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The Origins of Race: Environmental and Socio-Political Roots

The concept of race as a biological criterion to divide humans has been influential in the past few centuries despite lacking any scientific proof. The question of whether it is a biological fact or a social construct rages on, with both sides providing evidence for their views. Some of the arguments presented by racist scientists have been unsatisfactory since they merely reflect their personal beliefs while hiding behind data to supposedly establish their objectivity. The idea of people being biologically separated into racial groups is a product of societal attitudes that lacks solid scientific backing.

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Medieval Europeans did not have a concept of the race since they rarely traveled outside their continent. The difference in physical appearance between Europeans and the rest of the world became apparent during the age of exploration when Europeans were initially exposed to much of the rest of the world (Cameron & Wycoff, 1998). The difference in visual appearance of the encountered communities overseas was then used as a reason to exploit them for supposedly being inferior races. Subsequently, Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish naturalist, classified the human race into four subspecies, with Europeans being superior and Africans being regarded as inferior. Thus, instead of using objective scientific reasoning, Linnaeus blindly justified the views that Europeans had about the inhabitants of the other continents.

The traditional Eurocentric way of thinking in education and politics has for a long time postulated that human populations adapted to their respective environments and hence evolved different thinking capacities. However, the majority of today’s scientists have debunked this claim and emphasized the genetic interconnectivity of the human population. Charles Darwin, for example, took care not to fall into the same trap as Linnaeus as he understood that the desire to classify humans into taxonomic units could only work if one ignores all the intermediate factors that affect the evolutionary tree, which is simply scientifically inadequate (Saldanha, 2011). Race, therefore, is not valid as a biological classification as it does not take adequately take into account many factors that affect human life.

Additionally, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists do not operate on the assumption that there are innate biological differences between populations since individuals are not born with preferences for a particular culture. It is largely the human capacity for language that allows for the transmission of cultural traits from one person to the other. People who share the same beliefs, language, and culture usually regard themselves as an ethnic group. This, however, is not fixed as cultural traditions can be passed to different people making ethnicity open to change, unlike race, which is static (Smedley & Smedley, 2005). Culture and ethnicity, which are not as simplistic as race, offer a better understanding of the complexity of human identities.

To conclude, race is not really a true biological categorization of humans since the economic, cultural, and political context in which it was first described heavily affected its foundation. This is because there has been no scientific evidence of distinct physiological differences between different racial groups as there exists a large diversity in every race. Moreover, there are vast cultural differences in every race, further highlighting the futility of using race as an appropriate and reliable way of grouping people. The idea of race, which has been responsible for a lot of human suffering, is not only scientifically wrong but also a poor social categorization.


Cameron, S. C., & Wycoff, S. M. (1998). The destructive nature of the term race: Growing beyond a false paradigm. Journal of Counseling & Development, 76(3), 277-285. Web.

Saldanha, A. (2011). The concept of race. Geography, 96(1), 27-33. Web.

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Smedley, A., & Smedley, B. D. (2005). Race as biology is fiction, racism as a social problem is real: Anthropological and historical perspectives on the social construction of race. American Psychologist, 60(1), 16-26. Web.

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