The Formation of Racial Significance

Essay by cavile2College, UndergraduateA, November 2014

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Camille Avilez

History 281

Professor Mumford

February 19, 2014

Race as we know it has no deterministic biological basis. A more accurate explanation of the concept of race is that it is socially constructed. This means that race only has a meaning because society gave it a meaning at some point in history. In time, racial groups were identified by a dominant group with the intent to suppress the other groups and maintain their dominant status. Physical characteristics were used as a means to create social distance between those regarded as different from the dominant group. Racial identity has major implications on how people were treated in society throughout history and still today.

It is important to recognize that race has not always been a marker of significance. There were occurrences in history that changed it into one. In the first lecture, Professor Mumford pointed out that race, as we know it did not exist in the ancient world.

Color was noticed obviously because people are not color blind, but was not used to differentiate groups in the way that we understand racial discrimination today. People didn't judge other people categorically and assign them social roles based on those categories. The Romans for example maintained a brutal system of slavery but their slaves as well as their free citizens comprised of individuals of various skin colors and geographical origins.

In lecture, it was also discussed how climate and skin color are related. Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates believed that race resulted from distinct climates and was thus changeable. Even 18th century scientists believed that climate impacted race. They held the belief that when a sunny climate turned one's skin darker the new skin tone could be passed on to one's offspring. These viewpoints emphasize that there...