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Race (human categorization)


A race is a grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into categories generally viewed as distinct by society. First used to refer to speakers of a common language and then to denote national affiliations, by the 17th century the term race began to refer to physical (phenotypical) traits. Modern scholarship regards race as a social construct, an identity which is assigned based on rules made by society. While partially based on physical similarities within groups, race is not an inherent physical or biological quality.

Modern scholarship views racial categories as socially constructed, that is, race is not intrinsic to human beings but rather an identity created, often by socially dominant groups, to establish meaning in a social context. This often involves the subjugation of groups defined as racially inferior, as in the one-drop rule used in the 19th-century United States to exclude those with any amount of African ancestry from the dominant racial grouping, defined as "white". Such racial identities reflect the cultural attitudes of imperial powers dominant during the age of European colonial expansion. This view rejects the notion that race is biologically defined.

In some countries, law enforcement uses race to profile suspects. This use of racial categories is frequently criticized for perpetuating an outmoded understanding of human biological variation, and promoting stereotypes. Because in some societies racial groupings correspond closely with patterns of social stratification, for social scientists studying social inequality, race can be a significant variable. As sociological factors, racial categories may in part reflect subjective attributions, self-identities, and social institutions.

The 1775 treatise "The Natural Varieties of Mankind", by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach proposed five major divisions: the Caucasoid race, the Mongoloid race, the Ethiopian race (later termed Negroid), the American Indian race, and the Malayan race, but he did not propose any hierarchy among the races. Blumenbach also noted the graded transition in appearances from one group to adjacent groups and suggested that "one variety of mankind does so sensibly pass into the other, that you cannot mark out the limits between them".

Some researchers have tried to clarify the idea of race by equating it to the biological idea of the clade. A clade is a taxonomic group of organisms consisting of a single common ancestor and all the descendants of that ancestor (a monophyletic group). Every creature produced by sexual reproduction has two immediate lineages, one maternal and one paternal. Whereas Carl Linnaeus established a taxonomy of living organisms based on anatomical similarities and differences, cladistics seeks to establish a taxonomy the phylogenetic tree based on genetic similarities and differences and tracing the process of acquisition of multiple characteristics by single organisms.

Early human genetic cluster analysis studies were conducted with samples taken from ancestral population groups living at extreme geographic distances from each other. It was thought that such large geographic distances would maximize the genetic variation between the groups sampled in the analysis, and thus maximize the probability of finding cluster patterns unique to each group. In light of the historically recent acceleration of human migration (and correspondingly, human gene flow) on a global scale, further studies were conducted to judge the degree to which genetic cluster analysis can pattern ancestrally identified groups as well as geographically separated groups. One such study looked at a large multiethnic population in the United States, and "detected only modest genetic differentiation between different current geographic locales within each race/ethnicity group. Thus, ancient geographic ancestry, which is highly correlated with self-identified race/ethnicity as opposed to current residence is the major determinant of genetic structure in the U.S. population." (Tang et al. (2005))

Recent studies of human genetic clustering have included a debate over how genetic variation is organized, with clusters and clines as the main possible orderings. Serre & Paabo (2004) argued for smooth, clinal genetic variation in ancestral populations even in regions previously considered racially homogeneous, with the apparent gaps turning out to be artifacts of sampling techniques. Rosenberg et al. (2005) disputed this and offered an analysis of the Human Genetic Diversity Panel showing that there were small discontinuities in the smooth genetic variation for ancestral populations at the location of geographic barriers such as the Sahara, the Oceans, and the Himalayas. Nonetheless, Rosenberg et al. (2005) stated that their findings should not be taken as evidence of our support of any particular concept of biological race... Genetic differences among human populations derive mainly from gradations in allele frequencies rather than from distinctive 'diagnostic' genotypes." Using a sample of 40 populations distributed roughly evenly across the Earth's land surface, Xing & et. al. (2010, p. 208) found that "genetic diversity is distributed in a more clinal pattern when more geographically intermediate populations are sampled.

Many social scientists have replaced the word race with the word "ethnicity" to refer to self-identifying groups based on beliefs concerning shared culture, ancestry and history. Alongside empirical and conceptual problems with "race", following the Second World War, evolutionary and social scientists were acutely aware of how beliefs about race had been used to justify discrimination, apartheid, slavery, and genocide. This questioning gained momentum in the 1960s during the civil rights movement in the United States and the emergence of numerous anti-colonial movements worldwide. They thus came to believe that race itself is a social construct, a concept that was believed to correspond to an objective reality but which was believed in because of its social functions.

Imani Perry has argued that race "is produced by social arrangements and political decision making." Perry explains race more in stating, "race is something that happens, rather than something that is. It is dynamic, but it holds no objective truth.

Compared to 19th-century United States, 20th-century Brazil was characterized by a perceived relative absence of sharply defined racial groups. According to anthropologist Marvin Harris, this pattern reflects a different history and different social relations.

Fluidity of racial categories aside, the "biologification" of race in Brazil referred above would match contemporary concepts of race in the United States quite closely, though, if Brazilians are supposed to choose their race as one among, Asian and Indigenous apart, three IBGE's census categories. While assimilated Amerindians and people with very high quantities of Amerindian ancestry are usually grouped as caboclos, a subgroup of pardos which roughly translates as both mestizo and hillbilly, for those of lower quantity of Amerindian descent a higher European genetic contribution is expected to be grouped as a pardo. In several genetic tests, people with less than 60-65% of European descent and 510% of Amerindian descent usually cluster with Afro-Brazilians (as reported by the individuals), or 6.9% of the population, and those with about 45% or more of Subsaharan contribution most times do so (in average, Afro-Brazilian DNA was reported to be about 50% Subsaharan African, 37% European and 13% Amerindian).

The concept of racial origin relies on the notion that human beings can be separated into biologically distinct "races", an idea generally rejected by the scientific community. Since all human beings belong to the same species, the ECRI (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance) rejects theories based on the existence of different "races". However, in its Recommendation ECRI uses this term in order to ensure that those persons who are generally and erroneously perceived as belonging to "another race" are not excluded from the protection provided for by the legislation. The law claims to reject the existence of "race", yet penalize situations where someone is treated less favourably on this ground.

Kaszycka et al. (2009) in 20022003 surveyed European anthropologists' opinions toward the biological race concept. Three factors, country of academic education, discipline, and age, were found to be significant in differentiating the replies. Those educated in Western Europe, physical anthropologists, and middle-aged persons rejected race more frequently than those educated in Eastern Europe, people in other branches of science, and those from both younger and older generations." The survey shows that the views on race are sociopolitically (ideologically) influenced and highly dependent on education.

A 1994 examination of 32 English sport/exercise science textbooks found that 7 (21.9%) claimed that there are biophysical differences due to race that might explain differences in sports performance, 24 (75%) did not mention nor refute the concept, and 1 (3.12%) expressed caution with the idea.



 

 

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