Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Race

Today we were talking about censuses, and the ways we arbitrarily divide populations. One of the most prominent (and seemingly obvious) ways to differentiate "them" from "us" is by race. But what is "race"? Is that a biologically determined characteristic? Or is race just another one of our boundary lines (like religion, geography, occupation...)? Dictionary.com gives several definittions for the word, but still leaves it open-ended:

1- A local geographic or global human population distinguished as a more or less distinct group by genetically transmitted physical characteristics.
2- A group of people united or classified together on the basis of common history, nationality, or geographic distribution: the German race.
3- A genealogical line; a lineage.
4- Humans considered as a group.

The website also notes that race is difficult to grapple both scientifically and socially. In the past, races were defined by skin color, bodily proportions, skull shape and hair type. Today, there are measurements like blood type and genes that have upset most of the older partitions. But still, a person who is considered "black" in one society might not be viewed the same in another. The truth is that all humans vary by only 0.2 percent of their genes.

This site on the biology of races stated the following:
"Race is a concept of society that insists there is a genetic significance behind human variations in skin color that transcends out ward appearance. However, race has no scientific merit outside of sociological classification. There are no significant genetic variations within the human species to justify the division of 'races.' "

Even though people still use the term today, it seems like race is just another outdated, arbitrary category that people invented to homogenize and document groups of people.

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