Defining What is Race and Race as a Social Construct

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Racism is a topic that was thought to be thing of the past in America, especially over the last decade. However, racial incidences have been witnessed especially in the last two years. Theses incidences include the over a hundred bomb threats that have been directed towards the Jewish community and schools. Minorities like the African American and the American Muslims have also seemed to be concerned about racism incidences showed against them. It is with this note that it is therefore great no note that indeed the topic of racism has currently taken new shape and it is now discussed in terms of genetics and DNA.

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The Human Genome Project that was completed in the year 2003 has now made it possible for the examination of human ancestry with genetics. Science has therefore kept themselves busy studies topics like the migrations of humans from Africa and around the world. Furthermore, it is not the only scientist who have shown interests in the topic of human genetics. Currently, at-home ancestry kits are available in cheap prices from companies like 23andMe, Ancestry, and Family Tree DNA. A customer having as little as $99 dollars can as well get a 23andMe analysis showing that they are, for example, 65.1% European, 18.0% Native American and 6.2% African. 

The increasing awareness of ancestry testing is a good indication that we can widely utilize these tests to delineate, dissect and define the composition of our ancestors. This has ever since the social media being flooded by users who post their excitement on knowing the test result of their ancestry composition. The success of the ancestry kits is the full confirmation of our faith that our DNA can group us into various clusters such as the “five races”. Native American, African, Oceania, European, and Asian.

It is also clear that is difficult to biologically define race and this is accrued to the variations in genetics among populations and individuals. According to the perception of the old concept of the “five races”, there is a large variation between races, therefore, the race is defined as a separate category. Similarly, individual races are believed to possess a relatively similar genetic identity. In reality, human populations irregularly divide into geographical regions. Nonetheless, there is a small difference between different regions, which in turn blur the lines between populations. Besides, there is a large variance within a single region leading to no uniformity in identification.

Estimation of our ancestral composition at 0.1% brings a suggestion of categorical and exact variations between human populations. However, truthiness is quite a simpler one. The reaction from a scientist on the ancestry testing has been considered to be more fascinating compared to that of the general public. Research has revealed that the idea of “five races” explain, to an extent, the distribution of human populations but with far more blurriness in the lines between races that that which the ancestry companies have made us believe.

The 2002 landmark study by Stanford scientists looked into the idea of human diversity by examining the distribution among the seven main geographical locations four thousand alleles. Alleles represent the different expressions of a gene. For example, the genes that code for hair of all humans is the same; responsible for the different color types and textures of hair is brought about by the varying alleles.

More than ninety-two percent of alleles were discovered in 2 or more locations and approximately half of the alleles were found in each of the seven major geographical regions as per the Stanford study. The fact that the rampant majority of the alleles were shared over different locations or even worldwide all over, is an indication of a basic similarity to each person in the world- a view that has been backed by several other studies.

If truly different racial alleles existed, we could have found “trademark” alleles and other genetic traits that are specific to a single group but absent to others. However, the 2002 Stanford study discovered that a mere 7.4% of the total four thousand alleles to be constrained to a single geographical region. Besides, also in the event that region-specific alleles showed up, they only represented themselves in up to one percent of the people of locality in question, which makes it difficult to be classified into any type of a trademark. As such, there is no proof that whatever we label as “races” possess unique and outstanding genetic identities. Actually, there is a minimal variation within the races.

On a larger note, the ambiguity and variation between and within the races respectively are too much, that two European descendants could be the same genetically with an Asian person as opposed to a fellow European.

Therefore, as we have seen, the variations are blurry between the races with no doubt. Therefore, the answer to the question of whether race is a myth is variable depending on who is answering it. Nonetheless, the consensus is clear in the social and biological sciences that race is not a biological attribute but instead a social construct. Currently, the scientist sees it fit to use the term “ancestry” when speaking of human diversity. Ancestry takes into consideration the fact that there is a connection between the human variations and geographical origins of the ancestors- which come with a lot of information related to an individual’s DNA which could be used by them to make a sound guess on their ancestry. On the contrary, the term race mainly focuses on having a grasp on the history of a person and why they fit in one cluster and not the other. For example, in a modernized set up, scientists would associate diseases like cystic fibrosis to either the “sub-Saharan African” or “Northern European” descent unlike to “black” or “white”.

Unluckily, even though most scientists do classify race as a social construct, most members of the public have still not let this sunk in. Most people base the racial differences with the differences in the appearance of different racial groups. Despite the fact that science has proven that race isn’t a biological concept, race still does exist on basis of political and social concepts. The few visible appearances which have been used to describe different races are dependent on the external environment and not biological cues.

Evolution leading to skin color change is thought to have occurred independently and does not in any way reflect other characteristics like behavior and mental abilities.

From the above argument, we can confidently say that indeed science and genetics have provided tangible evidence that there are very minimal variations between the races, an idea that should be used to end the racial discrimination among different groups in our society. However, this is not yet the case since society does believe that there exists too much difference between races. This has even been intensified by the political systems that exist all over the world.

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