Access: YouTube; Vox
Summary: It often surprises students to learn that sociologists and other social scientists regard race as little more than a creation of the collective imagination, or as the above video from Vox argues, race isn't real. Contrary to popular belief, racial categories do not consistently correspond to biological observations; nor are the racial categories used today a particularly ancient means of categorizing human societies. They are, in fact, both flimsy and recent. • The social theorist David Theo Goldberg argues that starting in the sixteenth century racial thinking and racist articulation became increasingly common in European societites. As Vox explains in the above video, one crucial moment of racist articulation appears to have occurred nearly two centuries later when in 1779 German scientist Johan Friedrich Blumenbach is credited with attempting to establish a scientific, race-based system of classification. Although his work has long been discredited, it is worth noting that he arrived at five hierarchically organized racial categories: "Caucasian, the white race; Mongolian, the yellow race; Malayan, the brown race, Ethiopian, the black race, and American, the red race." Not surprisingly, he ranked Caucasians highest on his racial hierarchy. • For those who remain unimpressed by the fact that racial thinking is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history, consider the fact that racial categories and their hierarchical arrangement have been shown to change with political priorities. In academic parlance, racial formations have continued to be created, transformed, and destroyed. For instance, the video explains that the U.S. Census categorized people with Mexican ancestry as white until 1930, at which point the Census began categorizing these whites as an emergent racial category known simply as "Mexican." The change in Census categories reflected a developing racial discourse in the American Southwest but it also played a role in temporarily limiting immigration from Mexico, and fewer immigrants from Mexico meant higher wages for whites. • Properly contextualized, the reason for the emergence of racial thinking in Western Europe seems fairly clear. Although it is assumed race is based on natural, biological differences, the truth is that racial thinking has had very little to do with accurately describing natural variation in human populations and far more to do with whites maintaining power, privilege, and resources at the expense of nonwhites. Although race isn't real in a biological sense, as the video explains, it has become hugely important in a social sense. The racial categories to which we're assigned can determine real life experiences.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist