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History of race and racism

It is essential to understand that race is a social construction that has little to no roots in biology or genes. In the past 35 years researchers have discovered, through a better understanding of genes, that races are differentiated through very tiny differences in genes. There is more genetic diversity within races than between.

Any one human on earth differs from another human by about 3 million DNA variants.¹ Eight-five percent of variations in genes come from people from the same geographical location (i.e. no change in ‘race’).¹ Only 6 percent of the total human variation is between the races that we think of today; these includes skin color, hair form, and nose shape.¹

This research concludes that humans have fabricated race in order to categorize people. Race, therefore, is commonly understood as a social construction. Additionally, no one person can say how many races truly exist; anthropologists debate on a number anywhere from 3 to 30 distinct races.¹

Racism is defined as a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and those racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.² An example of institutional racism (that is, racism that is legislated or public policy) is the schooling differences between White students and Black and Latino students. Another example of institutional racism can be seen in Canadian legislation known as The Indian Act (1876), which allows, to this day, governmental control of many aspects of Aboriginal life including status, land, resources, wills, education, and so on.³

White students, who in a majority attend school in suburbs, receive more funding for their schools because suburbs pay higher taxes to the schools. This is due to the fact that suburban home prices are higher than urban home prices. Latin and Black students, where a majority of them live in urban areas receive less school funding because property values are lower and homeowners pay less tax.

​Photo source: Meyers Lexikon — Vol. 1 — Page 911 c — Plate III: People of Asia

Defining the “main” races, as mentioned before, is impossible since anthropologists and others cannot agree on how many races actually exist. Many traditional models of racial classification rely on four color differentiations: white, black, red, and brown, which can prove problematic for individuals who are of mixed ethnicity.


Gender and race: how do they intersect?

Intersectionality refers to mutual relations among different social identities. It has transformed how gender is understood within research and society in general. It is specifically the study of how different forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination intersect. This concept is of particular importance to black feminism, as it argues that the experience of being a black woman cannot only be understood from a racial perspective or a gender perspective, but must be understood by how those categories interact.

Social categories like race, gender, and sexuality are often studied separately. Many academics, specficially those researching feminist theory, argue that their interactions shape the understanding of each category. For example, an African-American woman and Latin American woman may share social experiences based on their gender, but their experiences with racism or racialization may differ. Thus, studying the intersectionality of race and gender becomes relevant.

Photo source: Gender Equality 2011

Unfortunately, many researchers overlook the importance of intersectionality due to the methodological challenges it poses, but it is vital in creating social change. Another example of where intersectionality research is important is in understanding gender roles between geographic locations and cultures, which often includes race although not always. For example, women in North America are now encouraged to join the work force rather than be stay-at-home mothers, whereas women in other parts of the world may not experience the same expectation. 



1. Lewontin, R. C. Confusions About Human Races. Retrieved from http://raceandgenomics.ssrc.org/Lewontin/
2. racism. 2014. In Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism
3. Isabelle Montpetit. Background: The Indian Act. 2011. CBC. Retrieved May 1, 2014, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/background-the-indian-act-1.1056988
4. Stephanie A Shields. Gender: An Intersectionality Perspective. In Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. Retrieved May 1, 2014, from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11199-008-9501-8
5. Kimberle Crenshaw. Intersectionality: The Double Bind of Race and Gender. 2004. Retrieved on May 1, 2014, from http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/perspectives_magazine/women_perspectives_Spring2004CrenshawPSP.authcheckdam.pdf

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