Race Is A Social Construct

One of our all time most popular posts here on Anthropology.net is a 2008 blog post, “Race as a Social Construct.”


Yesterday the journal Science published an open access paper that stated race should be phased out of current studies on human genetic diversity. Modern genetics research operate in a paradox, which that race is understood to be a useful tool to elucidate human genetic diversity. On the other hand, race is also understood to be a poorly defined marker of that diversity and an imprecise proxy for the relationship between ancestry and genetics. The authors address that race is not the best proxy to use to understand human genetic diversity, especially as the prevalence of admixture is increasing across populations.

The paper leads into a discussion on DuBois and Dobzhansky as early pioneers in the race as a social construct argument.  They then define ancestry vs. race,

“Ancestry is a process-based concept, a statement about an individual’s relationship to other individuals in their genealogical history; thus, it is a very personal understanding of one’s genomic heritage. Race, on the other hand, is a pattern-based concept that has led scientists and laypersons alike to draw conclusions about hierarchical organization of humans, which connect an individual to a larger preconceived geographically circumscribed or socially constructed group.”

I particularly appreciated the discussion about how race can muddy the waters in medical genetics. For example sickle cell disease is often thought of as a “Black” disease and can lead to misdiagnoses in “non-Black” peoples. Other hemoglobinopathies such as a thalassemia and Mediterranean and cystic fibrosis and Jewish populations can lead to similar misdiagnosis and ultimately delay in care.

The call upon scientific journals and professional societies to phase out racial terms like Black and white, for example and instead encourage use of terms like “ancestry” or “population” to describe human groupings. They’ve called on the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to put together a panel of experts across the biological and social sciences to come up with ways for researchers to shift away from the racial concept in genetics research.

4 thoughts on “Race Is A Social Construct

  1. when i was teaching anthro 101 in in 1970, race was then considered inappropriate as term in science. the american anthropological association then made resolutions which clearly rejected it as a term in anthropology, in genetic studies, in population assessments. i told my students them there was no such thing as race. like phrenology, phlegm, or phlogiston

    1. You say no such thing as race? Yet we have https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_(human_categorization)

      The field actually exploded with the internet, and that whole section of science is being redefined all the time. There is a huge caveat with AncestryDNA test being able to redefine ethnicity/haplotypes It just so happens the real world collects and publishes this data based on race, so it is most essentially we maintain the race class for historical consistancy. It comes into play in genealogy research, and it’s a census question that directly correlates to geography.

      I’m sick of the political correct bullshit… you want a prime example of social constuct, try searching google image for the term “wigger”. Let me ask, would you allow people who identify as such? The problem has been people not being able to place themselves into a single checkbox on the form, but I think they changed it so you can pick multiple categories. or write in whatever you want. The “race” question was actually a “color” quesion from the 1800s through 1950.

      Here is the fly in the ointment.. The top DNA testers are vastly inconsistant with there interpretations on the same DNA samples, which can NOT tell the color of your skin from DNA without you actually telling them. Same is true for other genetic traits such as eye color, hair type, hair color being true ID markers and other genetic traits in chromosomes which are really important, yet you will not see any such thing in commercial DNA reports. The Human Genome project made alot of progress, but because if was partially funded with private funds, there is a problem with disclosure of research, and project terminated before it was fully developed. There are independant studies of the various DNA testing which better describe the problem.
      I will just say that sequencing the genome is just a milestone towards that actual mapping of genetic traits. I’m no expert in the DNA field, but rather critical of the testing being sold because of the cost involved and have been waiting for someone to standardize the race/ethnicity interpretations of the raw data with a bit more precision.

      From the Skeptic…
      First to decode the human genome, Craig Venter was also quick to announce during his White House visit in 2000 that “the concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis.”

      From my perspective this says HIS decode method yielded nothing to support to support race at all. So, why are we 16 years later using that same method to pay for expensive equipment that are imputing that data which does not exist? Did the Human Genome Project result in a failure? If you say no, then why did not continue their work to support application. They all seem to have written books, etc and abandon the actual commercial testing methods they are charging hundreds of dollars per test. I am pretty much convinced there is a high level conspiracy, or scam being played since the source of the information comes from private interests who are not too keen on millions of dollars in research being made public domain as the government requested. There are still big companies making millions with varying degrees of success. DNA failing to ID race is a pretty significant issue for science because the medical field still needs the data for interracial group donors which are extremely rare and vital to many who are on waiting lists for transplants, etc.

      The problem with the census race question is that info is only made public 72 years after it is collected, so is of no value whatsoever to the living people who could actually benefit from that data. Instead, we have a corrupt government who uses the data to suit their agendas. There is a public law that supposedly “protects the citizen” from census data disclosure to the public, but offers zero protection from the government mining that valuable data for political gain as an internal function of the administration de jour. They do have a big brother system that will track people and their geographic locations, and much more. and nobody even questions how they mis-use their systems. The governments way of controlling the masses.

  2. tribal(family) ideology is one of the foundation of humanity ,chimps and mountain gorillas are a couple of examples Australopithecus another the inter tribal breeding and the ideology related to it created humanity ,tribal ideologues like Zionism, Nazism the current Russian and Iran incursion in Syria., as distasteful as elitist murdering stealing is ,a self justified tribal teachings that like minded attach , is another example of genetic controls that tribe enacted on the gene pool , to remove the word race and replace it with a less provocative concept of tribal identity, may be more pleasing to theses types who self condemnation on display need see a councilor & work towards improving there understanding of the concept of tribe which means family social construct

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