Race is a term used to classify human beings, based on a mix of various physical characteristics like skin color or facial shape. But the word also carries significant weight because it is often associated with other defining aspects of someone’s identity, like their ancestry or shared culture. The concept of race has been deployed in a variety of ways throughout history, often as a tool for othering or oppressing people, but it can also be an important aspect of one’s identity and pride. For example, popular songs and movements from the 1960s like “Black is beautiful” and more recently music artists such as Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez have promoted embracing one’s heritage and cultural background.
However, the term is still deeply ingrained in our society and can continue to be used, even when it’s not being done intentionally, in a harmful way. The term is still used in research, public policy initiatives and even in how people are perceived on the street. It’s a complex issue to tackle but it isn’t going away anytime soon.
The definition of race is constantly changing and it’s important to recognize that it is not an objective category. In fact, anthropologists and geneticists have long refuted the idea of biologically distinct races. The idea that races exist is a social construct, reflecting the beliefs and attitudes of European colonizers and transatlantic slave traders.
It was originally a means to sort and categorize people, as well as establish a hierarchy around the world by their perceived value to society and economic status. In the 1700s, for example, it was common to categorize people as either White Europeans who were free citizens or Africans who had been captured as slaves.
In the United States, it’s currently legal to report more than one racial category in Census data. However, the Office of Management and Budget requires that respondents only choose the most relevant box based on their self-identification.
While it may seem harmless to ignore the meaning of the word, it has serious implications for people’s lives. It influences how they are treated by law enforcement, their access to opportunities like jobs and education, and how much wealth they can accumulate in their lifetime. The reality is that if you’re born into a certain group, you have a much harder time building generational wealth than people in other groups due to racial discrimination.
The problem with the notion of race is that it can be manipulated to skew results, which is why it’s so important to recognize the complexity of it. For example, when it comes to health outcomes, researchers have found that race is not an accurate predictor of disease. There are too many other factors at play, such as lifestyle, environmental exposure and socioeconomic status. It’s vital that we understand these nuances when looking at the data and when talking about the impact of racism in our lives. Taking steps like getting involved in activism, seeking support from family and friends, forging a strong sense of community and talking about our racist experiences can all help us work together to dismantle the system of racism that still exists in our society today.