Race is a social construct: It does not exist

By Dr. Lonnie Somer - Guest Commentary


The placement of human populations into racial categories has no biological validity.

In other words, the division of humans into 'races' is a social construct.

I've been explaining this to my students since 1989, when I taught my first Biological Anthropology class. The American Anthropological Association formally issued a statement in 1998 that reflects this conclusion.

While this opinion is not shared by all American anthropologists, it does represent the majority view. So how can we make this claim?

After all, the idea of race is taught to us and reinforced from our earliest years.

This notion is supported by government sponsored censuses and job and college applications. And populations of humans often do look quite different from one another.

Just look at our skin colors, nose and eye shapes, hair textures, and body builds. The scientific descriptions of human races have been steeped in bigotry from the earliest publications in the 1700s through the mid-twentieth century.

They were, in part, based on the false assumption that one's race determined one's behavior, personality traits, and intelligence.

Scientists of European descent invariably placed their race at either the pinnacle of creation or at the top of the evolutionary tree, depending on the time period of the publication.

All of these scientists agreed that races existed, yet virtually none of them could agree on a standardized definition of race nor where to draw the boundaries between racial groups.

I have read books that argued that as few as three races exist to as many as 150 races. For each racial category described by these scientists, there were always exceptions within and outside of these groups.

Some populations frequently possessed physical traits that did not conform to their supposed racial criteria.

In addition, the majority of physical differences among humans is clinal or gradual over distance; no boundaries exist where one trait abruptly vanishes and another appears.

Genetically, humans are more than 99.9% identical.

There are genes that differ from population to population, but they are statistically insignificant.

Only a very few genes account for our physical variations.

We all belong to the same species. There never have been 'pure' races.

Pigeonholing humans into these artificial categories serves no scientific purpose.

Doing so often results in stereotyping and discrimination.

I believe that a much healthier attitude is to judge every individual, as their lives intersect with our ours, by their own merits and not by their physical appearances.

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