Before I dive into the concept of race, I just want to thank Kambiz for this opportunity to broaden not only my perspectives but everyone else’s as well. I am very excited to discuss subjects that interest me and make people think critically about culture and society. I am looking forward to this personal challenge to hold my own writing with an anthropological community. I humbly thank you all in advance!
All the history books that I have read suggest that race was first recognized when the Europeans came over to America and saw the Native Americans. But what did the Europeans think of the peoples on their trade routes? What was different about the Native Americans that sparked a racial hierarchy to begin? Or is it our history books that are flawed due to being written by either by Americans or Europeans and are therefore biased?
The main concern of the Europeans was religion and how people of different colors fit into that scheme. Were they also “Children of God or soulless creatures that needed to be saved? The discussion of the “conversion” of “savages” is an entirely different bag of issues, so to speak. But this is, nevertheless, the beginning of the mistreatment of people for their skin color…in theory.
The definitions that I am referencing are from “The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality” with Tracey E. Ore describing race as “a group of people who perceive themselves and are perceived by others as possessing distinctive hereditary traits.” Whereas ethnicity would be “having cultural traits such as language, religion, family customs, and food preferences.” I state the definition of ethnicity because the two can be confused with one another but they can also be intertwined.
Reason for Race, Not Justification
It is human nature to categorize things to make our reality more palatable. Also, it is a coping mechanism for status. Something as simple as the color of one’s skin can denote their position in a hierarchy and can save a conversation. One does not have to talk to someone to figure out their status if they can just look at them and know according to their skin color, hypothetically speaking. Now, I am not saying we all do this, but realize that ingrained within each one of us is our culture that society has presented to us since birth. I believe, no matter who you are looking at, you will make some sort of assumption or employ some sort of stereotype to that person. This may include race but more importantly hierarchy or status judgment.
Construction through Society
Race is a very dynamic human category. It is not the same anywhere at any given time due to the different constructs set up within a society and the personal translation of that construct. The construction is solely based upon the “recipe” for race throughout the society’s history. In America, race started out by the decision of whether or not the peoples of darker skin were animals or men. That is a pretty intense construct to break out of after years of this type of thinking and teaching! It has taken decades…no centuries to even come face to face with the equal rights issues because people are just stuck in society’s cultural mind of oppression!
Not only sociocultural factors are involved but a more “exact” science as well: biology. Scientists justified oppression due to skin color by coming up with biological factors that proved “they” were inferior to them. We have outgrown this phase (for the most part), though, which is relieving. There is still a commanding argument on whether or not biology has anything to do the color of skin of anyone. Yes, the color of skin varies but does it make someone biologically different to the point of them being inferior or superior?
The conception of race is truly in the eyes of the beholder. It depends on who is looking, judging, assuming and has little or nothing to do with biology but the history of a society that makes assumptions or stereotypes of people of darker skin to create a social hierarchy that is visible or easily identified. There is variation of skin colors depending on the region of one’s origin. But the emphasis put behind the skin is the creation of race. The emphasis that is put in place by a sociocultural system is where the interpretation and conception of race stems from. Race is just an idea and not a fact of inferiority.