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Is Race a Biological Construct?

A race is a social grouping of people with similar shared characteristics usually identified by a set of physical or genetic characteristics. In its most literal sense, it is an ordered classification of human beings, usually based on race, color, nationality, etc. The word “race” itself has several definitions depending on who is using it and where. For example, in popular use the word race typically refers to biological races, but some race enthusiasts go beyond that and include categories like creational races, variants of specific ethnic groups, or even more modern categories like ancestry lines.

In much the same way that humans have varying degrees of personality and descent from other members of their species, they also have differing ancestry backgrounds. For example, some African-Americans have light skin and dark African ancestry, while some East Asians have red hair, blue eyes, and dark skin. Similarly, there are North Americans of European descent, Middle Easterners, and others who have very different genetic backgrounds.

Racism, like all other human behaviors, can be hereditary or it can be learned. A person who has light skin may be considered black by other members of their race, or vice versa. But because people of differing colors can end up looking more alike after undergoing some form of cosmetic surgery, some argue that skin color is not necessarily a good proxy for race. This is not to say, however, that all racial identity is formed equally. Some races may have had greater influence over their respective cultures and, as such, have more influence on societal expectations about race and ethnicity.

Some social scientists argue that ethnicity refers to a group’s membership in a group. It is used, for example, in determining eligibility for certain programs, such as welfare programs or government assistance. According to this view, a person’s race is irrelevant when it comes to assessing eligibility for such programs. Nevertheless, some ethnic minority groups do form groups and tend to perceive themselves as part of that group even if they are not actually part of a race or ethnicity. For example, the Irish, Italian-Americans, Puerto Rican and Chicano Americans are viewed by many to be a race or ethnicity and may benefit from governmental programs tailored to specific ethnicities, such as welfare programs.

Another opinion is that race is a social construction that has been around since the beginning of the twentieth century. Using statistical arguments, it is argued that the conception of race came about as a result of social programs created by governmental organizations to help disadvantaged minorities. It was then that the “group” concept became associated with the idea of an ethnicity. The origin of “race” as a concept then becomes linked to the nineteenth century “brainstorming” of various ideas by African-American scientists and inventors.

In the United States, at least, racism is often seen as a product of white people feeling threatened by an influx of people of other races. However, studies have shown that attitudes toward race are influenced by the perceptions of others, and that race does not relate to genetics or your genetic endowment. Still, there are some people who argue that genetics plays a role in the development of racism due to other factors such as poverty, lack of education and/or health. The debate on whether race is influenced by heredity or by societal factors continues.