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‘RACE’: not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth

‘Race’ is many things. A social construction; a created concept for grouping people; a movement. And then there are many things ‘race’ is not; the fundamental being: ‘race' is not our truth.

Anthropology is a discipline focusing on the study of human cultures and societal development. Over the years of anthropology growing as a disciplinary social science, there has been no truth in proving any fundamental differences between human ‘groups’. ‘Race’ is not our truth because it doesn’t explain the reality of being a human. Humans are different by culture, experience, geography, value but not by biology. 


There are many human ‘groups’ that we have created through our time on this earth. Groups vary from family groups, to communities, friends, societies. And then there are groups of race, religion and class, which are the kinds of groups that have built conflict in our world. But if we zoom in closer on the reality of ‘race', it can be understood that actually, 

"human biodiversity is greatest within so-called racial groups and … genetic similarity is evident across so-called ‘races’” (Lewontin 1972 cited in St. Louis 2015: 124)

This is what needs to be shared. Humans across labeled religious or ‘ racial' groups are more similar than we realise and these labels we have created, as well as the construction of ‘race’ shows how society has been misinformed right from the beginning.

"The science of race read from pigment… or gene has been exposed as false” (Ashmin 2010: 2)

supporting how ‘physical race’ is not substantial enough to provide an explanation of our entire humanity. Racial categories may start more and more to be replaced with other social binaries, and allow us to anticipate a future with an utterly different concept of ‘race’. But until this happens, we have to understand the current results from the treatment and hostility of ‘race’ in the past.


This hostility of ‘race’ is highlighted well in Alice Conklin’s book, 'In the Museum of Man’. A detailed historical account of social theory and anthropology in France for 100 years from 1850 to 1950. The essence of her book is how strongly imperialistic and colonial mindsets remain throughout time. For decades, anthropologists tried to prove that there was “no fundamental unity of the species”. Anthropology became a legitimate study to prove that there were differences between humans of different skin colours. They tried to use biology and skull theory for example to prove that there could be determined hierarchies based on biological human differences. For years, this is what people believed because that was what they were being taught by ‘professionals’. During this time, there was also another group of anthropologists fighting to highlight the cultural and environmental impacts on human groups as a greater way of explaining human differences. 


Following this anthropological fight and the tragedies of racial discrimination and mass death based on ‘race' during World War II, in 1950 a UNESCO statement came out politically rebuking scientific racism. It said, “‘race’ is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth” (Conklin, 2013). While there was justice with this statement there was irony too because it took 6 million deaths within one ‘racial’ group before this happened. This is unfortunately not the only example of irony and horror in the story of ‘race’. 


So ‘race’ was politically rebuked yet racism still exists? The hardest part is that political change can happen, but imperialistic-racist mindsets don’t just go away. Some of these mindsets are so deep rooted and are traced through generations of teaching the next of falsehoods about ‘race’. We can however also take pride in how far we have come, but looking around us, it is still so apparent how much further we have to go. While we have interracial marriage we still have social prejudice. While we have had a black president, we still have innocent black people being charged for crimes they didn’t commit. 

The world is learning and growing, but fundamentally we have to be aware of the engrained imperialist mindsets that still exist across societies today. People may no longer actively be racist, but may instil racism through their neutrality and avoidance. People may also subconsciously express racism from the way they have grown up; but what’s important is understanding the history and the different stories of where this current narrative of ‘race’ comes from. To accept that our past is full of injustice and colonialism, because before we can move forward, we must know where we’ve come from. 

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I wanted to share this because I wanted to show how there was a point in time where people were genuinely trying to prove that there were inferior ‘races’ based on biology. How, there was a time where an entire science was dedicated to this study of white superiority.  I want to show that by understanding this kind of mindset, we can both see how far we have come but also see how this imperialism is a major undertone for the way we live now. 

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