A person’s race is the term used to categorize them into a group that is defined by common physical traits like skin color or eye shape. Traditionally, the word race has also been used to describe a person’s ancestry and historical affiliations. Historically, the concept of race has been deeply tied to European colonialism, oppression, and discrimination. As a result, it has often been associated with feelings of superiority and inferiority.
The scientific community now recognizes that there is no logical basis for sorting humans into racial categories. In fact, a large majority of scientists believe that the idea of race is a social construct. It is a term that was created to justify policies of discrimination and to give legitimacy to a system that divided people based on their appearance.
There is also an ongoing debate over whether or not the word ‘race’ should even be used in a scientific context. Some scientists argue that it is inappropriate to use the term ‘race’ because a person’s characteristics can be affected by many factors, not just their genes. Others suggest that the term is useful because it describes a group of people who have similar physical traits, and that it can be useful in describing genetic differences between groups.
For example, the FBI uses the term ‘race’ to describe the general appearance of individuals whom they are trying to apprehend. This is because it can be easier to describe the overall look of a suspect than to list specific features that may or may not distinguish them from other people. For this reason, the FBI encourages race classification that includes combinations of phenotypic features like skin color, facial shape, and eye shape.
In the past, some scientists classified humans into a limited number of races. Some favored three (Caucasian, Mongoloid, and Negroid), while others preferred two, four, five, or other numbers of races. The word race itself traces back to the Italian word razza, which means “kind, breed, or lineage.”
People can choose to identify with any number of different racial categories. The Census Bureau allows people to mark more than one race on their census forms. This is because people can have mixed ancestry. The categories that are available on the form have changed over the years. The way the questions are worded have also shifted.
Some people believe that their racial identity is important, particularly those from communities that have experienced centuries of racism in this country. This is because those communities are at a disadvantage in terms of access to housing, education, employment and wealth, and have higher rates of illness and death than other communities.
The Census Bureau collects data on race to help ensure that policies are effective for all racial groups and to monitor compliance with antidiscrimination laws. However, a growing body of research shows that the notion of race is biologically, anthropologically, and genetically meaningless. Moreover, using the concept of race to determine a person’s health outcomes is deeply problematic.