Race (human categorization)

A race is a grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into categories generally viewed as distinct by society.[1] First used to refer to speakers of a common language and then to denote national affiliations, by the 17th century the term race began to refer to physical (phenotypical) traits. Modern scholarship regards race as a social construct, an identity which is assigned based on rules made by society. While partially based on physical similarities within groups, race is not an inherent physical or biological quality.[1][2]

Social conceptions and groupings of races vary over time, involving folk taxonomies[3] that define essential types of individuals based on perceived traits. Scientists consider biological essentialism obsolete,[4] and generally discourage racial explanations for collective differentiation in both physical and behavioral traits.[5][6][7][8][9]

Even though there is a broad scientific agreement that essentialist and typological conceptualizations of race are untenable, scientists around the world continue to conceptualize race in widely differing ways, some of which have essentialist implications.[10] While some researchers use the concept of race to make distinctions among fuzzy sets of traits or observable differences in behaviour, others in the scientific community suggest that the idea of race often is used in a naive[5] or simplistic way,[11] and argue that, among humans, race has no taxonomic significance by pointing out that all living humans belong to the same species, Homo sapiens, and (as far as applicable) subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens.[12][13]

Since the second half of the 20th century, the association of race with the ideologies and theories of scientific racism has led to the use of the word race itself becoming problematic.[14] Although still used in general contexts, race has often been replaced by less ambiguous and loaded terms: populations, people(s), ethnic groups, or communities, depending on context.[15][16]

Defining race

Modern scholarship views racial categories as socially constructed, that is, race is not intrinsic to human beings but rather an identity created, often by socially dominant groups, to establish meaning in a social context. This often involves the subjugation of groups defined as racially inferior, as in the one-drop rule used in the 19th-century United States to exclude those with any amount of African ancestry from the dominant racial grouping, defined as "white".[1] Such racial identities reflect the cultural attitudes of imperial powers dominant during the age of European colonial expansion.[2] This view rejects the notion that race is biologically defined.[17][18][19][20][21][22][23][excessive citations]

Although commonalities in physical traits such as facial features, skin color, and hair texture comprise part of the race concept, the latter is a social distinction rather than an inherently biological one.[1] Other dimensions of racial groupings include shared history, traditions and language. For instance, African-American English is a language spoken by many African Americans, especially in areas of the United States where racial segregation exists. Furthermore, people often self-identify as members of a race for political reasons.[1]

When people define and talk about a particular conception of race, they create a social reality through which social categorization is achieved.[24] In this sense, races are said to be social constructs.[25] These constructs develop within various legal, economic, and sociopolitical contexts, and may be the effect, rather than the cause, of major social situations.[26] While race is understood to be a social construct by many, most scholars agree that race has real material effects in the lives of people through institutionalized practices of preference and discrimination.

Socioeconomic factors, in combination with early but enduring views of race, have led to considerable suffering within disadvantaged racial groups.[27] Racial discrimination often coincides with racist mindsets, whereby the individuals and ideologies of one group come to perceive the members of an outgroup as both racially defined and morally inferior.[28] As a result, racial groups possessing relatively little power often find themselves excluded or oppressed, while hegemonic individuals and institutions are charged with holding racist attitudes.[29] Racism has led to many instances of tragedy, including slavery and genocide.[30]

In some countries, law enforcement uses race to profile suspects. This use of racial categories is frequently criticized for perpetuating an outmoded understanding of human biological variation, and promoting stereotypes. Because in some societies racial groupings correspond closely with patterns of social stratification, for social scientists studying social inequality, race can be a significant variable. As sociological factors, racial categories may in part reflect subjective attributions, self-identities, and social institutions.[31][32]

Scholars continue to debate the degrees to which racial categories are biologically warranted and socially constructed.[33] For example, in 2008, John Hartigan, Jr. argued for a view of race that focused primarily on culture, but which does not ignore the potential relevance of biology or genetics.[34] Accordingly, the racial paradigms employed in different disciplines vary in their emphasis on biological reduction as contrasted with societal construction.

In the social sciences, theoretical frameworks such as racial formation theory and critical race theory investigate implications of race as social construction by exploring how the images, ideas and assumptions of race are expressed in everyday life. A large body of scholarship has traced the relationships between the historical, social production of race in legal and criminal language, and their effects on the policing and disproportionate incarceration of certain groups.