Social Question

La_Guerrera_Mas_Funki's avatar

What is race?

Asked by La_Guerrera_Mas_Funki (254points) March 22nd, 2010

Is there any biological foundation to the concept of race? Is it a cultural construct? If you see race as inherently salient or as a useful taxonomical device, where to draw the lines? Is it more of a continuum?

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42 Answers

La_Guerrera_Mas_Funki's avatar

I’m not really looking for wiki entries here. As an academic involved in the discourse of race, I’m aware of what wiki has to say on the subject. What I’m more interested in are people’s personal ruminations.

PacificToast's avatar

A group of people that originated from a similar region, share a language, culture, and maybe some physical traits. Shouldn’t this be under discussion? I’m half white, so I don’t think there are many lines to race, but there is black, white, brown, yellow, red. Kind of like cake. But all cake tastes good.

La_Guerrera_Mas_Funki's avatar

Considering that we all can trace our origins to mid South-East Africa, how far back do you go when considering geographical origins? When considering diasporic communities, where do language and culture come in? Are Haitians and Jamaicans the same race? What about Afro-Panamanians? What about a Cambodian child who was adopted and raised by Anglo-Americans in Boston speaking Standard American English? By those criteria are Germans and Argentines of German descent considered the same “race”?

ragingloli's avatar

It is a competitive event between at least two entities involving the movement from point A to B. The one who arrives first, wins.

anartist's avatar

an attitude.

La_Guerrera_Mas_Funki's avatar

@ragingloli_ I like that!

anartist's avatar

tiger woods

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Race, like gender, is a social construct based on certain biological markers that some people found to be important enough to use as a divisionary tactic because they were unable to overcome the difference in appearance and made a mental leap to difference in ability which doesn’t exist.

anartist's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I like this “Race, like gender, is a social construct based on certain biological markers that some people found to be important” but find the polemicizing somewhat offensive. I would finish with “factors for a construction of a human taxonomy”

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@anartist Unfortunately, only some people were interested in these differences in order to construct a taxonomy – the rest took it to slavery, racism, and discrimination. Even more unfortunately, the people in latter group funded the work of the people in the former group. Had history been different, I would have loved to finish that statement in such a fashion.

La_Guerrera_Mas_Funki's avatar

The taxonomy was used as a basis for discrimination. Never was it not hierarchical.

anartist's avatar

I’m just hoping we don’t get into rants here.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@anartist Do you call stating reality rants? We know race is a touchy subject but that certainly precedes (edited) us – in order to discuss race, we have to allow for the element of discomfort and the element of frustration and the element of righteous indignation.

anartist's avatar

outta here!

CaptainHarley's avatar

A fictional way of clustering humans into groups so that those with terrible self-images can easily identify someone to look down upon.

phillis's avatar

As long as it bleeds red, it’s human and can be hurt. Handle with care.

elenuial's avatar

I really, really don’t like talking about race, because I either get yelled at or patronized most of the time. Plus, I tend to be the Ambassador for the Colored around the many groups of white people who talk to me. It’s tiring, draining, and frustrating.

Still, here goes.

Asking an ontological question like “What is race?” misses the point, really. It doesn’t matter so much what it is, or even whether it “exists” (whatever _that_means); what matters is how people act within, around, and on these constructions, and how they’re used within hierarchical social structures to create, enforce, and maintain inequality.

I’m only putting this out there because there needs to be a dissenting voice amongst the “one race human” nonsense. It helps when there’s more than one voice, eh, @Simone_De_Beauvoir?

phillis's avatar

@elenuial I am not patronizing you, I am truly unclear. Why do you consider “one human race” to be nonsense? I am not preparing an attack, so you have no worries from this end.

La_Guerrera_Mas_Funki's avatar

@elenuial Seeing as you don’t like to be patronized, why don’t you do all of us the favor that you would like to be paid and refrain from condescending. How could you know if my question “misses the point” if you have no idea about my motivations for asking it? This is far from an ontological question for me, I am simply collecting ethnographic data. Thanks.

elenuial's avatar

@phillis Although it’s a nice sentiment, it encourages the perpetuation of the status quo, which systematically reinforces the existent inequality between racial conditions. Plus, most of the people who say that (in my experience) believe they mean it, but act in a way that’s inconsistent with their beliefs.

@La_Guerrera_Mas_Funki I think it’s bad ethography for the observer to get defensive or explain herself. Isn’t the whole point that the ethnographer observes? Even asking a question amongst the population of interest, according to some researchers, is taboo, much less trying to force them into the researcher’s interpretation of it.

I’m sorry you felt I was being condescending. I do think, though, that there’s a difference between being patronized based on your race and being patronized based on inaccurate questions, and perhaps you should check your baggage in this conversation—especially if you’re going to start it. Although, for the record, I wasn’t trying to be patronizing, so much as critique the interpretability of the question from within the framework I operate. Again, I apologize if you felt offended.

(Although the irony is delicious, I am nonetheless sincere.)

phillis's avatar

@elenuial I can understand that. People mean well, but thier actions don’t always match thier ideals. It’s kind of a process :) I think things regarding race are rather simple. It works best for me that way. We disagree, but thank you for taking the time to explain. I appreciate that.

MrsDufresne's avatar

I think race has to do with where your ancestors were located on the Planet when the Sun was shining on them.

tinyfaery's avatar

Race is a word with no scientific explanation behind it. It is culturally determined.

At this point I see race as purely political.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@elenuial definitely better that way – as long as others are free to talk without being labeled as rant raving lunatics

elenuial's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Of course. People are already liable to flip out when this topic comes up. If folks think you’re not listening to them, you’re just asking for trouble.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@elenuial yeah, it just…saying something is a rant is meaningless…what I think is a rant, you may not and vice verca so why say it and fixing grammar mistakes..yeah, real special

elenuial's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Definitely. But I know I’m not going to get respect if I don’t give it, even if I vehemently disagree with someone. Even at my most brusque, I try to incorporate others’ words into my own. Even if I get labeled a lunatic, I don’t want to them to walk away thinking I’ve proven them right by getting upset about it. Gotta fight for every millimeter.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@elenuial you’re a better person than me – I get tired of edumucating 24/7

elenuial's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Hardly. I’m just exiting an “All you punks need to f- off while I get work done instead of patiently listen to you tell me I’m a reverse racist” phase. :)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@elenuial ha, at least you’re not being told there is no such thing

La_chica_gomela's avatar

It’s a social construct.

phillis's avatar

@MrsDufresne Bahahahah!! Classic! I love that :)

liminal's avatar

I think race is a constructed idea. I also find it important to remember that race is not equal to culture. I think people sometimes attribute to race what really belongs to one’s cultural identity. I think spending energy on the taxonomy of culture makes more sense. Yet even that can lead to a hierarchal whimsy that creates arbitrary division and prejudice.

Taxonomy gives me a headache.

mammal's avatar

Taboo, that’s more interesting to me than craniology for example, as a method of highlighting racial differences, far more fruitful, possibly less ambiguous…...a Hindu doesn’t eat cow, that’s pretty definitive.

Nullo's avatar

“Race” as a concept is a variation on breeding rather than to any sort of taxonomic classification. A certain collection of phenotypical expressions allows us to divide a species into races.
As labs and border collies are both dogs, so blacks and whites are both humans. It is pretty much a cosmetic difference, though such notables as James Watson has come under fire for stating that some of these differences – intelligence, in Watson’s case – might be important. Which makes a certain amount of sense; one group is going to have the highest average IQ,
The difference is in natural vs. artificial selection.

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