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Modern, scientific racial classification began with Carolus Linnaeus in 1735, who classified humans into four races, based mostly on continental separation and, later, on skin color. His four groups were:
Originally Posted by phrozen06
what takes you to that conclusion? And can you tell me who came up with the racial classifications and for what reason? that was my original question.
Americanus: reddish, choleric, and erect; hair black, straight, thick; wide nostrils, scanty beard; obstinate, merry, free; paints himself with fine red lines; regulated by customs.
Asiaticus: sallow, melancholy, stiff; hair black; dark eyes; severe, haughty, avaricious; covered with loose garments; ruled by opinions.
Africanus: black, phlegmatic, relaxed; hair black, frizzled; skin silky; nose flat; lips tumid; women without shame, they lactate profusely; crafty, indolent, negligent; anoints himself with grease; governed by caprice.
Europeaeus: white, sanguine, muscular; hair long, flowing; eyes blue; gentle, acute, inventive; covers himself with close vestments; governed by laws (Smedley 164).
He and others both before and after him used features that we would consider purely cultural today to define races. He held that these races were mutable varieties of man, not species, and that they reflected changes due to climate.
Buffon classified humanity into six races. It was he who, in 1745, introduced the term "race" into natural history. Montagu says, "Buffon acknowledged the artificiality of his classification, and warned against it being taken too seriously. But the warning went unheeded" (20). Toward the end of the eighteenth century, Johann Blumembach divided humankind into the five categories--Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, American, and Malay--that would dominate the educated community thereafter and are still in use today. Though he and others recognized the arbitrariness of such classifications, they still conveyed a sense of permanence and absolute dissimilarity among racial groups that was fostered by the racist attitudes of the time.
Despite the perhaps less rigid views of these early scientists, people began to think in terms of "primary races" (Haller 162) whose ideal forms were immutable and fundamentally different. This conception of racial differences was attractive to racists and continued for quite a long time, as evidenced by an article published in 1926 that reads:
If an unbiased zoologist were to descend upon the earth from Mars and study the races of man with the same impartiality as the races of fishes, birds, and mammals, he would undoubtedly divide the existing races of man into several genera and into a very large number of species and subspecies (Osborn 129).
This man, more than a century after Blumenbach, saw races as being so fundamentally different as to warrant classification into different genera. This, surely, is an extreme example, but it demonstrates basic qualities of immutability and profound distinctiveness in the classical notions of race that persisted well into the twentieth century.
The idea of evolution had little impact on the idea of race. Even Linnaeus had purported that racial differences were due primarily to the effects of the environment on a given population. The original creators of the races did not themselves believe in the fixity of races; only in the fixity of species.
The discovery of Mendelian genetics and the resulting growth in knowledge about population genetics finally led to a reexamination of popular ideas of race. With a few notable exceptions, the popular idea of pure races went unchallenged until about 1936, when articles began to appear expressing the belief that "the ideal types of anthropological classification, if they ever existed at all in any degree of purity, have become a matter of faith rather than of evidence" ("Delusion" 636). These challenges sparked a debate over the very existence of race that continues to this day.
In light of tremendous intra-racial variations that have been observed and the elucidation of population genetics, modern defenders of the race concept have abandoned absolutes in defining races. A modern definition of race would probably be something like "`a population which differs significantly from other human populations in regard to the frequency of one or more of the genes it possesses'" (Boyd 25). This new kind of definition seemingly answered most of the problems raised by the early opponents of conventional conceptions of race, but now scientists are pointing out problems with even this new definition.
Professor Geoffrey A. Harrison of Oxford University says, "It is extraordinarily difficult to identify precisely discrete populations; in most situations they don't exist. Also, any two populations of the human species one defines will differ in gene frequency, so there would be as many races as populations" (Davis 17). Another problem is that "people who are grouped together on the basis of one or two genetic traits would have to be grouped very differently for other traits" (Smedley 288). The genetic frequencies of different genes do not correspond in any definable way, and this fact "fails to confirm the expected large differences between populations that have conventionally been identified as distinct races" (Smedley 288).
Traditional racial categories do not have an origin in science, but in opinion.
how, in 1993, can it be that so many of us in our research, writing, and teaching accept in virtually its original form the four-fold scheme invented over 200 years ago. Linnaeus could not have understood the range and complexity of biological variation as it is known today. Not enough was known about the world. Nor could he have been aware of the complex array of mechanisms that affect biological variation. Nothing was known about evolutionary theory or genetics. No, if Linnaeus was correct in his characterization of the varieties of our species, he must have been incredibly lucky (Sauer 80).
All this evidence would suggest that "there is no real way of marking off one population from another" (King 5), which supports "the concept that races do not exist, only clines" (Coon 210). Even defenders of the race concept concede "the fact that geographical races are to a large extent collections of convenience, useful more for pedagogic purposes than as units for empirical investigation" (Garn 15).
Is it appropriate to use such arbitrary distinctions as race in scientific, and especially medical, studies? Many would argue yes, "The collection of race and ethnic information is a critical component of any public health surveillance system used to address differences in health status among population subgroups" (Hahn 7). We should realize, however, that the nature of these differences is almost always social rather than biological. Although widely shared in our society, the belief that races are human populations that differ from each other primarily in terms of genetics is without scientific basis. There is more genetic variation within races than among them, and racial categories do not capture biological distinctiveness (Williams 27). There is no objective reason to break up the human species the way we do. Almost any other division would be just as viable, perhaps more so. "Racial taxonomies are arbitrary, and race is more of a social category than a biological one" (Williams 27).
The way races are divided is not generally helpful in determining risk factors for disease because race is primarily a social construct. We focus on differences in skin color, not because the genes linked to skin color have been shown to be critical determinants of disease patterns, but because in our society skin color (race), is a centrally determining characteristic of social identity and obligations (Williams 28). Using race in medical studies is perfectly justified, but we should remember that the significance of race lies almost entirely in a social context. Any attempt to correlate purely biological characteristics with racial identity could be dangerously misleading and should be avoided, especially in light of the misuses of perceived racial differences in the past and even into the present.
At the very least, on a scientific level, it violates the first law of medicine: Do no harm. For every instance in which knowing race helps an investigator, there is probably another instance in which it leads to a missed diagnosis or the premature closing of a police file. At best, it is a proxy for something else. Why not study that something else? (Goodman 24)
The concept of race was born out of xenophobia. The earliest attempts at objectively describing it were perverted, skewed though they already were, to fit a racist weltanschauung that persists in all too many places even today. This concept was finally challenged with the advent of population genetics, and the debates which ensued eventually led to our modern definitions of race. When placed in proper historical context and examined with the benefit of modern scientific knowledge, even these new definitions lose their veneer of biological import, and it becomes clear that the concept of race has no place in serious medical studies.
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