September 3, 2019•Dr. Leeno Karumanchery
What is a social construct? Simply put, ideas like race, gender and religion exist, not because they’re objectively real, but because people have agreed that they are objectively real. Our belief in these ideas is what gives them life. Just like we’ve been taught that gender is binary, we’ve also been taught that race has a biological basis.
How can race not be biological when skin color and facial features differ so much between races? Well, differences in skin tone and facial features also exist within supposed racial groups, but we don’t pay attention to those differences in the same way.
Think about it, does every White person you know have the same nose shape, skin tone and/or hair type? Why aren’t all of the different white nose types categorized and partitioned off into even smaller racial groupings? The simple answer is that it didn’t serve a purpose to do so. Science shows us conclusively that there is absolutely no evidence that race is based in biology.
Importantly, even though race isn’t biologically real, its mass acceptance as an indicator of things like intelligence, family values and even cleanliness, can have very real physiological, psychological and material effects on racially marginalized people. The problem we face is that because racism is a really complex social phenomenon with a very specific historic, social and economic context, it’s often misinterpreted in overly simplistic ways.
For example, think of the term “white trash” – some might say that it is a racist slur used on white people. The trick is that while it’s certainly derogatory, the power of the term, and its ability to harm is related to social class and poverty. In this case, race stands proxy for social class as the real heart of the slur.
This is just an introduction. Hopefully these points are a helpful starting point in your learning about race and racism. We’ve included an article below with more detail and insights for you to build on these basic concepts.