The concept of “race“ has always been highly discussed and considered as controversial. Indeed, some people deny the existence of race. However, some Anthropologists and Sociologists employ this term as well to define humanity and categorise people according to their ethnic background. So, is there such a thing as “race”?
A society differentiates itself from another through its economical, cultural and social ecosystem. Most of the time, the interpersonal relationships among individuals lead to a formation of groups which define the codes, and the structure of a community. The notion of race as a matter of identification, between people sharing the same culture, the same nationality, and who have physical features in common, are taken into account. So, it seems to have a convergence between a certain biological reality and the social construction.
Anthropologists attribute two different meanings to the term “race”. On the first hand, they compare populations between themselves regarding their biological patterns, including features of the body and the face, and also genetics. This vision implies that races result from biological classifications, and also that geographical localisation has a consequence on it. On the other hand, “race” depends on the social groupings of people, meaning that it is more about social organisation and cultural construction, rather than physical features.
According to Sociologists, “race” results almost exclusively from a social categorisation. Depending on how a given group has been considered throughout history, it will be assigned a particular racial category (Anglo Saxons, Celtics and so on) regarding the group’s experiences and opinions. There are three theories, considered as the main ones to explain the notion of “race” through the Sociological perspective.
The Functionalists theory argues that differentiation by race tends to unbalance the societal order, by increasing conflicts. It leads to a positive issue for dominant groups, as minorities are scapegoated, so it helps to maintain the status quo in favour of the dominant group.
The Interactionist theory studies the social interactions between people issued from a different background. “Race” is considered a “product” of social interaction, and the nature of those interactions stresses tolerance or rejection.
The Conflict theory considers the economical organisation as the main factor in the exploitation of ethnic minorities. This theory refers often to ethnocentrism, Marxism, and the split of labour market to explain the racial prejudice, and thus recognises the existence of an ethnic stratification.
Considering these points, one may ask: can we talk about a “reality of race”? Indeed, depending on what factor is considered predominant, race is denied or real.
For instance, by analysing blood, racial boundaries do not exist, but are perceived as a genetic variation. It explains for example, why it is possible to find a majority of people with blue eyes in Scandinavia, and a high frequency of brown eyes in Africa. Features such as the colour of the skin, hair, lips and nose characteristics, seem to be related to geographical boundaries and especially climatic zones. Thus, nature has shaped humans for better adaptation, for example in the sunniest places, people have darker skin pigmentation to protect themselves from sunburn.
Those who think there is not such a thing as race, but who only give credit to this genetic perspective, refute the biological evidence. So, in this regard, it can be assumed that “racial identity” denial is due to political correctness. Actually, it comes from a good intention, because the proponents are aware of the potential danger represented by such a concept. For them, talking about race leads to the promotion of racism.
Does discussing “race” as a biological assumption, or as a social construction, act in favour or against racism?
Is there a correlation between race and racism? Many people argue that employing the notion of race, when alluding to human beings, would definitely emphasise racism.
Nevertheless, some Anthropologists disagree. Talking about racism would make it possible to have debates and open discussions. Avoiding discussions about race would make this notion a taboo, supressing dialog and the opportunity to use pedagogy to help people better understand the causes and consequences of racism, and teach them how to eradicate it. Indeed, one may wonder if denying the existence of race would lead to the denial of racism.
Even if the concept of “race” seems to be very difficult to clearly define, and sometimes abstract, the fact remains: racism is incontestably real and concrete.