Race and Ethnicity: terms blinded by societal norms

Growing up I was always taught that race was the color of ones skin, that was it. Not where they came from or how their race made them different but I was taught to judge based on the color of ones skin. As I started to get older my views of this started to change because I started to become friends with people who were not the same colored skin as I was and I never thought anything of it until I was really exposed to society norms and how people were treated differently in high school. This continued into college and it just baffled me because people really didn’t understand that just because someone was a different color or they looked differently meant that you had to judge them on their race or where they thought they grew up. I really like the quote from the article What is Race that says “Race is a modern idea.” It also states that ancient people used to “rank” or “classify” people based on wealth or religion, not based on the color of their skin. So what I keep wondering is why we as a society say that one race is more significant than another and then they get treated differently and poorly.  What also stands out to me is how science calls the beginning of man onward the human race, but then its broken down into more specific races based on societal norms based on superiority. Based on societal norms, race is a modern ranking system of people.

Ethnicity is another topic that has become such a modern assumption based on different people. Just because someone is European does not mean that they have a higher risk for HIV or aids. If someone is African American does not mean they have a higher chance on developing a chronic condition or disability. ( Racial and ethnic disparities, Mead). What it all comes down to is basic biology and genetics. If both parents have a specific gene that causes someone to have a disability it is more likely, similar to eye color. If both parents have blue eyes it is likely that their child will also have blue eyes. The idea that some ethnicities have higher risks of certain diseases is a myth if just talking about basic genetics and as a general population. There is so much more to look into when researching who someone gets a disease. For instance, you would have to look into diet, medical history, environment, stressors, and siblings to really figure out the real reason that this person has the disease or disability.

To put this into perspective two people, person A and person B have similar lifestyles, they go to work, bring home food for their families and engage in physical activity. Both are around the same weight but person A lives in a low socioeconomic status area and person B lives in a higher SES area. Person A will normally eat more fatty and processed foods than person B and they also don’t eat as much whole foods based on the hypothetical jobs they possess. Person A though they have the same type of lifestyle as person B is much more likely to generate cancer, diabetes, or cardio vascular disease just based on their diet! Not once did I mention the race or ethnicity of these people but their lifestyles and diet habits. Though this does not work for every single case, the majority of the time this is how medical staff can figure out why someone has a disease that they do. They look at all the information they were given rather than just the color of their skin or the way they look and or speak.


Holly Mead, Lara Cartwright-Smith, Karen Jones, Christal Ramos, Kristy Woods, and Bruce Siegel Race and Ethnical Disparities in US Healthcare, A Chartbook March 2008 Page 25

Click to access mead_racialethnicdisparities_chartbook_1111.pdf

3 thoughts on “Race and Ethnicity: terms blinded by societal norms

  1. You are right about race being a ranking system based on the color of ones skin. It is very unfortunate that this has been going on for many years that it is something that our world has made a norm to think, when it should not be that way. I think it would take many years of complete equality to change the way everyone thinks and hopefully turn the health around for everyone throughout the next generations. I like how you compared two people using A and B and not by their ethnicity. If only that were the case for the way people look at each other, the color of someones skin is only seen from the outside.

  2. I agree with what you have said. I was grown up learning racism is judging people based on the color of their skin. As a young kid I remeber not understanding it, I was friends with people who were different skin colors than me, so why should it matter. I almost wish that everyone could look at racism from the eyes of a child, that look beyond the skin color and at the the actual person.
    I loved the example that you stated. After taking recent classes I can honestly say that I didn’t understand how certain ethnicities are associated with certain diseases and medical problems, I just thought they were. I never understood the explanation behind it, that it has nothing to do with ethnicities, but actually people’s ancestors and where they came from. Anyway’s I think that is an excellent example and is a view of the world and a view racism that more people should acquire.

  3. Katie,

    I totally agree with your idea that race is an abstract idea created by humans that is used today as a way to rank us. It categorizes who we are, and then societal stereotypes are assumed based on what we look like on the outside. Though the color of skin might associate you with people who have the same color skin that does not in any way tell someone the worth or “rank” of that person. It is sad to think that people actually believe they are superior to someone based on their skin color. When people have this idea, the truth is that they are so uneducated perhaps they do not even realize race if it was explained to them.
    I agree with your second paragraph as well, discussing the susceptibility to diseases in regards to skin color. Just because facts state that African Americans are the highest population of chronic illnesses or disabilities, does not mean you are more likely to be affected simply because you were born with darker skin than a different person. Environmental and social factors have skewed these statistics over the last several decades. Good example you used in the end by showing race is not indicative of ones health.


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