Is Race Real?

Racism as a construct for demographic and socio-political analysis is increasingly being contested.  Today, urbanization has become the norm due to process of industrialization, and cities are getting very cosmopolitan.  This makes it necessary that people from so called ‘different races’ cohabit and cooperate to achieve their shared objectives. Most advanced industrial societies today exhibit some degree of tolerance and adaptability when it comes to issues of race. But the situation is far from perfect and race continues to be a simmering point of contention.  In this backdrop new scientific and anthropological evidence on the veracity of race assumes significance.  They help demystify and demythologize race and racism as previously understood.  In this process the very legitimacy of racial classification is questioned.

The American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) consensus on the subject of race is a rebuke to historical perceptions of race.  The esteemed AAA has articulated the fact that trait differences and variation is more pronounced ‘within’ a particular group (ex. national or ethnic) than ‘between’ two such groups.  In its Statement on “Race” the AAA contends that 94% of genetic variation is found within conventional groupings and only 6% outside.  The AAA does not merely stop with the scientific rationale, but delves into the socio-history of race.  It makes a damning assessment of the history of race, terming it a politically and socially constructed institution for economic exploitation.

While race is a subject for biology, evolution and genetics, the subject of racism belongs to anthropology.  In other words, while race is a more concrete construct, racism is a product of culture and is hence more abstract and fluid.  Article 33 from the reading, titled Skin Deep by Jablonski and Chaplin reveal the superficiality of classification based on skin colour. While the colour of the skin is the most ostensible trait that could physically distinguish human groups, treating it as the primary marker for racial identity is problematic. There are various factors that have had a bearing upon the evolution of skin colour.  These include the latitude of the geographical location (its distance from the equator), local climatic patterns, presence of Vitamin D in the diet of a localized group, invention and use of clothing to protect from sunlight, etc. Considering that these factors have no correlations among them, the results they have produced in terms of skin colour distribution is quite predictable.  Research has shown that two groups located quite far from one another – geographically or climatically could still share striking similarities in skin colour if they both had access to a Vitamin D rich diet.  But this similarity in one trait does not make their gene pools closely related.  In other words, two same-collared people could be very different from one another in terms of genetics. Such findings give a crushing blow to skin-colour based discourse on race.

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