The “race” is a concept invented, but which has an impact, according to the researchers


Many Americans define themselves by race. However, those who base their identity on skin color and other physical traits may be surprised to learn that race is a social construct rather than a biological one, the researchers say.

In “Ideas of Race and Racism in History,” a virtual panel discussion hosted on October 12 by the Ohio State University College of Arts and Sciences, professors who have studied the issue said that racism is rooted in the false notion that there are distinct races.

“This idea of ​​racing is just not real. It’s not real in a biological sense, ”said Hasan Jeffries, associate professor in the history department. “But at the same time… it’s socially significant – biologically meaningless, but socially significant – because it has shaped global society for the past 500 or 600 years. “

The discussion also featured Alice Conklin, Emeritus Professor of Arts and Sciences in the Department of History; Robin Judd, associate professor in the Department of History; and Deondre Smiles, associate professor of geography at the University of Victoria, Canada. Nicholas Breyfogle, Associate Professor in the Department of History and Director of the Harvey Goldberg Center of Excellence in Teaching, moderated the discussion.

The concept of race emerged in the mid-17th century as a way to justify African slavery in colonial America, Conklin said, and scientists eventually devised theories to defend the forced labor system.

“The idea of ​​race as something biologically real arose first as a popular idea and then as a scientific idea,” she said. “This idea was arguably the biggest mistake modern Western science has ever made. “

The error was based on three false premises, Conklin said.

“First, that biologically distinct races existed in nature; two, that some breeds were smarter than others, “she said,” and three, that these breeds could be classified and ranked from superior to inferior based on typical brain, shape, weight or height. of each so-called “race”. ‘”

The catastrophic effects of racism are evident in the genocide of Jews in Nazi Germany during World War II, Judd said.

“Even before the Nazis come to power and consolidate their power, there is first an understanding of ‘racial purity’,” she said. “There is a belief that there is something that can allow a ‘pure race’ and something that can allow an ‘unclean race’, and that there is a hierarchy of races and there is a superiority of ‘a particular breed. “

Categorizing people by phenotype goes against the worldview of many Native Americans and other indigenous peoples, said Smiles, who claims African, European and Ojibway Native American heritage.

“Sometimes people refer to indigenous peoples as a race. And if you ask many indigenous peoples, they will often say to you, “Well, we are not a race, we are a nation,” he said. “I can speak on behalf of my own people, where Ojibwa, we have a long history of seeing our tribal identity, as viewing it within political and kinship frameworks rather than racial or biological constructs.”

When people refer to “race,” they’re most likely using the term to refer to cultural heritage and ancestry, Jeffries said.

“We cannot claim that race itself is not a meaningful and impactful construct in everyone’s life,” he said, “and certainly all Americans.”

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