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Racism In America Essay, Research Paper

The Construction of an Institution

For hundreds of years, it has been “truth” that the races were biologically different. The differences that separated society were based on scientifically based genetic differences that gave reason for the separation of races. However based on recent findings, it is known that this is not the case. In 1974 Richard Lewontin dispelled this myth with a study he did that proved that there are no genetic differences between races. In fact he discovered if anything, there were more differences within the “races” then between the different races. Why then, do we still have use for different races? Why is racism still rampant in American society? The reason is that although race is not founded through science, this institution of American society is merely an obsolete combination of historical, social, and cultural construction .

Historically our physical differences supplied reason to separate into races. This is similar to the method of domination author Erika Apfelbaum describes as “grouping” in “Relations of Domination and Movements for Liberation: An Analysis of Power Between Groups.” The dominant group marks an individual because of his difference from the dominator. “The first step is marking the individual?” (Apfelbaum 197) In doing this we see the emergence of races. Europeans marked individuals that looked different from them and used this difference as a justification for their reasoning that these individuals were inferior to them. To support their claims, there was “scientific research” done to explain our differences. These differences were said to be biological. As early as the 1800s scientists purported these ideas to be true. One doctor, Benjamin Rush, as discussed in Ronald Takaki’s Iron Cages believed that blacks suffered from a form of leprosy. Because science is said to be so exact and indisputable, Americans held these theories to be truth and used them to construct the different classifications of race.

These “biological” findings provided the basis for the most corrupt institution in America: racism. Through the classifying of people of color as inferior due to genetic reasoning, provided whites with an excuse to dominate. This social issue divided the country and served as a weapon to keep people of color in the minority and denied them of any economic or educational power that was necessary to survive in America. This social phenomenon further abused the “biological” differences to further oppress people of color. Race provided the perfect method of domination in America.

To the dismay of racists around the country, a scientist decided to reevaluate the “genetic” differences between the races, that had been so cleverly constructed. Richard Lewontin constricted several tests on genes to test the validity of the past experiments. His findings showed that there was no difference at all genetically between the races. With this new finding, it would seem that there should be no reason for race and more importantly racism. However because the institution is so embedded in our society it has become part of our culture. Even though it was science that helped in the construction of racism, science could not rectify the terrible mistake it made.

In the twentieth and now moving towards the twenty-first century, the new evidence should have eradicated the racist attitudes and the need for race. However, because of race different cultures have evolved, many of which are formed through the bonding and shared experiences of that race. At present, it is rare to distinguish race from culture. Despite the fact that there are no genetic reasons for our differences, it is hard to dispel the ideas that have been instilled in American culture for hundreds of years. Our differences have been used to formulate races which in turn led into the further development of cultures. These cultures are reflections of how each race coped with oppression and domination. The cultures of the different races are further constructions that evolved from the initial construction of racial differences made hundreds of years ago.

Hundreds of years ago racial differences were used as excuses for domination. As Cornel West put it, it was the “intellectual legitimacy of white supremacy.” This genetic reasoning provided the basis for the social and cultural construction of the present. However, if race and racism are mere social structures or constructions of American society, then it is possible to deconstruct this institution. In order to reject these old ideas that perpetuate racism, the oppressed must show agency and resistance, and use their cultures to overturn the racist ideas through educating the pollution that what makes us different does not make us inferior.


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