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A social construction is any entity that is institutionalized appearing in a social set up and is invented by contributors in a specific society or culture that is in existence due to agreement by the people to behave as if it exists or follow particular conventional rules.
The fact about the concept of race as a social construct is the least known. Race and the resulting racism were initiated by White Europeans and Americans so as to justify the practice of slavery on people for profit.
Although ‘race’ as a description of the physical condition probably dates back to the dawn of the human species, most scholars agree that it was primarily through European expansion in the 16th to the 19th century that ‘race’ as a physical description emerged. It was when European colonizers, whose aim was mainly to seek out valuable primary products such as sugar, tin, rubber and human labor, came into contact with ‘native’ populations who were ‘people of color’ that racism became a dominant force in Western society. (Solomos, 2005).
Race is a group of people that are bound together by historically dependent and socially important elements of their ancestry and/or morphology. Race is a social phenomenon where disputed systems of meaning act as the links between races, physical features, and personal characteristics. That is to say, social meanings link our faces to our souls. Race is neither an essence nor an illusion, but rather an ongoing, conflicting and self-strengthening process vulnerable to the macro pressures of political and social struggle as well as the micro impacts of daily decisions. The terms like White, Black, Latino, and Asian, are social groups and provide no evidence of genetically separate branches of humankind. (Winant, 2000).
Some scientists argue that there is a physical, natural division amid humans that are hereditary and reflected in morphology. Under this outlook, one’s epidermis and ancestors determine membership in a genetically defined racial group; every person’s race has been defined by nature
In spite of the widespread conviction in biological races, substantial evidence proves that race is non biological; biological races such as Negroid and Caucasoid are not in existence. Some scholars argue that since there are no natural link between faces and races then there is no connection that exists. There are no genetic characteristics and/or cluster of genes possessed by one group of the perceived race but not another.
One’s race is not determined by a single gene or gene cluster, as is, for example, sickle cell anemia. Nor are races marked by important differences in gene frequencies, the rates of appearance of certain gene types. (Solomos, 2005).
Scientists have found out, contrary to popular opinion, that intra-group differences exceed inter-group differences. That is, there is greater genetic variation within the populace typically referred to as White and Black than between the populations. This disproves the belief that racial divide reflect fundamental differences in genetic make up.
Notice this does not mean that individuals are genetically indistinguishable from each other, or even that small population groups cannot be genetically differentiated. Small populations, for example, the Xhosa or the Basques, share similar gene frequencies. However, differentiation is a function of separation, usually geographic, and occurs in gradations rather than across fractures. The notion that humankind can be divided along White, Black, and Yellow lines reveals the social rather than the scientific origin of race. The idea that there exist three races, and that these races are “Caucasoid,” “Negroid,” and “Mongoloid,” is rooted in the European imagination of the Middle Ages, which encompassed only Europe, Africa, and the Near East. (Winant, 2000).
Nevertheless, the history of science has long been the history of failed efforts to justify these social beliefs. Along the way, various minds tried to fashion practical human typologies along the following physical axes: skin color, hair texture, facial angle, jaw size, cranial capacity, brain mass, frontal lobe mass, brain surface fissures and convolutions, and even body lice. As one scholar notes, the nineteenth century was a period of exhaustive and as it turned out futile search for criteria to define and describe race differences. Attempts to define racial categories by physical attributes ultimately failed. (Winant, 2000).
By 1871, some leading intellectuals had recognized that even using the word “race” was virtually a confession of ignorance or evil intent. The genetic studies of the last few decades have only added more nails to the coffin of biological race. Evidence shows that those features usually coded to race, for example, stature, skin color, hair texture, and facial structure, do not correlate strongly with genetic variation. The rejection of race in science is now almost complete.
In 19th Century Europe, science and social sciences developed as never before. Associations of scientists were created, universities held conferences and debates, and dialogue between researchers increased dramatically. In England, in the early 1800s, the Ethnographic and Anthropological Societies were first established. Not only did the amount of “scholars and thinkers” multiply, they were in increasingly in conversation with each other and focusing on similar themes, such as what happens when races meet and mix.
Africa, Asia, Australia and the South Pacific were rapidly being colonized as European Americans were engaged in their colonial expansion, which brought them into brutal contact with Native Americans. As a result of colonization, native people around the world were disappearing. The most extreme cases, found in Tasmania (an island south of Australia) in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Tasmanians were literally wiped the off the face of the earth, while the Maori population of New Zealand was reduced by more than half in a period of a few decades. Their extinction was in large part due to disease. European thinkers were fascinated by this, particularly due to the lack of understanding of the role of germs, viruses and bacteria. (Solomos, 2005).
The reasons why people may hold onto a racialized world view are diverse. For instance, in political circles, the politicians use the racial differentials to fight their opponents. Furthermore, the trend of the political scene is characterized by support of politicians based on racial background. The media is also characterized by racial elements where it features programs that are widely accepted in a particular race; some races are viewed as superior than other. All these observations can be defined as mindset of the society and people maintain them if they are to their benefit.
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Todorove, T. (1998): Race and racism.
Winant, H. (2000): The theoretical status of the concept of race.