The concept of race has stirred people’s minds for centuries. Issues like why people are born with different color of hair and skin, and how these characteristics determine a person’s place in society have been a subject of fierce debate since the dawn of humanity. More recently, the discussions have revolved around racial prejudices; trying to eradicate racial inequality, scientists, politicians, and sociologists needed to pinpoint the root of the problem.
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There have been many definitions of race throughout history. Initially, race was defined as a group of people that had specific hereditary biological characteristics. This concept was later broadened to include geographical, climatic, and language properties. It was believed that the combination of these factors influenced racial belonging of an individuum. Today, the notion of race determining an individual’s particular features or geographical regions of living is becoming redundant. This paper assumes that in today’s global society, social concept of race comes to the fore; therefore, race can be defined as belonging to a specific social and cultural group within the larger society.
Recently conventional racial categories have become arbitrary; the latest genetic research shows that it is practically impossible to identify a certain set of objective criteria for dividing people by racial types. The understanding of race as a complex of genetically predetermined traits is rejected by modern science. It is believed that the term ‘race’ in relation to a person has lost its scientific relevance. At the same time, there is an indisputable biological reality of phenotypic diversity. This diversity reflects, first of all, the ability of any life form to evolve. Through these evolutionary mechanisms, the variety of human types, which lay at the core of the concept of ‘race,’ arose.
Races were traditionally characterized as belonging to certain territories. Many racial traits, having arisen initially by mutation, acquired adaptive properties to certain geographical conditions and were influenced by natural selection at the early stages of racial genesis (Patel, 2020). These properties spread in populations that lived in a similar natural environment. With the development of productive forces, natural selection in racial genesis gradually decreased, the boundaries of racial areas were more and more erased, new combinations of racial characteristics appeared (Patel, 2020). This mix of racial characteristics is a continuous and increasingly accelerating process: today, people of mixed descent account for about a third of all people on Earth (Patel, 2020). Nowadays, with the ease of traveling, people move around the world constantly; geographic and climatical conditions no longer determine racial properties.
Today, the race is more a social construct than a biological entity. While it becomes clear that it is impossible to differentiate between races from the genetic and biological points of view, the concept of race receives cognitive and social meaning and significance. Thus, many Brazilians believe that race is not inherited and varies depending on economic or geographical mobility. In some cultures, socio-economic mobility is associated with changes in physical properties, such as skin color and hair structure.
Defining race as belonging to a certain social group raises a question on what grounds such division is conducted. Since culture determines what is psychologically significant for different people, cultural properties must be first considered when defining ‘race.’ People belonging to one culture are more likely to form a unity, cultural, psychological, and socio-economic characteristics of which may be defined as ‘race.’ In this sense, racial prejudices are not influenced by certain skin color or physiological features but may be accounted for by the negative perception of cultural and social properties of these people.
Different minority groups are often seen as belonging to an inferior race because their values do not correlate with the majority view. In her book “Race in society: The enduring American dilemma,” Andersen defines race as “a group treated as distinct in the society based on presumed group characteristics that have been interpreted as signifying inferiority and superiority” (Andersen, 2021, p. 17). Moreover, she states that “the designation of a group as a race is … used to produce a social order of domination, power, and exploitation” (Andersen, 2021, p. 17). Thus, it becomes clear that not only cultural and social properties form the concept of race, but it is the attitude of people to these properties that make them superior or inferior. Minority groups often face all types of discrimination due to the fact that their values are not shared by the majority groups and, thus, may be considered no-good.
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The concept of race has recently undergone significant changes; initially seen as a means of biological and genetic grouping, today it is considered in the social context. Politicians and sociologists use the term ‘race’ that centers around cultural and socio-economic differences to account for positive or negative attitudes to these or those population groups. With the advent of ideas of equality and fraternity of all people, the term altogether loses its significance as racial prejudices are being eradicated in all corners of the world.
Andersen, M. L. (2021). Race in society: The enduring American dilemma. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Patel, K. (2020). Race and a decolonial turn in development studies. Third World Quarterly, 41(9), 1463-1475.