The Misconception of Race and How it Affects Society

Race has long been a societal construct that has helped shape the world in which we live. It has informed who gets access to wealth, education and opportunities. It has been used to justify oppression and discrimination. It has also been a way to categorize people based on their physical appearance. The modern meaning of the term began to emerge in the 17th century, as part of the European Enlightenment movement that emphasized secular reasoning and scientific study. Historically, the idea of race was a tool to distinguish between groups of people with kinship ties and geographic origins.

In the United States, racial categories are usually defined by skin color and other visible characteristics. This system of classification is often used by law enforcement officers when they try to apprehend suspects. It may help them arrive at a general description that will be easily recognizable to others who see the wanted person, but it is not intended to make a scientifically valid classification of the person.

Attempting to classify humans in this way is flawed from the start because the variation that science has been able to identify does not correspond to any meaningful biological distinctions. This is because the differences in human physical traits that we can observe are largely caused by cultural, environmental and lifestyle factors. The few genetic differences that exist are primarily due to geographical ancestry and do not indicate distinct biological races.

The smog of the misconception that race is biologically real clouds our view of reality, obscuring important societal issues. For example, when medical professionals or researchers look for a genetic correlate to “race,” they may mistakenly conclude that variations in health outcomes and other societal problems are inescapable and inevitably tied to a person’s genetic makeup. This is wrong.

Research has shown that a wide range of societal factors have a significant impact on a person’s well-being, including educational achievement, health care utilization and social connectedness. These factors, in turn, impact how likely someone is to experience a health event or other life-changing events. This is why it is so important to understand how these factors interact, and to address them in a holistic manner.

In the US, there is a clear correlation between being a member of a minority group and being disproportionately exposed to racialized injustices, such as poverty, unemployment, violence, and poor health outcomes. This is why it is so crucial that we work together to dismantle the systemic ills that keep BIPOC communities from being fully and equally engaged in our society. Only then can we ensure that all communities have the opportunity to thrive. Click through for more information on how to get involved. This article originally appeared on The Conversation and is reproduced here under a Creative Commons license.