Topic to Think About: “Race is a Social Construct”

One of my favorite aspects of my major is the array of classes I get to take, and hence, the diversity of the topics. I am a public health major, and while my career goal is to work in Health Administration, which is also offered as a major here at Rutgers, I chose to stick with Public Health because of the broader scope of classes it offered. So not only do I get to take classes about disease rates and prevalence, and how health differs globally, but I also get to take classes such as Health Disparities, which shows how health outcomes vary incredibly with factors such as gender, education, and race. Interestingly, when my class discussed race, my professor showed us a video called Race: The Power of an Illusion (A documentary I highly recommend). Watching that video in class led me to doing some further online exploration of my own, and I thought it would be interesting to share with you the viewpoint that race is nothing but a social construct.


While many hold the belief that race is a genetic/biological distinction, science actually proves the opposite. The Human Genome Project (HGP) conducted from 1990-2003 actually shows that there is more genetic/biological diversity within those of a certain racial group than between varying racial groups. Additionally, the American Anthropological Association on Race released the following statement on May 17, 1998:

“In the United States, both scholars and the general public have been conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions within the human species based on visible physical differences. With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within “racial” groups than between them. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history, whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species”.

From this perspective, race is race because we say it is; more so, because we use phenotypical differences as our basis for categorizing groups. But if you do not agree with this statement, try this quiz and see how well you can predict someone’s race just by looking at him/her. The answers might surprise you.


So, if race is just a social construct, why do we have whole classes dedicated to studying its effects? Well, the answer is in the question itself. Since race has been a method of differentiation for centuries, this division between people actually results in differences in outcomes for a variety of factors. Race may be a social construct, but its implications and effects over years and years have allowed for a noticeable difference in groups such as the following:


So, now that we know that genotype does not equal phenotype, how will that shape our words and beliefs going forward?


National Geographic: The Changing Face of America



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