Race and racism



Race is a social construct. The racial categories that are widely used today have histories; they were not recognized before the late Middle Ages. They are closely connected to the history of colonialism and slavery. They arose with what Kwame Anthony Appiah calls “racialism,” the false “view that humans naturally divide into a small number of groups called ‘races’ in such a way that the members of each race share certain fundamental, inheritable, physical, moral, intellectual, and cultural characteristics with one another that they do not share with members of any other race” (quoted in Glasgow et al, 2019). “Racialism”–and specifically, white supremacy–can be understood as an ideology, in the critical sense of that word.

The fact that racial categories are social constructs and that racialism is false does not mean that racial identities can be ignored. For example, many Americans identify a photograph of a face with a racial category–and have a consequent emotional reaction–within one tenth of one second after seeing the photograph (Kubota & Ito 2007).

Race and equity

In the United States, racial categories often correlate with social inequities, such as the likelihood of experiencing unfair treatment by the police:

After adjusting for gender, education, age, English-language proficiency, household income, housing type, county-level income, and any mental health diagnosis, being Black raises the odds of feeling mistreated by the police almost five-fold (4.6 times). Identifying as female cuts the odds in half or better. More education helps, to a statistically significant yet modest degree. (This implies that highly educated African Americans have almost the same risk as those with little schooling.) The risk declines with age, but that pattern just misses being statistically significant, as does the risk from being Latino. Having a low family income, not speaking English well, reporting mental health issues, and living in an apartment rather than a house are not significant predictors. Neither is living in a poor ZIP code or a town or rural area as opposed to a city.

Some groups and social movements seek to address historical injustices, which are not necessarily captured by data about present circumstances, such as the information about policing summarized above.

Structural racism refers to forms of injustice that are built into social structures, such as laws or economic institutions. Such injustices would persist even if individuals did not hold racist views.

Race and political theory

Thinkers who focus on racial injustice, including authors of color, have developed distinctive takes on political theory, including republicanism and democracy.

See also

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