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Social Sci LibreTexts

11: Race and Ethnicity

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  • Learning Objectives

    • Define the term reification and explain how the concept of race has been reified throughout history.
    • Explain why a biological basis for human race categories does not exist.
    • Discuss what anthropologists mean when they say that race is a socially constructed concept.
    • Identify what is meant by racial formation, hypodescent, and the one-drop rule.
    • Describe how ethnicity is different from race, how ethnic groups are different from racial groups, and what is meant by symbolic ethnicity.
    • Analyze ways in which the racial and ethnic compositions of professional sports have shifted over time and how those shifts resulted from changing social and cultural circumstances that drew new groups into sports.

    • 11.1: Is Anthropology the "Science of Race"?
      Anthropology was sometimes referred to as the “science of race” during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when physical anthropologists sought a biological basis for categorizing humans into racial types. Since World War II, important research by anthropologists has revealed that racial categories are socially and culturally defined concepts and that racial labels and their definitions vary widely around the world.
    • 11.2: Race, A Discredited Concept
      Physical anthropologists have identified several important concepts regarding the true nature of humans’ physical, genetic, and biological variation that have discredited race as a biological concept. This is an important endeavor because race is a complicated, often emotionally charged topic, leading many people to rely on their personal opinions and hearsay when drawing conclusions about people who are different from them.
    • 11.3: Race As A Social Concept
      Race is indeed real but it is a concept based on arbitrary social and cultural definitions rather than biology or science. Thus, racial categories such as “white” and “black” are as real as categories of “American” and “African.”  So, while race does not reflect biological characteristics, it reflects socially constructed concepts defined subjectively by societies to reflect notions of division that are perceived to be significant.
    • 11.4: Race In Three Nations
      To better understand how race is constructed around the world, this section looks at how the United States, Brazil, and Japan define racial categories.
    • 11.5: Ethnicity
      The terms race and ethnicity are similar and there is a degree of overlap between them. The average person frequently uses the terms “race” and “ethnicity” interchangeably as synonyms and anthropologists also recognize that race and ethnicity are overlapping concepts.
    • 11.6: A Melting Pot or A Salad Bowl?
      There is tremendous ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity throughout the United States, largely resulting from a long history and ongoing identification as a “nation of immigrants” that attracted millions of newcomers from every continent. Over the past 400 years, three distinct social philosophies have developed from efforts to promote national unity and tranquility in societies that have experienced large-scale immigration: assimilation, multiculturalism, and amalgamation.
    • 11.7: Sports, Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity
      Historically, the nature of popular sports in the United States has been offered as “proof” of biological differences between races in terms of natural athletic skills and abilities. In this regard, the world of sports has served as an important social institution in which notions of biological racial differences become reified—mistakenly assumed as objective, real, and factual.
    • 11.8: End of Chapter Discussion
    • 11.9: About the Author

    Image: Asiatiska Folk by G. Mützel under Public Domain.