The myth of race, debunked in 3 minutes


You may think you know exactly what race you
are, but how would you prove it if somebody disagreed with you? The fact is, even though
race drives a lot of social and political outcomes, race isn’t real. One of the first
people to attempt to categorize humans according to race was a german scientist in around 1776.
He came up with 5 different groups according to physical appearance and geographic origin
of their ancestors. American’s of European descent eagerly bought into this type of thinking
around the same time. Some historians have said the idea that there are different races
helped them resolve the contradiction between a natural right to freedom and the fact of
slavery. If whites were their own distinct category, then they could feel a lot better
about denying freedom to people who they labeled black and decided were fundamentally different.
But as political priorities change, definitions of race in America adjust right along with
them. For example, if were of Mexican birth or ancestry in the United States in 1929,
you were considered white. Then, the 1930 census changed that to non-white to limit
immigration. Later, when the US needed to increase its labor force during World War
II, these people were switched back to white. And what it took to be “black” once varied
so widely throughout the country, from one quarter, to one sixteenth, to the infamous
“One drop” of African ancestry, that people could actually change races just by crossing
state lines. Then, suddenly, in 2000, the government decided that Americans could be
more than one race and added a multi-racial category to the census. This has left many
Americans scratching their heads when it comes to selecting who they are. As many as 6.2%
of census respondents selected “Some other race” in the 2010 survey. The idea that someone
might look one way, and identify another way, or that they might be really hard to place
in a racial category, is not new. This is why there was a public debate about whether
MSNBC’s Karen Finney could say she was black, or how we can’t even agree on the racial label
assigned to the President of the United States. Of course many people feel their racial identity
is very clear and very permanent, but the fact that some people have changed theres,
and that nobody can really argue with them, shows how shaky the very idea of race is.
This is all because there isn’t a race chromosome in our DNA that people can point to. It simply
doesn’t exist. When the medical community links race to health outcomes, it’s really
just using race as a substitute for other factors, such as where your ancestors came
from, or the experiences of people who may have been put in the same racial group as
you. Dorothy Roberts explains that sickle-cell anemia is a prime example of this. The disease
is linked to areas with high rates of malaria, which includes some parts of Europe and Asia
in addition to Africa. It’s not actually about race at all. This of course does not mean
that the concept of race isn’t hugely important in our lives. The racial categories to which
we’re assigned can determine real life experiences, they can drive political outcomes, and they
can even make the difference between life and death. But understanding that racial categories
are made up can give us an important perspective on where racism came from in the first place.