The Concept of Race

Race is aclassificationof human population on different grounds. These classifications are more of a socialpoliticalconstructionthan a scientific or biological grouping. There is no universally accepted definition of race. Different individuals and groups of people have their owndefinitionofpeople.

How many races are there in the world? The answer to thisquestionwas positive. Out of the ten people who participated, none of them denied that there are no races. It is clear that everyone identifies himself or herself with a certain race. From the 2000 census in the USA, there are those that stated that they are multiracial. They did not deny that they do not affiliate themselves with a certain race, but a multiple of races (Relethford 34).

According to responses of ten people interviewed randomly, there arevariousraces of people. Onegroupof interviewees identified threepopulationraces; the Mongoloids (Asian); Negroes (African) and the Caucasians (White Europeans). A closer classification to this identified five races: Caucasian, Mongoloid, Malay, Ethiopian, and American. Others identified four races: European, Asian, African, and Amerindian. There are those who had mentioned more than ten races. These are Asiatic, European, African, Amerindian, Indian, Polynesian, Australian, Micronesian, and Melanesian-Papuan.

Otherclassificationgroup identifies three races namely Black, White or Red. The white race consists of the Europeans, the Arabs, and the Asians. The Blackraceconsists of the Africans, Negroes, and African American. The Redraceconsists of the Red Indians and the Latin Americans. Anotherclassificationgroup identifies five races; White race, Blacks, American Indian, Asian, Pacific Islanders. The White races are persons who identify themselves to have originated from any of the ancient peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. Suchpeopleinclude the Irish, The Germans, Polish, Italians, Arabs Lebanese, or Near Easterners. The Blackraceconsists of people with origins in the Black African people such as Kenyans, Nigerians, Haitian, Afro American, Negroes. The American Indian races are persons who have their origins or have their ancestorsoriginatefrom North, Central or South America whohavetribal affiliations. They include the Hispanics, the Mexicans and the Cubans. People who have their origins in the original peoples of Far East, Southeast Asia, or India is of the Asian race. They include the Chinese, the Philippines, the Japanese, Vietnamese, and Koreans. Lastly thisclassificationidentifies peoples who have their origins in Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, Pacific islands to be of the Pacific Islandersrace.

In all theseclassificationgroups, the society usesvariouscriterionsto classify people. Among many factors,they usegeographical origin, ancestral origin, skin color, and the hair texturein classifying people into racial groups. These aspects are not exhaustive. They do not seem to have a link between each other. For instance, theracialgroups based on skin color are not the same as those based on hair texture. When one takes all these factors into consideration, and forms one, allinclusiveclassification schemes, it isevidentthat many races willemerge. What is themaindenominator for classifying population into racial groups?

The skin color and ancestraloriginare the twodominanttrait used in many classifying people into races. Most of the human populationplacethe human population intoracialgroups based primarily on the skin color. Therefore, fiveracialgroupsexist; Whites, Blacks, American Indian, Asian, and the Pacific Islanders. There is acontroversyamong this population classification.

There is nodistinctcutline thatindicatetheboundaryof oneracialgroup from the other.For instance, those who classify people according to skin colorfindit hard to classify a person of African descent who has the same color with a person of the Asian descent or a person of Asiandescentmay have the same skin color as apersonof European descent.At the same time, the Native Australians have dark skin and light-colored, curly hair. On the basis of skin color, it is difficult to classify these people. One might be tempted toclassifythem in the same race with the African. However, on the basis of facial shape and the hairtextureone willlabelthem Europeans.

According to the book, The Fundamentals of Biological Anthropology by John H. Relethford, race is aclassof people that have some similar biological characteristicsthatmake itdifferentfrom other groups of peoplebased on the same characteristics (Relethford 34). Skin color is the mostvisibletraitof a human being. It is the most usedaspectof classifying people into races. The variation of skin color isprimarilydue to the pigmentation of the skin. Most scientists have proved that melanin is the primary cause of skin variation. The variations in the amount of melanin in theskinare genetic. However, recent studiesindicatethatvariationof melanin, hencevariationof skin color is due to evolutionary causes (Jablonski 57).

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection states that evolution occurs to make an organism more suited to the environment,survivelonger and produce offspring than those less suited. The offspring will in turn pass theadaptationtraits into the next generation. Over time, atotallydifferent population of organisms willpossessthe adaptation. Jablonski, in his explanation for the evolution of human skin color, assumed that the earliest human ancestors hadfairskin and moved from the rain forest into the East African Savanna about 3 million years ago. She argues that the differences in temperature toadopta cooling system through sweating. A million of years later these ancestors becamehairless. They evolved melanin to protect the exposed skin from the scorching effect of sunlight (Jablonski 57).

According to Jablonski, the skin pigmentation evolved in response to the amount of Ultra-Violet rays.She theorized that lightde-pigmented skinned people developed thisadaptationwhile they were moving away from the tropical savanna where they originated.These people moved to the higher altitudes with a lowamountof UV rays. Dark pigmentation would prevent absorption of sunlight hence production of vitamin D, an essentialcomponentfor calcium absorption and bone development. Jablonski maintains that lighter skin evolved to maximize vitamin D production in higher altitudes.

On the other hand, Jablonski and Chaplin (Jablonski & Chaplin 600) proposed thatdarkpigmentation protects folate destruction by the UV rays. Folate destruction can lead to its deficiency, which canconsequently, affect human fertility and birth defects such as neural tube defects. Jablonski points out thatpopulationthat lived in regions around the Equator and within the tropics evolved a darkskinto protect themselves fromhighUV radiations. She stated that the high melanin content protects against folate photolysis. At the same time, it prevents UV inducedinjuryto sweat glands which are necessary for thermoregulation within the tropics. She concluded that skin coloration is “relatively labile”.

Skin color is the mostconspicuoushumanfeatureand widely used to classify humans intoracialgroups. Apart from this, other aspects used include hair texture, ancestry, and geographical origin. Classification of people into racial groups is more of a social culturalconstructionthan a biological. There are no clear cut boundaries that distinguish oneracefrom the other. The similarities betweenracialgroups aremorethan their differences.

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