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Faith Spraktes

Dr. Teri Potter

Anthropology 1020

12/3/16

Concept of Race

Race is something we see every day, as humans we have recognized it from Ancient

Egypt, to the 18th century, and even today. Most times we categorize a persons race with just a

single look without even realizing it. Although race initially does have a lot to do with skin color

and outward appearance, there is more history behind it and geographical influences. Race has

two major sides to it, biological and social and both of them link together. There have been

many different beliefs based off of race and many problems.

What is race? Race is geographical patterned physical differences of local populations of

the same species (Potter). Race concepts have been used to express false claims and to treat

people cruelly (Efstathiou). There is a biological side to race, and then there is a social side.

While the biological side is more scientific, more people focus on the social side and throughout

history there have been many issues with race. Today things have improved a lot, but there are

still many instances of people degrading someone because of their race.

First we have to understand the history of race. In Ancient Egypt they had four categories

for different populations. The native Egyptians called themselves red. Those to the east, or more

specifically Asia, were called yellow. People to the North, Israel and Europe, were called white,

and then people south of them, Ethiopia, were called black (Potter). Looking back at this today,

they were simply stating what they saw. Egyptians do have a more red looking skin color.
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Those of Asian descent have a more yellow tone, Europeans are generally white, and Ethiopians

and other natives in Africa have a dark brown or black skin color.

From a biological standpoint, there are many environmental factors that influence race.

Usually the first thing to classify race is the color of ones skin. Melanin is a natural pigment in

the human body. Its our bodys natural sunblock/UV protector. With more melanin comes

darker skin and vice versa. When we tan, that is a temporary increase of melanin. The equator

has the most sun year round. Over a long span of time, the skin of those who lived around the

equator became darker from the increase in melanin, while in the more northern latitudes where

there is less sunlight and the UV rays are less intense, skin is generally lighter. With less

melanin, the body is able to absorb vitamin D better. (Potter) By favoring some genes in

certain places and others in other environments, natural selection is probably the most potent

factor in causing changes in gene frequency and thus in producing racial differences (Fortney).

Biologically classifying a population by race seems like a natural thing. Its based off of their

genetics and there shouldnt be an issue, but when the social side of race comes in that is where

we begin to see problems.

There were three men from the 18th and 19th centuries who had a major impact on the

social perspective of race; Carol Van Linnaeus, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach and Francis

Galton. Linnaeus used the four categories stated above and Biological Determinism. Biological

Determinism is where biological traits determine your social, cultural, moral traits, and rank

(Potter). Blumenbach used five categories for race; red, yellow, white, black, and brown. Now

Galton had a similar belief like Biological Determinism, but he really researched and promoted

Eugenics, where the government controls race improvement by controlling breeding, or in other

words natural selection.


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The opening decade of the twentieth century found the educated classes in England

primed to welcome eugenics. There were two main reasons for this. First, there was an

overriding concern about biological degeneration in the country. Statistical data

suggested that the birth rate in England was declining, with the process being far more

pronounced in the upper and middle classes than among the lower classes. Second, the

battle between the Church of England and the Darwinians was mostly over, and evolution

by natural selection was now widely accepted. Hence, it seemed logical to many that the

quality of the British population as a whole could be improved by reducing the

reproductive rate of those perceived as less t while increasing the propagation of those

of good stock. This notion soon became popular not only in England, but in much of

Europe and the United States (Gillham).

With the educated classes welcoming the idea of eugenics, many social problems and

discrimination occurred. An extremely prevalent example of eugenics is 1940s Nazi Germany.

Adolf Hitler wanted to rid the world of Jews and in his world there would only be people with

blonde hair and blue eyes, this was his ideal race. Hitler wanted to control the government, and

through that, he would control breeding and natural selection so that he could improve the

human race to what he believed was the perfect image.

Nazi Germany isnt the only example. We have the Civil War in the 1860s, the Civil

Rights movement where those with darker skin were fighting to receive equal rights. These are

just some examples of history where the social side of race has had a huge impact. Today

because of so much misuse, the word "race" has become associated in the public mind with

unscientific notions and prejudice (Fortney). Although we have come a long way, there is still

racial discrimination, but not as much as before. In todays society if someone with white skin
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wanted to marry someone with black, there would be less of an issue compared to fifty years

ago. After years of fighting and more time, the social aspect of race is becoming less degrading

and more widely accepted.


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Works Cited

Efstathiou, Sophia. How Ordinary Race Concepts Get to Be Usable in Biomedical Science: An

Account of Founded Race Concepts. Philosophy of Science. Vol. 79 Issue 5, p701-713.

5, December 2016.

Fortney, Nancy D. The Anthropological Concept of Race. Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 8: pg.

3554. 3, December 2016.

Gillham, Nicholas W. Sir Francis Galton and the Birth of Eugenics. Annual Review of

Genetics. Vol. 35: pg. 83. 3, December 2016.

Potter, Teri. Origins of Modern Humans Lecture. Salt Lake Community College. Jordan

Campus, West Jordan, Utah. 23 Apr. 2016. Class Lecture.

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