The Concept of Race and Its Disadvantages

The term race refers to groups of humans that are characterized by a set of superficial physical traits. It has been used by some to categorize people into groups and then treat them differently based on those categories, resulting in a legacy of disparities in access to education, wealth, health care and other opportunities for many groups. While many scholars and scientists have criticized the logical coherence of the concept of race, others defend it — though with substantial changes to its historic foundations.

Historically, ideas about race were shaped by social and political notions of superiority and inferiority. Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist who is considered the father of modern taxonomy, created the first modern biological classification system in 1775, classifying human beings into four distinct races: Europeanus (or “white” man), Africanus, Americanus and Asiaticus. These racial types were described as having a range of physical traits that distinguished them, and were positioned in a hierarchy — Europeans were at the top, followed by Africans and then Asians.

Today, most anthropologists and evolutionary geneticists have largely moved away from the language of race to describe differences in gene pools among humans. In addition, studies of human DNA have demonstrated that most of the variation in the human genome is not due to differentiation of separate populations and that most human differences – whether or not they can be attributed to discrete lines of genetic descent – are cultural in nature.

However, some anthropologists and evolutionary geneticists continue to use the term race, with the caveat that it is not a biological category. These scholars argue that the use of the word is still useful, despite its problematic origins and because it can be used to emphasize the importance of culture in human diversity.

In fact, a study of skin tone by University of Arizona researchers found that the majority of the genetic differences that could be used to distinguish humans as belonging to one or another of the four major races were actually associated with individual environments. For example, dark-skinned people tend to live in tropical areas, while light-skinned people live in colder climates. The researchers concluded that if all human beings lived in the same environments, the differences that are attributed to their respective races would disappear.

For the purposes of federal and state data collection, people may report one or more races. On the Census Bureau’s 2022 survey, individuals can choose from White or Caucasian, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino (or Latina), American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and Some Other Race.

In addition, people can also identify as Multiracial or Mixed Race. While the terms “Multiracial” and “Mixed Race” are not official identifiers on the federal Census form, they are used to describe people who do not fit into any of the five minimum identifiers. This is a significant departure from how the Census Bureau has reported data in the past.