Sociology

Race is a Social Construct, Not a Biological Reality

You’ve seen it on my page before – “race is a social construct and not a biological reality.” Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah of NYU is a leading thinker on this subject, and he concurs: “The way we talk about race today is just incoherent. The thing about race is that it is a form of identity that is meant to apply across the world, everybody is supposed to have one – you’re black or you’re white or you’re Asian – and it’s supposed to be significant for you, whoever and wherever you are. But biologically that’s nonsense.” Appiah’s lectures explore the absurdity of peoples’ tendencies to cling to racial categories while thinking about other human beings. “If you try to say what the whiteness of a white person or the blackness of a black person actually means in scientific terms, there’s almost nothing you can say that is true or even remotely possible. Yet socially, we use these things all the time as if there’s a solidity to them.” What it means to be white or black or brown in America is completely different from what it means to be white or black or brown elsewhere in the world. Identities are local and specific. And yet, as Appiah notes, “people believe it means roughly the same thing everywhere. Race does nothing for us.” As America – and the world at large – continues to demarcate social, political and cultural boundaries around “race,” we would be wise to remember – race is a figment of our imagination.

Further reading: “Racial identity is a biological nonsense, says Reith lecturer”

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