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The myth of race, debunked in 3 minutes



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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.