Biological Significance and the Social Construction of Race

What is race? Some people attach a biological meaning to the notion of race, while others perceive race as a socially constructed concept (Haney Lopez, 1994, p.1). But what does race really mean in its biological and social aspect? What are the differences between these two?

According to Judge Tucker, biological race means the existence of natural and physical division among human beings which are considered to be hereditary that is manifested in morphology. It usually encompasses terminologies like White, Black, and Asian (Haney Lopez, 1994, p.1).

On the other hand, race as a socially constructed concept is defined as a group of individuals loosely bound by historically and socially significant morphology or ancestry who are labelled as such because of observable commonality in their physical attributes (Schweingruber, 2005, n.p).

Differentiating the two concepts, race, in the biological perspective is highly beneficial for scientific endeavor since it is believed to be helpful in understanding ethnic differences in identifying diseases and people’s response to drugs (Foster ; Sharp, 2002, pp. 844-850).

According to Dr. Neil Risch, a geneticist at Stanford University, every ethnic tribe within a race has their own sets of “diseases and clinical priorities” and instead of fearing cultural diversity, the people should learn to accept it to further enhance and develop every group especially those from the minority (Wade). On the contrary, many contest the claim that race has a biological implication saying that it was socially constructed for certain periods of time to pursue categorizing and discriminating people considered as inferior (Schweingruber, 2005, n.p).

This is observable during the period in the US wherein the whites were distinctively separated from the non-whites or the blacks and they were greatly discriminated. In accordance to that, it was also believed that the social construction of race came about during the 16th to 19th century or the period of Europe’s expansion.

Because of their desire to take hold of the valuable products from across the world, they ventured in the unknown where they met the “natives.” To be able to maintain their control over these products, they defined the natives as inferior and culturally uncivilized (Henry, 2007, n,p).

Looking back at the two concepts linked to race, it is observable that both have great significance in their respective fields of study – for biology, scientific research and for sociology, historical understanding. It is therefore important to note that both are beneficial and considerable in enhancing knowledge and understanding.