Throughout the history of civilization, the idea of race has been used to categorize humankind. These categorizations have shaped the socioeconomic reality for different groups in society.
The most obvious use of the term ‘race’ is to identify different groups with close kinship ties or group affiliations. It has also been used to describe ethnic, linguistic, and national groups. The United States Census Bureau recognizes five distinct racial groups. The term has been applied to political and religious groups as well. Nevertheless, modern researchers have concluded that the concept of race has no biological significance.
The earliest use of the term ‘race’ appears to be in the late 16th century, when the word was used to refer to the various groups of people living in the New World. These groups included the indigenous peoples of North and South America as well as Europeans. As European conquests began in the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, the idea of racial hierarchy took hold. As a result, white Europeans used the term to justify the slave trade and colonialism.
In the nineteenth century, the concept of ‘race’ was expanded to include physical differences. Scientists at the time believed that human species could differentiate themselves into separate species. However, genetic studies revealed that a small amount of the differences between humans were non-cultural. While the concepts of race and ancestry have been used to justify various forms of discrimination, they are still employed today. The term ‘race’ has been used by law enforcement agencies, such as the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, to describe a person’s general appearance.
It is interesting that a variety of authors have devoted part of their respective books to discussing the best and worst aspects of this subject. In part one of The RACE Project: How the Idea of Race Changed America, Sally Haslanger offers a sociopolitical view of the ‘race’. In part two, Chike Jeffers and Quayshawn Spencer provide a more academic view of the ‘race’. They also offer two forms of social constructionism.
The ‘best’ and ‘worst’ aspects of the concept of race are not as clear cut as one might think. For example, the ‘best’ aspect of the concept may have to do with its ability to tell us a fact. While it is possible to distinguish among individuals by various visible physical traits, such as eye color, height, and scars, the most accurate way to make these distinctions is through cultural and socioeconomic factors. Regardless, the ‘best’ aspect of the ‘race’ must also include an explanation of how and why it operates.
In conclusion, the most important feature of the ‘race’ is that it has become a socially constructed term. Although there have been many attempts to dismantle the ‘race’ as a sociological construct, the ‘race’ remains in place. In addition, the ‘race’ has played a role in the creation of laws and policies that have profoundly shaped the lives of those who are not white.