. This was proven to me to be true in the PBS exercise. I was asked to categorize people into racial groups based solely on physical appearance. There was a particular female who had white skin with unruly, curly hair who I classified into the African American category; my answer was accurate, and unfortunately I had answered it based solely on the texture of her hair. Just as the physical markers for race are uncertain, so are the actual races. For example, a black person in America may not be classified as black in Brazil or South Africa. As Ms. Warner stated in her synopsis of race, these physical differences are no more significant than two people who classify themselves as white but have different eye color, hair color, nose shape, and body shape. These are insignificant differences that hold great significant importance in our society’s eyes.
When studying this topic, a common argument is that African Americans are genetically favored towards having superior athletic ability. In Race: The Power of Illusion, a comment was made by a white man that blacks have superior athletic ability because they were closer to the primitive. Contrarily, a comment was made by a black man that whites often use this argument as a disposition for their tendency to have inferior athletic skills. Of course, both of these are opinions have no evidential support. In biological terms, the alleles for skin color and hair texture are inherited independently of one another; meaning that a black person may have silky, straight hair and a white person may have coarse, curly hair (Race: The Power of Illusion). In contrast to these seemingly “simple” genetic situations, the genes for musical talent, athletic ability, and intellectual ability are very complex, but they are also inherited independently of skin color. This is to verify that a white person is capable of having just as much athletic ability as a black person and a black person is capable of having just as much intellectual ability as a white person.
Statistics show that blacks make up only 12% of the total population but 75% of professional football players. A black woman stated that African Americans across the globe are often better at sports because they run or perform physical activity on a daily basis for survival. For example, Kenyans often have to travel long distances to retrieve food and water; thus, Kenyans are typically better performers at long distance races. These aren’t inherited behaviors though. They are learned behaviors. There are no doubt physical differences do encourage athletic performance in blacks, but whites with the same physical differences are just as capable of performing on the same level. One man indicated that it all comes down to drive and how bad you want it.
In Race: The Power of Illusion, I was very shocked to hear about the findings of the experiment executed by the teenagers. In short, the teenagers were asked to identify who they thought they would be most closely identical to genetically. As assumed, the whites chose whites, the blacks chose blacks, and the Asians chose Asians. They performed an experiment where they tested the mitochondrial DNA from each individual. Mitochondrial DNA doesn’t code for physical differences, so traits such as skin color and hair texture were excluded. After the experiment was concluded and the findings were displayed, I was shocked. From the beginning, the students thought they would be most similar to the ones they shared national origin with. Astonishingly though, the most differences between any two individuals, regardless of race, was 12 base pairs. One male was a 100% genetic match to individuals from Iceland, the Balkan Peninsula, and Africa; three completely different races. This was revolutionary to me because it showed that there are very few differences between any two individuals within a society, despite skin color. It proved that race is in reality just a socially constructed concept. (All of these concepts were applied from Race: The Power of Illusion).
There is a lot of evidence in racial stereotypes that cannot be denied. Animals are often instinctively forced to make judgments based on physical differences to survive. Just like animals, it is often innate for humans to make judgments. “We automatically, immediately, and unconsciously judge people based on race and sex,” says psychologist John Dovidio. In the exercises performed by the children asked to choose who they perceived as nice, mean, weird, etc., they displayed great stereotypes. These are just children who already have perceptions about race. Somewhere they have been exposed to negative stereotypes associated with certain races. This isn’t a surprising statement though. It is essential that we stop ignoring these stereotypes. To lessen discrimination, we have to address and identify these perceptions. After we recognize these stereotypes are real and are affecting our nation, we must next disclose the facts about the biological myth of race. Many are uneducated about these topics and need to be informed. Following the clarification that race is a socially constructed concept that we inevitably “made up”, we have to present the realities of the flourishing racial discrimination and inequality in the United States. Finally, to promote equality and decrease racial prejudices, we must educate the upcoming generations. We have to shatter the false premises of racial purity, various “subspecies”, and ethnocentrism. We have to inform and engage our youth with the truth about racism, genetic myths of race, and the future for racial concepts in America. Promoting change for racial institutions contemporarily would be favored, but it is critical to educate our younger generations about the reality and consequences associated with race.”
Race and Ethnic Stratification Outline – Candace Warner, Associate Professor of Sociology
Video: Race: The Power of Illusion
pbs.org: What is Race? Is Race Real?
Video: Race and Sex: What We Think (But Don’t Say)
Sociology in Modules – Richard T. Schaefer