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Liliana Duran
Human Origins 1020
Dr. Teri Potter
April 28, 2015
Defining Race
For years, the concept of race has been constantly debated. Although their
perspectives can be completely different, sociologists as well as scientists agree that race is
very difficult term to define. Disagreements are common even within each of these two
parties. Whether race should be defined based on physical traits, biological differences,
culture, values or behaviors is yet to be determined.1 Understanding how this concept was
originated, its cultural context, evolution over time and its effects in todays society can
give us a new perspective on what race should mean for us.
Ancient populations recognized physical differences among civilizations, however, the idea
of race was not developed until later in history.2 It wasnt until Carolus Linnaeus and
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, who tried to categorize humans, that race, as a concept, was
originated.3 Their classification resulted in five different categories based on peoples skin
color: red, yellow, white, black and brown, perhaps because this was the most obvious and
noticeable trait to differentiate them. In 1795, when Blumenbachs On the Natural Variety
1 Ann Morning, Race. (The American Sociological Association, 2005).
2 Philippe J. Rushton. Q: Is There a Biological Basis for Race and Racial
Differences? (Insight on the News, 2001), 40-43.
3 Scott Shane, Genetics Research Increasingly Finds Race a Null Concept.
(Baltimore, MD: The Baltimore Sun Company, 1999).

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of Mankind was published, the European empires used it to justify colonization over those
they began to call of an inferior race.4 The original biological concept of race was that of
geographically patterned phenotypic variation in a species. A concept that had nothing to do
with religion, progress, or how humanized and civilized a group was, as believed and stated
by Josiah Nott and George Gliddon in their 1854 Best Seller Types of Mankind.5
With its original purpose and definition already distorted, race continued to develop into
stronger ideas, and some of them, resulted in big human genocides. One of them was
slavery in America. During which Africans (and their descendants) were not even seen as
humans. They were considered to be an inferior, less smart race, with no feelings or
emotions.
Also, influenced by Darwins The Origin of Species, Francis Dalton began his
studies in human variation and how mental and physical traits were inherited, recognizing
the roles the environment and culture played in human development and reproductive
success. But it wasnt until 1883 that he invented the term eugenics, which consists in
selective breeding to improve human race.6 That particular need of improvement grew to
become a well-known event of human history: the Nazi Holocaust, led by Hitler at the end
of 1930s.
Again, the misleading turn race had taken helped justify all the atrocities committed
in these two and many other events throughout the years. As a society, we have learned
4 Ibid.
5 Scott Shane, Genetics Research Increasingly Finds Race a Null Concept.
(Baltimore, MD: The Baltimore Sun Company, 1999)
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from our past, and we have come a long way since those days. Race is still very real, and is
part of our everyday life no matter where were at, but modern societies are making an
effort to eradicate early years mistaken beliefs about race.
Although everyone seems to share the idea that race is still very present in society,
many believe race should disappear, and others argue that, out of social perspectives, it is a
biological and useful fact.
Some scientists, like Scott Shane, claim that race has no biological basis, and refer
to the physical traits that people have been using to define it as a grab bag of minor
variations that have obscured humans overwhelming genetic similarity and common
ancestry in Africa.7 According to them, humans genetic makeup doesnt have the amount
of variation required to generate different races. Kenneth K. Kidd, a Yale University
Geneticist, insists that race is an artificial construct that cannot be defended by any
existing biological data.8 In 2002, the American Sociological Association defined it as a
social inventions that changes as political, economic and historical contexts change.9 From
a social perspective, they say that, basically, race is whatever society says it is. It is because
of this, that those who stand behind this position insist the term race should no longer be
used or taught. Because there is no biological basis that supports it, and people should be
judged based on who they are instead of stereotypes.

7 Scott Shane, Genetics Research Increasingly Finds Race a Null Concept.


(Baltimore, MD: The Baltimore Sun Company, 1999)
8 Ibid.
9 Ann Morning, Race. (The American Sociological Association, 2005)

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On the other hand, several claim that race does have a biological basis. Philippe
Rushton explains the results he obtained after studying three of the main groups considered
different races today: blacks, whites and orientals. After collecting data from people with
the same race but from different geographical location, and children that are part of
transracial adoption, he concludes that theres a significantly difference in genes, and they
play a big part in athletic ability, IQ, brain size and personality on each group.
To defend this position, those who support it explain how humans genetic makeup
is similar at roughly 99 per cent. They believe that if we are able to recognize the
differences between humans and chimpanzees, that share 98 percent of our genes, we
should also be able to recognize the differences among humans.10 With the results of his
studies, Rushton explains that each one of the races show the same patterns of weaknesses
and strengths in their origin countries, as well as in the United States. With that, he intends
to demonstrate that is not as if they were trying to overcome stereotypes, and that we
shouldnt blame racism for all the problems or differences in society.
As an example, he says how black people have narrower hips, wider shoulders, less
body fat and more muscle, as well as a higher percentage of testosterone than orientals and
whites.11 All these traits, which according to him are characteristic of their race, are the
reason why they have an advantage in sports. At the same time, those same traits make
them disadvantageous at other activities compared to orientals and whites. Like Rushton,

10 Philippe J. Rushton. Q: Is There a Biological Basis for Race and Racial


Differences? (Insight on the News, 2001), 40-43.
11 Ibid.

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many seem to think the recognition of these differences is essential in todays life for
medical and research purposes.
Like mostly everything in life, the existence of races can be both, beneficial and
disadvantageous. It is true that identifying the differences within individuals gives us a
better understanding of humans and therefore, allows greater improvements and
advancements in science. But the proposal to eradicate such term is also reasonable as we
go over its history and learn its been misused since the beginning
As part of this society, we should know race has different approaches. Stereotyping
and judging are, unfortunately, some of the consequences that years of injustice and
misunderstanding of the concept have left behind. Like the anthropologist Faye V. Harrison
said, [race] is a social reality with real consequences, however, it is in our hands to
reshape that social reality, determine the consequences, and turn it into a more positive and
beneficial part of humanity.

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Work Cited
"Francis Galton." Wikipedia. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Galton>.

Jurmain, Robert, Lynn Kilgore, and Wenda Trevathan. Human Origins: Evolution
andDiversity. Ninth ed. Mason: Cengage Learning, 2013. 433.
Morning, Ann. "Race." Contexts Vol. 4, No. 4. Fall 2005: 44.
Rushton, J. Philippe, and Joseph L. Graves Jr. "Q: Is There a Biological Basis for Race and
Racial Differences?" Insight on the News. 28 May 2001: 40-43
Shane, Scott. "Genetics Research Increasingly Finds 'Race' a Null Concept." Baltimore Sun
(Baltimore, MD). 04 Apr. 1999.