The Concept of Race

Race is a classification of human population on different grounds. These classifications are more of a social political construction than a scientific or biological grouping. There is no universally accepted definition of race. Different individuals and groups of people have their own definition of people.

How many races are there in the world? The answer to this question was 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).

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According to responses of ten people interviewed randomly, there are various races of people. One group of interviewees identified three population races; 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.

Other classification group identifies three races namely Black, White or Red. The white race consists of the Europeans, the Arabs, and the Asians. The Black race consists of the Africans, Negroes, and African American. The Red race consists of the Red Indians and the Latin Americans. Another classification group 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. Such people include the Irish, The Germans, Polish, Italians, Arabs Lebanese, or Near Easterners. The Black race consists 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 ancestors originate from North, Central or South America who have tribal 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 this classification identifies peoples who have their origins in Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, Pacific islands to be of the Pacific Islanders race.

In all these classification groups, the society uses various criterions to classify people. Among many factors, they use geographical origin, ancestral origin, skin color, and the hair texture in classifying people into racial groups. These aspects are not exhaustive. They do not seem to have a link between each other. For instance, the racial groups 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, all inclusive classification schemes, it is evident that many races will emerge. What is the main denominator for classifying population into racial groups?

The skin color and ancestral origin are the two dominant trait used in many classifying people into races. Most of the human population place the human population into racial groups based primarily on the skin color. Therefore, five racial groups exist; Whites, Blacks, American Indian, Asian, and the Pacific Islanders. There is a controversy among this population classification.

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There is no distinct cutline that indicate the boundary of one racial group from the other. For instance, those who classify people according to skin color find it hard to classify a person of African descent who has the same color with a person of the Asian descent or a person of Asian descent may have the same skin color as a person of 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 to classify them in the same race with the African. However, on the basis of facial shape and the hair texture one will label them Europeans.

According to the book, The Fundamentals of Biological Anthropology by John H. Relethford, race is a class of people that have some similar biological characteristics that make it different from other groups of people based on the same characteristics (Relethford 34). Skin color is the most visible trait of a human being. It is the most used aspect of classifying people into races. The variation of skin color is primarily due 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 the skin are genetic. However, recent studies indicate that variation of melanin, hence variation of 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, survive longer and produce offspring than those less suited. The offspring will in turn pass the adaptation traits into the next generation. Over time, a totally different population of organisms will possess the adaptation. Jablonski, in his explanation for the evolution of human skin color, assumed that the earliest human ancestors had fair skin and moved from the rain forest into the East African Savanna about 3 million years ago. She argues that the differences in temperature to adopt a cooling system through sweating. A million of years later these ancestors became hairless. 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 light de-pigmented skinned people developed this adaptation while they were moving away from the tropical savanna where they originated. These people moved to the higher altitudes with a low amount of UV rays. Dark pigmentation would prevent absorption of sunlight hence production of vitamin D, an essential component for calcium absorption and bone development. Jablonski maintains that lighter skin evolved to maximize vitamin D production in higher altitudes.

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

Skin color is the most conspicuous human feature and widely used to classify humans into racial groups. Apart from this, other aspects used include hair texture, ancestry, and geographical origin. Classification of people into racial groups is more of a social cultural construction than a biological. There are no clear cut boundaries that distinguish one race from the other. The similarities between racial groups are more than their differences.

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