Steve Olson





Steve Olson

The way in which race should be understood has elicited countless debates within academic disciplines. On one hand, biologists and sociologists are more inclined to perceive race as more of a social concept. In this respect, race does not possess any foundation within the natural world. Instead, the respective concept is merely a manufactured distinction brought about by human beings. Because of this understanding, certain researchers have begun using populations as a measure for the analysis and conceptualization of human variation as an alternative to race. As an outcome, racial categorizations have been dismissed considerably. With the aspect of race being increasingly rejected as a compelling categorization framework, several social scientists have substituted the terminology with the name, ethnicity, in order to allude to factions based on mutual culture, religion, or nationality. Ultimately, the rejection of race as a biological aspect by social scientists such as Steve Olson illustrates that other factors influence ethnicities to contribute towards functioning within the society.

Why Race Does not Have a Biological Basis

Normally, individuals tend to utilize physical characteristics such as the texture of the hair or skin tones, together with locations of geographic origins and mutual culture, in order to categorize themselves as well as other people into races. Nonetheless, how legitimate is the construct of race from a genetic or biological standpoint? Additionally, is it possible for physical traits to assert anything informative concerning the biological configuration of a person beyond his or her natural characteristics? Since the implied definition of the aspect that makes an individual of a certain race differentiates from location to location over the globe, it is difficult to establish the construct of race as a legitimate biological aspect. However, in other cases, general delineations of race work well in terms of categorizing groups in accordance to biologically determined tendencies towards particular diseases. For instance, an abnormality such as sickle cell anemia is commonly evident among persons of Mediterranean or African descent.

Despite the use of the respective construct in such categorizations, it is more legitimate to assert that race does not possess a biological basis. Indeed, it is clear that human populaces are not definite, clearly separated, biologically different groups. Over history, the process of interbreeding has always occurred when diverse groups interact with one another. The persistent sharing of biological materials has sustained humanity as a sole species since its conception (Bamshad and Olson 79). Therefore, any effort to establish demarcating lines among biological populaces is both prejudiced and illogical. For instance, the outcome of intermarriages offers a valid illustration of this claim. Accordingly, human factions have differentiated in terms of appearance after expanding across the world. The respective differentiation has consistently been restricted by the “recentness of our common ancestry and by the powerful tendency of groups to mix over time” (Olson 336).  

With such processes taking place, the disparities that once existed among human beings in terms of their physical characteristics have become blurred. Even though traits such as facial features or skin color may be used to demarcate individuals into races, it is inherently difficult to utilize such a factor due to the existence of similar physical traits among different races. Indeed, as an outcome of selection, groups with the same characteristics can be rather disparate biologically. Persons from the Aboriginal tribes of Australia and sub-Saharan Africa may possess corresponding skin pigmentation (Bamshad and Olson 81). However, in terms of their genetic dispositions, they are moderately different. In contrast to this, two factions that possess genetic similarity to one another may be exposed towards disparate selective phenomena. In this respect, natural selection may cause an exaggeration of some of the differences that appear among groups, forcing them to seem more different on outside than they are beneath.

Since characteristics such as color may be affected significantly by the process of natural selection, they may not necessarily reveal the population occurrences that have constructed the allocation of neutral polymorphisms such as tandem recurrences or alu elements (Bamshad and Olson 83). Hence, polymorphisms or characteristics affected by selection may comprise insufficient forecasters of membership within groups and may suggest genetic relatedness, which in fact, may be non-existent. Another illustration of the irrationality involved in using race as a biological construct comprises populations, particularly those that reside in the United States. Most persons who depict themselves as blacks possess relatively recent forerunners from Africa, specifically West Africa. Additionally, West Africans tend to possess polymorphism frequencies, which can be distinct from those present among other groups such as Asians, Europeans, or Native Americans (Bamshad and Olson 83). The portion of genetic disparities that African Americans have with West Africans is inconsistent since the former group has mixed excessively with factions from other parts of Africa.

Reasons for the Functioning of Ethnicities in Society

Despite the fact that race does not possess any biological basis, it is evident that ethnicities continue to function within society. Even though the term ‘race’ has elicited apparent reactions, it continues to assume a considerable role in every aspect of the wider society in terms of ethnicity. Ethnicity generally places emphasis on the socioeconomic, religious, cultural, and political characteristics that exist among human groups instead of their biological ancestry. It may include language, creed, diet, attire, historical identities, customs, or kinship structures. Accordingly, the aspect of ethnicity has been utilized meticulously in different fields. Since race implies prejudicial treatments specifically due to its derived categorizations, the alternative (ethnicity) has become a necessary part of the contemporary community. With ethnicity, different aspects such as profiling have become eminent in imperative contexts. For instance, the substitution of race for ethnicity has been noted considerably within the healthcare setting, especially with the use of racial labels within epidemiological contexts.

The deficiency in understanding concerning the etiology of several complicated characteristics means that ethnic labels remain functional within social settings. For instance, the allocation of resources within society has become less complicated due to the categorization of different groups into racial or ethnic factions. As such, identification via race or ethnicity has portrayed significance within the formulation and implementation of fair and objective public policies. For instance, policies such as Affirmative Action are based on the influence of racial constructs that exist in the American society. Affirmative Action tends to utilize race as a factor for the allocation of resources within the groups that reside in the United States. For instance, the members of a specific race or ethnic group may receive benefits within areas comprising workplace mobility and college admissions in order to enhance racial equality and diversity. Therefore, even though such policies possess a fair bearing, they still illustrate the extent to which ethnicities continue to function in society.

The consistency of ethnicity is further illustrated in terms of its implications on racialization. In this respect, the substitution of race takes place in favor of other aspects that may establish disparity among groups. This occurrence is attributed to the similarities evident among ethnic groups despite evidence of significant genetic or biological dissimilarities. Using the process and results of intermarriages in Hawaii, Olson shows that race continues to persist despite the difficulties involved in ascertaining the ethnic predispositions of the people (Olson 337). In this respect, ethnicity has evolved into an inherent aspect within racialization, particularly in terms of one’s culture. Since the term encompasses other aspects than race, ethnicity has attained significance in efforts meant to segregate groups using other factors such as language, customs, and dress, instead of physical characteristics and differences. For instance, the aspect of ethnicity assumes a role in determining the efficiency of resources such as education and the resultant facilities among haoles, Chinese, and Japanese individuals (Olson 339).


In spite of the arguments centered on race, genetic studies further illustrate that the respective race does not possess any form of biological basis. Accordingly, physical characteristics such as skin color, facial features, or the texture of hair are illogical to assert that race possesses a genetic significance. In this respect, race is more identified as a social construct. The fact that genetic dissimilarities may exist among persons from similar racial groups indicates that race is an irrational aspect from a biological perspective. Furthermore, the implications of natural selection may establish such characteristics among similar or different racial groups. Despite the lack of a biological basis for race, the respective factor continues to assume a significant function within society. However, due to the controversy associated with the word, the term ‘race’ has been substituted with another construct defined as ‘ethnicity’. Since the latter term covers other characteristics, it has been used to establish disparities that exist in otherwise different racial groups that possess indistinguishable physical characteristics.

Works Cited

Bamshad, Michael J, and Steve E. Olson. “Does Race Exist?” Scientific American 289.6 (2003): 78-85. Print.

Olson, Steve. “The End of Race: Hawaii and the Mixing of Peoples.” Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. 334-345. Print.

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