Where Did Race Come From?
different cultures classify physical differences in different ways. We classify these differences as race, but there is no such thing as race. Race is just a myth. Americans believe that Asians, blacks, Hispanics, and whites constitute biological entities called races, but it is a matter of cultural interest rather than scientific substance. This idea tells more about our culture rather than our species (251).
Race is a social construction that people were born into. We then classify different races with innate, biologically based different intellects, temperaments, and characters (Rothenberg 8). To some people racial classification is natural . A possible definition of race is through which path of social construction the society takes. Race is an idea that we created ourselves through social construction to classify the physical differences and cultural differences that we each have from our perspectives.
From infancy, human beings learn to see small differences in the faces of those around them. A baby would mostly see the faces of the parents, family members, relatives, and close friends of the family. As a black baby he/she would tend to see a much more variety of blacks faces than the faces of whites and visa versa for a white baby (Fish 256). At this point the babies do not know anything about race, but this is where the social construction of race and others begins. As human beings, we grow up with our own perceptions of race; however, our parents culture, friends, and media have huge influences.
As human beings throughout different parts of the world, we will eventually come upon the rules of how to classify race and our own racial identity. This is something that we do not even think about. It is, sometimes, being done in our heads unconsciously. One example would be television or films. The media gives their audiences a perception of how racial minorities look like and how they act, but these images that they scatter is false. The power of the media is sometimes under estimated. The media has the abilities to manipulate the philosophies of the dominant racial groups and their own beliefs (Omi, Winant 15). This shows us that we sometimes view race by some other s perspectives, which is a part of social construction. As their perspectives of race changes so will the society s definitions.
The meanings of race will eventually change over time and through different societies. Kenan Malik, form the book The Meaning of Race, says …everyone knows what race is, but no one can quite define it (Malik 2). Different countries have much different prospective of what race is therefore they have different meanings. British law defines a race or racial group as a group of persons defined by reference to color, race, nationality or ethnic or national origin (23). A dictionary defines race as a category used in the classification of organisms that consists of a group of individuals within a species that are geographically, ecologically, physiologically, or chromosomally distinct from other members of the species (Race). If we were to open a dictionary or an encyclopedia in another country, if they had one, they would define race differently, but with the same concepts.
In a study by Dr. Fish, Brazilians have a different social construction of race or classification of race. Instead of race they call it types. They classify by physical appearances. They have two classifications for white . One named loura, meaning whiter than white , and the other being branca, meaning just white . On the other hand America s description of a branca is the same as a Hispanics despite the fact that they speak Portuguese. The Brazilian culture believes that there are enough characteristics to be considered white and Americans see the branca as a Hispanic due to the fact that they have Hispanic characteristics or their parents were Hispanics. Another classification is a morena. Brazilians think that in America morena is classified as a brunette. They are surprised to find out that a brunette is consider “white” and a morena is not. In America, morena can be either Hispanic or black. The last two categories are mulata and preta. A mulata looks like a morena and preta looks like a mulata. These two classifications in America s society would be considered black (Fish 257). This is an example of how other cultures execute their classification. A Brazilian with a family of five can actually be classified into five different race groups. In the United States, a family with one parent nonwhite would make the whole family nonwhite with the exception of the other parent. How can this be when we all have the same ancestors?
Our entire ancestors came from one place, Africa. We eventually spread ourselves out around the world and evolved different characteristics to adapt with our locations. Africans form dark skins to release more body heat and protected them from the rays of the sun. Light skins formed when protection was not needed. Adapting changed our physical appearances and culture. We cannot say that there are different humans because we can still mate and produce fertile offspring, but isn t that what we think race is, different humans (Fish 251-252). Researchers know that human beings are species and cataloging ourselves by race is socially constructed. Studies to determine racial categories from a scientific basis have been abandoned by most physical anthropologist and biologist (Omi, Winant12). They know that race is built in our heads. When people talk of race, they believe that they are dividing others according to scientific terms. What they don t know is that it is more political than scientific (Rothenberg 8).
Race is a basic part in political and cultural life all around the world and visa versa (Winant 1). Race can be understood as a fluid and unstable complex of social meanings constantly being transformed by political conflict (59). It can easily be changed. People with high political powers can shape race. Someone with the knowledge to shape and alter our perspectives of another race can be dangerous. Consider the example of Adolph Hitler. He turned his country against the Jews. He made his country feel superior to all others and gave his country the belief that all Jews should not exist. The outcomes were deaths of millions of Jews.
Coming from a different culture myself, I am baffled between two cultures. My parents and myself have never heard of Mexicans or distinguish them among other Americans until we moved to the United States and learned that not all Americans were white. Race is a difficult concept to understand; nevertheless, it is happening every day. Due to the fact that it is such a debatable issue, it is hard to define. Each person and each society has its own socially constructed definition of race, which also has influences on the classification of race. The only difference we really have is our mind.
Malik, Kenan. The Meaning of Race. New York: New York UP, 1996.
Omi, Michael and Howard Winant. Racial Formation. Race, Class and Gender in the United States. 5th ed. New York: Worth Publisher, 2001.