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Essay about Race: biological or cultural

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Race: Social Concept, Biological Idea

Race, in the common understanding, draws upon differences not only of skin color and physical attributes but also of language, nationality, and religion. Race categories are often used as ethnic intensifiers, with the aim of justifying the exploitation of one group by another. Race is an idea that has become so fixed in American society that there is no room for open-mindedness when challenging the idea of racial categories. Over the years there has been a drastic change with the way the term "race" is used by scientists. Essentially, there is a major difference between the biological and sociological views of race.

In 1758 a Swedish botanist named Carolus Linnaeus established the classification system still in use for various forms of life. He listed four categories that he labeled as "varieties" of the human species. To each he attributed inherited biological as well as learned cultural characteristics. He described Homo European as light-skinned, blond, and governed by laws; Homo American was copper-colored and was regulated by customs; Homo Asiatic was sooty and dark-eyed and governed by opinions; Homo African was black and indolent and governed by impulse. We can in retrospect recognize the ethnocentric assumptions involved in these descriptions, which imply a descending order of prestige. Most striking is the labeling of the four varieties as governed by laws, customs, opinions, and impulse, with Europeans on the top and Africans at the bottom. In fact, different populations within all four varieties would have had all four forms of behavior. (8).

In later years, many European scientists defined race by separating Homo Sapiens into three to six different groups. * Australoid: those from Australia, Melanesian islands * Caucasoid: Europe, North Africa, South west Asia * Mongoloid: East Asia, Siberia, the Americas * Negroid: Central and Southern Africa * Native Americans * Polynesians The scientific justification for these six groups was that members of these groups shared similar physical characteristics and originated in a particular region of the world. During the nineteenth century theories of race were advanced both by the scientific community and in the popular daily and periodical press. One idea that was taken into belief was racial standing based on skull size and features. The human skull was us...


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...lieve that races are distinct biological categories created by differences in genes that people inherit from their ancestors. Genes vary, but not in the popular notion of black, white, yellow, red and brown races. Many biologist and anthropologists have concluded that race is a social, cultural and political concept based largely on superficial appearances. (4)

In the past, races were identified by the imposition of discrete boundaries upon continuous and often discordant biological variation. The concept of race is therefore a historical construct and not one that provides either valid classification or an explanatory process. Popular everyday awareness of race is transmitted from generation to generation through cultural learning. Attributing race to an individual or a population amounts to applying a social and cultural label that lacks scientific consensus and supporting data. While anthropologists continue to study how and why humans vary biologically, it is apparent that human populations differ from one another much less than do populations in other species because we use our cultural, rather than our physical differences to aid us in adapting to various environments.


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