Questioning the Biological Definition of Race
Phenotype refers to the composite observable traits and behaviors of an individual or group. Genotype refers to a person’s genetic makeup.
Phenotype is thus the physical manifestation of genotype. The most noticeable phenotype difference is skin tone: some groups of people have very dark skin, while others have very light skin or brown skin. Other differences also exist. Some people have very curly hair, while others have very straight hair. Some individuals have thin lips, while others have thick lips. Some people tend to be relatively tall, while others tend to be relatively short. Some have oval eyes, while others have round eyes. In the past, theorists have posited categories of race based on various geographic regions, ethnicities, skin colors, and more. Their labels for racial groups have connoted regions (Mongolia and the Caucus Mountains, for instance) or skin tones (Black, white, yellow, and red, for example).
An example of an early modern attempt at racial categorization, this map depicts the three great races, according to Meyers Konversationslexikon, a major encyclopedia in the German language in the late 1800s. The subtypes of the "Mongoloid" race are shown in yellow and orange tones, those of the "Europid/Caucasoid" race in light and medium grayish green-cyan tones, and those of the "Negroid" race in brown tones. Dravidians and Sinhalese are in olive green, and their classification is described as uncertain. The Mongoloid race sees the widest geographic distribution, including all of the Americas, North Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the entire inhabited Arctic.
Visit Global Census: What race would you be somewhere else? to help you understand how race is classified differently depending on the country, and some countries measure ethnicity (discussed next in Chapter 1.3) rather than race in their Census.
What racial group do others identify you as? What racial group do you identify yourself? Is there a difference in how you identify yourself versus how others identify you?
Do you think it is important for a country to measure race (or ethnicity) of its population? Why or why not?
Race as a Social Construct
Sociologists Omi and Winant’s theories of racial formation describes race development as a socio-historical process involving political struggle and that “race is a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies" (Omi & Winant, 1994).
This section licensed CC BY-SA. Attribution: Sociology (Boundless) (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Minority Group & Dominant Group
- Race has a biological component (e.g. phenotype and genotype) resulting in classification systems of different racial groups, depending on the time period and geographical location.
- Sociologists question the consideration of race as a biological categorization due to the social construction of race and the fact that human beings have far more biological similarities than differences.
- Racial ideology, racial formation, racialization, and racialized science are concepts that help to understand that race is important in this society due to its social meaning which is marked by struggle, division, and hierarchy.
- Various labels (e.g. minority group, dominant group, marginalized group, people of color, and communities of color) are used to identify racial groups.
Contributors and Attributions
Content on this page has multiple licenses. Everything is CC BY-NC-SA other than Phenotype & Genotype and Racial Formation which are CC BY-SA.
- Hund, Janét. (Long Beach City College)
- Rodriguez, Lisette. (Long Beach City College)
- Sociology (Barkan) (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
- Sociology (Boundless) (CC BY-SA 4.0) (Contributed to Phenotype & Genotype and Racial Formation)
- Minority Studies (Dunn) (CC BY 4.0)
- A Career in Sociology (Kennedy) (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
- Introduction to Sociology 2e (OpenStax) (CC BY 4.0)