W1: Similarity Blindness

Race was first used as a tool to categorize humans based on location of origin and external characteristics. A botanist named Linnaeus was the first to proposed the following groups: Europeaus, “white”: Americanus, “red”; Asiaticus, “sallow”; and African us, “black” (Hunt and Truesdale 2013, 85). From this point on civilizations retained the concept of differentiation, with the only proof of this social construct being variation of physical traits. Over time the idea of race became more on more dependent on skin color rather than status, which allowed people of a common skin color and location of origin to declare superiority over others. “Supporters of polygenesis (The idea that humans had several different species of ancestors) claimed that non-white races were not merely inferior, but separately created species with fundamentally different physiological, intellectual and moral natures.” (Luse, 2008).

Modern biological anthropologists now understand that the idea of race is purely a social construct. Fundamentally, humans are all the same species, and “race” as we know it does not exist. According to Alan Goodman’s “Race: Are We So Different?” (2012), all skin colors are due to adapting to the sun and vitamin D absorbancy, and have no distinct biological difference. Since our planet receives different amounts of UV light at different places, it was only natural that humans should evolve to compensate for these differences in a variety of ways- which led to variation in features, skin color, body hair, etc. (Jablonski, 2016).

Even though race does not exist biologically, the social implications of race definitely impact health, politics, living conditions, and much more in our world. A study by Diane Lauderdale (2006, 197) concluded that pregnant Arabic-named women who gave birth in California in the six months following 9/11 suffered from preterm births and significantly lower birth weights. She argued that this was due to the way these woman were discriminated against following the terrorist attacks, as acts of violence and hatred led to increased stress, which had negative affects on the infants.

According to Jason Silverstein, 2013, “A growing literature shows discrimination raises the risk of many emotional and psychical problems.” These include but are not limited to depression, the common cold, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and even cancer. Many of these problems are directly correlated with depression causing a weakened immune system, which in turn opens the door for potentially deadly diseases to enter. Therefore, particularly in the United States, what many of us consider to be “race” actually have almost immeasurable effects on our health- not because of true biological differences, but because of perception and a tendency toward a superiority mentality. To further back up this theory, we need only to observe what were previously considered “race specific diseases.” For example, we now know that Sickle Cell is not at all related to skin color, but is instead a natural defense against malaria.

I believe the only cure to our similarity blindness is to educate the younger generations that race has no biological premise. If children are taught early on that skin color has no effect on humanity, the concept of race, and eventually racism, would be diminished.

Luse, Christopher. “Mixed Race Studies.” ‘The Offspring of Infidelity’: Polygenesis and the Defense of Slavery. 2008. Accessed July 08, 2016. http://www.mixedracestudies.org/?p=13832.

Silverstein, Jason. “How Racism Is Bad for Our Bodies.” The Atlantic. March 12, 2013. Accessed July 08, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/03/how-racism-is-bad-for-our-bodies/273911/.


2 thoughts on “W1: Similarity Blindness

  1. Hi Amanda,

    First I think you brought up interesting points and good examples. That was really interesting that they looked at the Arabic women after 9/11 and saw the correlation between preterm births and stress, due to hate crime. It is a similar concept to the increased incidence rate of hypertension in African Americans, many hypothesized that there was a biological reason when in fact it was stress due to racial discrimination that caused the increased susceptibility. It is also a good point that you made discussing how the discourse of race has changed over time. Which lead me to think about the question how will race change from its current social use? Skin color variation will still exist but will it be as prevalent. As you described the color differential arose from the geographical differentiation between individuals. In so many years more evolutionary changes will occur, and some other characteristic may be the new race characteristic. I think a major problem is that polygenesis exists because people always want to believe they are superior and currently people are using color of skin as their logic, but what if in 200 years it is no longer skin color how will we combat the next “race”.
    However, one battle at a time and I agree with you when you say we need to teach younger generations that race and biology have no relationship.

  2. Hi Amanda,

    You bring up a few great points. People fail to realize that we cannot change our genetic code. As you argued, the reason why variations of skin color exist is because of geography and whether that location was exposed to more or less sunlight. Take for an example Africa: Immense sun exposure leads to deeper melanin absorbing more ultraviolet rays. If people are taught from a young age the skin color variation is the same as eye color and hair color variation, a hand full of social constructs that we have today probably wouldn’t exist. During our lesson in lecture 1.2, I was amazed to hear that Africa holds 95% of all genotypic and phenotypic variations. If the world had to be re-populated, only 5% of variations would be missing. That statistic alone should allow people to understand that we are all connected!

    Considering the fact that the idea of “race” is a social construct, of course people are often oppressed because of this. As I argued in my post, I feel as if the reason why people of browner complexions are oppressed is because people of lighter complexions only see us as instrumentally valuable. Instrumentally valuable as in we only matter because we can help or benefit them in some kind of way. Take for an example you have a store owner. His customers are instrumentally valuable to him because they by his products and he depends on their money to maintain his lifestyle. If everyone was looked upon as intrinsically valuable, we wouldn’t have an issue with “race” and discrimination.

Leave a Reply