Science shows that there’s no biological bias for race- at a genetic level, skin color is just another phenotype that has no effect on personality, intelligence, or behavior. And yet, western culture continues to divide and categorize people, sorting them into races and classifying them based on the color of their skin. Looking at race through an anthropological lens show us that the social construct of race remains prevalent due to historical precedent, American values, and ignorance.
American history has set a historical precedent for the way we see race. From being founded by European colonists and slave owners to backlash against modern-day movements, our country’s history has been filled with instances where race was used by the dominant white ruling class as a divider and a tool of oppression. The Europeans who colonized the Americas came here with the intention to take over the existing cultures and make them more like themselves, since they saw white civilization and western culture as the pinnacle of human potential.
The views of our founders and other white historical leaders can be seen in almost every part of American history, including our laws and guiding documents- everywhere that people look for guidance and precedent when making decisions. The use of race as a divider is deeply ingrained into our social and legal systems, cementing itself in the American conscious as something we’ve always had.
Our nation’s values are another cause for the persistence of the construct of race’s prominent role in western culture. People value race as a component of their identity- sometimes to place themselves above others or attempt to claim superiority. They often claim it as a way to connect to their heritage, but this excuse falls flat when one remembers that race and ethnicity are not the same.
Someone claiming to celebrate their heritage through white pride is not equal to a child of immigrants attempting to connect to their past, as one honors a culture and the other celebrates an arbitrary divide created by white Europeans to put themselves at the top. Cultural and ethnic backgrounds are not valued in America the way that race is, as we’ve historically stigmatized non-European cultures and forced immigrants to assimilate to be accepted. We value race because it’s an easy way to sort people that benefits the white people in power, who have sold it to us as a fact of life instead of the construct they’ve been perpetrating.
The lack of general knowledge about the realities of race are a final reason that it’s endured past logic and facts. Many people, especially in rural or isolated areas, don’t know that race isn’t biological. They’ve always heard race as a synonym for nationality or skin color and don’t understand how those can be social constructs, clinging to ideas like hypodescent because they think that having parents with different skin colors makes a person biologically different.
Many of these people disavow individual racism while simultaneously supporting systems of institutional racism because they simply don’t know that it exists. The only way to overcome these problems are to educate people and introduce them to a wider variety of people and experiences.
The way that Americans cling to the idea of race can’t be attributed to a single factor or point in our history. Precedent, habit, American values, and ignorance all contribute to the persistence of race as a divider and pillar of American culture, despite biological evidence that it doesn’t actually exist.