The statement that race is more of a social construct than biological. 1. What is meant by the statement that race is more of a social construct than biological?
Visit the Understandingrace.org site and review several of the activities on the site, such as those under Lived Experience, then view the video A Girl Like Me (under “Lived Experience,” also available on Youtube A Girl Like Me).
Next, share a reflection on the activities and video, addressing race in the U.S. and relating it to topics in the chapter (such as prejudice, privilege, racism, etc.). What are areas where privilege and/or prejudice may impact your everyday life? What did you learn about race in the U.S.?,
More than 100 years ago, American sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois was concerned that race was being used as a biological explanation for what he understood to be social and cultural differences between different populations of people. He spoke out against the idea of “white” and “black” as discrete groups, claiming that these distinctions ignored the scope of human diversity.
Science would favor Du Bois. Today, the mainstream belief among scientists is that race is a social construct without biological meaning. And yet, you might still open a study on genetics in a major scientific journal and find categories like “white” and “black” being used as biological variables.
In an article published today (Feb. 4) in the journal Science, four scholars say racial categories are weak proxies for genetic diversity and need to be phased out. [Unraveling the Human Genome: 6 Molecular Milestones]
They’ve called on the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to put together a panel of experts across the biological and social sciences to come up with ways for researchers to shift away from the racial concept in genetics research.
“It’s a concept we think is too crude to provide useful information, it’s a concept that has social meaning that interferes in the scientific understanding of human genetic diversity and it’s a concept that we are not the first to call upon moving away from,” said Michael Yudell, a professor of public health at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Yudell said that modern genetics research is operating in a paradox, which is that race is understood to be a useful tool to elucidate human genetic diversity, but on the other hand, race is also understood to be a poorly defined marker of that diversity and an imprecise proxy for the relationship between ancestry and genetics.
“Essentially, I could not agree more with the authors,” said Svante Pääbo, a biologist and director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, who worked on the Neanderthal genome but was not involved with the new paper.
“What the study of complete genomes from different parts of the world has shown is that even between Africa and Europe, for example, there is not a single absolute genetic difference, meaning no single variant where all Africans have one variant and all Europeans another one, even when recent migration is disregarded,” Pääbo told Live Science. “It is all a question of differences in how frequent different variants are on different continents and in different regions.”
In one example that demonstrated genetic differences were not fixed along racial lines, the full genomes of James Watson and Craig Venter, two famous American scientists of European ancestry, were compared to that of a Korean scientist, Seong-Jin Kim. It turned out that Watson (who, ironically, became ostracized in the scientific community after making racist remarks) and Venter shared fewer variations in their genetic sequences than they each shared with Kim.
Assumptions about genetic differences between people of different races have had obvious social and historical repercussions, and they still threaten to fuel racist beliefs. That was apparent two years ago, when several scientists bristled at the inclusion of their research in Nicholas Wade’s controversial book, “A Troublesome Inheritance” (Penguin Press, 2014), which proposed that genetic selection has given rise to distinct behaviors among different populations. In a letter to The New York Times, five researchers wrote that “Wade juxtaposes an incomplete and inaccurate account of our research on human genetic differences with speculation that recent natural selection has led to worldwide differences in IQ test results, political institutions and economic development.”