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Peter Clegg


Human Origins Term paper Dr. T. Potter Race

Race. This one prevailing word has made history itself. The connotations of race with the

ideologies and theories that grew out of the work of nineteenth century anthropologists and

physiologists have led to the word race becoming an emotionally charged expression. The word

race evolved quickly from a scientific term to a cultural word. It has been used to segregate

individuals, not just by the color of one’s skin or locality, but by educational, social and economic

standards as well. With so many different meanings of the word race, confusion and complications

can sometimes arise but hopefully a more enlightening concept of race can be found within this

paper by examining the topic from both a biological and a social perspective.

From the early eighteenth and ninetieth centuries scientists worked on classifying the

biological differences in animals as well as in humans. This was originally fueled with intent of

comprehending and better understanding the obvious diversity that was seen when different groups

of people came into contact with each other. Carl Linnaeus was one of the first to scientifically

classify humans and he listed four categories that he labeled as "varieties" of the human species

(Carolus Linnaeus - New World Encyclopedia). In the Annual Review of Genetics it touches on

those four varieties created by Linnaeus.

Americanus, Asiaticus, Africanus, and Europeanus. These categories were based on

place of origin at first, and later skin color. Whereas Linnaeus used some physical

characteristics in his division, he also wandered into attributing characteristics

according to his perceived view of social and emotional features. Among the numerous

attributes he recognized, Native Americans were considered to be reddish, stubborn,

merry, and angered easily; Africans were black, relaxed, crafty, and negligent; Asians

were sallow, avaricious, and easily distracted; and Europeans were white, gentle, and

inventive (Gillham 98).

Johann F. Blumenbach similarly classified humans into five different races using criteria

other than skin color. Grouping humans into a white, yellow, red, black, and brown category. In

both classification systems Europeans were listed as being more superior (Trevathan 312). These

classification theories that were intended to be used by scientists and anthropologists for the

practice of identifying distinct racial characteristics, began to be used instead to discriminate

against individuals. It is also of no real surprise that the individuals who came up with these

categorical traits were also European, being heavily biased in their opinions on superiority.

The most common biological usage of the word race is the geographically patterned

phenotypic variation within species. This perspective comes with a number of misconceived

notions, specifically that each geographic ‘race’ is a fixed biological entity that doesn’t change

over time. Additionally that the members of these groups are composed of individuals who all

conform to a particular ‘type.’ Neither of these ideas are accurate, because genotypic research has

produced evidence that there is truly more variation within these preconceived groups than there

is between them. (Trevathan 314)

Just as the earth goes through changes, so do meanings. The social perspective of the word

‘race’ now involves themes of prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypes. The opinions of a given

population are formed dependent of their culture. Since skin color was a phenotypic variation that

was so easily noticed, it became the determining factor of categorization between individuals.

Again, this held no true weight for accuracy since it was solely based on subjective observation

and not genetic variation in the genome. (Jackson 92)

One well known historic example of discrimination starts with Francis Galton a British

scientist who was the cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton coined the term Eugenics. Eugenics is the

philosophy that argues it is possible to improve the human race and society by encouraging

reproduction by people or populations with “desirable” traits and discouraging reproduction by

people with “undesirable” traits. Adolf Hitler shared Galton’s belief and used this as a justification

to kill millions of people. Granted, Hitler took this concept to a complete extreme by practicing

genocide on top of the ideology of Eugenics. (Trevathan 312)

The interesting thing about the concept of Eugenics is that it is completely subjective. More

questions arise with this idea. The most blatant question is What is considered favorable?Some

shades of skin are more beneficial to have in different climates, stocky body types with shorter

extremities are more favorable than thin and lanky body types in different geographical areas the

world. (Trevathan 329)

Categorizing people by race also raises ethical issues, even though slavery has been

eliminated based on the color of one’s skin we can still see even today there is a correlation

between skin color and education, income, and poverty. The problem is manifest when people use

the color of someone’s skin to judge intelligence and limit the opportunities.

The question at hand is Has the classification of races caused racism in society?

Undoubtedly yes, the classification of humans superiority based merely on the color of skin

caused a plethora of misconceived notions and injustices. However, it shouldnt persuade the

twenty-first centurys population to ignore the reality of differences in skin color. Just like

genotypic variations that arent observable, there are phenotypic variations that are observable.

These variations are more favorable in different geographical parts of the earth. Although the

research dedicated to the classifying of the human race was considered scientifically motivated. It

has led to individuals putting others in a value system. With anticipation we still wait for the day

where we can recognize diversity as it truly is.

Works Cited

"Carolus Linnaeus - New World Encyclopedia." Info:Main Page - New World Encyclopedia.

N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Gillham, Nicholas W. "Sir Francis Galton And The Birth Of Eugenics." Annual Review Of

Genetics 35.(2001): 83. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

Jackson, Myles W. "The Biology Of Race." Perspectives In Biology & Medicine 57.1 (2014):

87-104. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

Trevathan, Jurmain K. "Human Variation and Adaptation." Human Origins: Evolution and

Diversity. Cengage Learning, 2013. 314-316. Print.