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Milton Bertrand 324 articles

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What We Should Know About Race

There is less, more to race than the eyes can see.

By Milton Bertrand

Modern race relation is a very sensitive issue that no one wants to have a real conversation about. It appears that everyone is afraid of saying the wrong thing for many reasons. Some of these reasons include the fear of losing a job, being labeled as this guy and so on. As long as we have fears lingering over our head, the situation can only get worse.

The point is what we should know about race.

When we are looking at someone, it is apparent there is a fundamental difference the way we look. It is not too complex to differentiate one individual to the next. The questions remain what do they really mean? Are we biologically different? Where does race come from? What is the social impact?

There is less, more to race than the eyes can see.

Our genetic has nothing to do with race. There is not a single characteristic, trait, or even gene differentiates all individuals of one so attached to the term race from all the individuals of another attached to the term race. The traditional concept of race cannot be reconciled with current understanding of the genetic nature of human diversity.

Race is a modern societal construct; the term race was not used in ancient societies. Example includes the Greek society. The Greeks did not categorize members of their society according to physical appearances, or distinctions, but according to religious, status, language, class. As far as we know it, the term race did not appear in the English language not until 15081. It turned up in a poem by William Dunbar referring to a line of kings.

Unlike many animal species, Homo sapiens have not been around long enough, or isolated long enough to evolve into different subspecies, or what we refer to as race. Let’s not be confused with our superficial (phenotypic) appearances. We are one of the most genetically similar of all species.

Most genetic variations occur within not between as many refer to “Race". Of the small amount of total human variation, 85% exists within any local population, be they Italians, Chinese, or Cherokees2. About 94% can be found within any continent. That means two random Koreans may be as genetically different as a Korean and an Italian. It is possible to use genetic to assign members to region of origin with great certainty; however, there is little evidence when it comes to genetic difference among geographical regions as compared to the variation observed within any local population2.

Our skin color is only skin deep. The traits that we inherit are independent from one another. The genes that influence our skin have nothing to do with the genes that influence our hair and so on. Therefore, knowing someone's skin color tells nothing about that specific individual. The social construct in the United States makes an asymmetrical assignment of race. It is such that any detectable African ancestry makes a person “Black”, or”African American”. This notion further complicates the biological reality.

In the United States, it happened that many slaves shared similar physical characteristics (referred to Black).  However, slavery predates the term race that did not appear until 1508; throughout much of human history, societies have enslaved others, often as a result of conquest, or war, even debt, but not because of physical characteristics, or a belief in natural inferiority.

How could this be? The United States was founded on the radical new principle that "All men are created equal." Therefore, freedom and race emerged together. How can we make sense of this notion while the early economy was based on slavery? The idea of race can clarify why some members could be denied the rights and freedoms that many others took for granted.

Social inequalities are justified by race. As the idea of race emerged, white superiority took precedence in America.  It justified not only by slavery but also the extermination of Indians, exclusion of Asian immigrants. Racial practices were institutionalized within American government, laws, and society.

While race is not biological, it is a powerful social construct. It gives individuals different access to different opportunities and resources. Our social institutions and government have created advantages that disproportionately channel wealth, power, and resources to certain members of society. Such phenomenon affects everyone, whether we are aware of it or not.

It is important to create social equalities. Racism is not going to stop anytime soon. To end such practice, we need to identify and remedy social policies and institutional practices that advantage some groups at the expense of others.

References:  

1- Our Racist Heart?: An Exploration of Unconscious Prejudice in Everyday Life.  By Geoffrey Beattie

2- Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age.  By Barbara A. Koenig, Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, Sarah S. Richardson. Page 95.

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