Have you ever filled out a job application, official form, or government census? Did you ever stop to think when asked to mark which race applies to
you in the little box? I have, and I actually take a few minutes thinking about which race I am. I simply do not know. I do not have a “race,” do
I? My skin is white, but not too white—it isn’t very dark either. My mom is a blond from Germany—my dad is Hispanic and an American native. I
have dark hair from my dad and my mom’s facial features. My paternal genealogy has been traced back to a mixture of Spanish and the natives of the
New Mexico-Colorado regions, but I don’t identify as Native American—why not? What race am I, really? How do I know which race I am? By asking my
parents? How do they know? How did their parent’s parents know? So am I white, German, Hispanic, or a mongrel?—please don’t try to answer this
for me because the answer is a myth.
I like the last option where you can choose “some other race.” I think I will be a Klingon next time.
I give blood. It’s not exactly by choice because my blood is not viable for transplanted donation (due to my history of cancer and auto-immune
disease..otherwise I would.) I am regularly phlebotomized to reduce the dangerously high iron-content in my blood. I was once asked to state my race
on a form. I told the phlebotomist that I didn’t want to disclose. She said, “Well, you have to if you want me to draw your blood. It’s standard
procedure and policy blah blah blah.”
I reminded her that my blood wasn’t even viable for donation—that this was a preventative medical treatment. “Just check the box,” she
insisted. I looked at the chart with my pen hovering back and forth over “Caucasian” and “Latino.” I finally said, “I don’t know what I
am.” I checked both boxes and just got over it as quick as I could.
But what about when I filled out my college applications? I very quickly decided I was Hispanic. I bet you can guess why. I was even considered for a
Hispanic heritage grant. Even worse, I do not look Hispanic and have taken some ribbing from people who “look” Hispanic.
The concept of race is a human construct that has been used interchangeably with terms like ‘biology’ and ‘culture’. This use of the word
“race” is a misnomer and is an inadequate substitution for the proper term; what we’re talking about when we say “race” is ethnicity; and
when we say ethnicity, we’re talking about cultural traits—and when we talk about culture we’re not talking about biology anymore.
Unfortunately, this concept has been misunderstood and misused from its inception up to the present day. It has been used to justify ignorance and to
justify prejudice—it has even been the impetus to rationalize ethnocide, genocide, and eugenics movements.
But let’s start slow—what is a biological race? Answer: a subpopulation or subspecies of organisms that can be divided into a discrete group,
distinguished from others based on distinct and significant genetic differences in composition.
What is ethnicity? Answer: a supposedly shared culture based on a concept of cultural heritage. I am not sure what ethnicity I belong to either. Am I
West Coast American? Hispanic? Pseudo-new age hippy? The artist formerly known as ‘Protestant-Christian?’ Do I identify my ethnicity based on what
state I live in? This is why the word “supposedly” is important here because in the end, it is still somewhat up in the air.
How is this different from one’s Nationality? Answer: nationality is a political category of one’s citizenship in a nation-state comprised of many
ethnic groups and different cultural heritages. Ah, so even one’s nationality is comprised of more than one ethnicity and more than one set of
cultural traits. So that definition is definitely not suited to describe my race nor my ethnicity.
What are the most prevalent assumptions about race?
*Human races are extraordinarily important
*They are based on biological differences
*They are ancient and relatively unchanging
*They are easily distinguishable from one another
There’s one other term that I’d like to bring into the equation: racialization—an assumption that an arbitrarily chosen characteristic
difference of a group is fixed, as if inherited genetically, and makes the outside group innately different. So, what is the most obvious skin-deep
quality that we use to differentiate each other? That’s right, skin color.
But what happens when people of the same skin gradation need to differentiate themselves? Do they begin to define races based on height? Nose length?
Hair color? Ability to eat 800 marshmallow peeps without vomiting?
What should we measure?
Anthropometry is the practice of measuring human anatomy. Arbitrary measures were often used to support racialism. All forms of measure were examined
in an attempt to categorize “races”. For example, height, limb proportion, nose length and width etc. were all catalogued believing they would fit
neatly into defined criteria to denote a “race”. Cranial measurements and cranial volume capacity, as well as other arbitrary measurements (such
as prognathism) were used in an attempt to predict one’s supposed heritable intelligence. Of course, we now know that there is no correlation or
reflection of one’s intelligence or other cultural acquisitions readable through the measurement of physical traits.
In fact, anthropometry hit the mainstream when Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals in track and field at the 1936 Olympics. He was poked, prodded, and
measured as a means to figure out why a black man had beaten the white competition. Before this event, it was generally believed that blacks were
physically inferior in competitive sports. That assumption changed due to cultural, not biological, circumstances; it is an attitude that is liable to
change in future generations as well. (In other words, these biological characteristics of race are usually changed to fit the popular belief of the
And when seeking to find direct relationships between intelligence and cranial shape, we only embarrass ourselves. A direct relationship would suggest
that the person in the room with the biggest head is the smartest (again, arbitrary…smartest how? By what biased measure?) Although increased
cranial capacity across primate species is directly related to somewhat increased intelligence—the variations from person to person (within a
species) are negligible and the relationships associated with intelligence are nonexistent. So, no…the person with the biggest head isn’t the
Another problem with using anthropometry to determine characteristics of a race is that the samples provided show much variety in their measurements.
In other words, each supposed “race” has people with big heads, small heads, etc. There is a wide range to consider when examining any ethnic
Human beings have a strong proclivity to organize the world around them into patterns and groups. People not only use taxonomy as a means to organize
the world around them—plants, animals, and natural features—but also other people. Such attempts have given rise to racial classification
edit on 19-12-2012 by NarcolepticBuddha because: (no reason given)