The Concept Of Race Is A Social Construct

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Today, many psychologists and other social scientists would agree that race is more a social construct than a biological entity. This assumption is based on the fact that people have a natural tendency to create categories, especially those that relate to human characteristics. Since this category formation process often uses easily identifiable physical characteristics, race becomes the central concept of these popular theories, thereby gaining cognitive and social meaning and significance. However, the categorical boundaries between socially constructed races are not defined and vary depending on the social context. Therefore, since the race is a social construct, people in different societies and cultures differ in their definitions of race. In some cultures, the race is a kind of measuring scale that has no categorical reality. In particular, many Brazilians believe that race is not inherited and varies depending on economic or geographical mobility. In some cultures, in turn, socioeconomic mobility is associated with changes in physical properties, such as skin color and hair structure. Therefore, the question arises, by what the race as a social construction is different from ethnicity or indigeneity groups. After all, ethnicity can also be considered in terms of physical or cultural differences. In this case, it is possible to assume that the construction of the race focuses on the social differences of a person, ethnicity presupposes the existence of culturally distinctive features in people, and the category of indigeneity is based on their connection with a certain territory; in turn, a clear desire of an individual to attribute oneself to a particular group unites these concepts.


The race is a social construction based on stereotypes and unreasonably assuming that certain categories of humanity are different and superior to others through their racial characteristics. In particular, Jablonski (2014), in her article, argues that the idea of race has always been a complex concept that does not have clear definitions. She gives an example of the scientific views of different travelers, scientists, and researchers on racial attributes, thereby proving that their opinions differ. In particular, according to the author, Buffon and Blumenbach distinguished races according to the geographical features of the territories and the physical differences of their representatives. In turn, Kant and Hume also drew attention to the huge diversity of human communities, but the idea that only the nationality having white skin color can be civilized was formed at that time. For example, according to the classification by Kant, people differ not only in skin color or anatomical features, and racial differences are also their ability for civilization, self-improvement, and morality. Therefore, it is not surprising that Kant places the white European race at the head of the racial hierarchy. Strengthening the social construction of the race took place during the slave trade when the black part of the world’s population began to be considered with deliberately racist views. Even the Bible became an instrument for the formation of stereotypical social racial attitudes by talking about the predestination of slavery. In this regard, skin color, being the most distinctive racial feature, has become a scale for determining human morality, authority, civilization, and even strength of character, which means that the race has become a social concept.

Ethnicity is another term that is used interchangeably with race and culture. It describes groups of common nationality, geographical origin, culture, or language (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2019). The concept of ethnicity originates from the Greek word ethnos that means people of one nation or tribe. Psychologists usually use ethnicity as a category to describe differences between people, for example, when reporting ethnic differences in learning styles, emotions, or parenting. In particular, Phinney identifies three key aspects of ethnicity that deserve additional attention, namely, cultural norms and values; the strength, relief, and significance of ethnic identity; and attitudes related to minority status (College of the Canyons, 2019). In this regard, the concept of an ethnos is oriented at special permanent characteristics of separate groups. These parameters allow them to differ from other groups, which, in turn, have their own sets of characteristics. It is necessary to note that there is a lot of controversy among scientists regarding the definition of such a phenomenon as ethnicity, therefore social sciences take as a basis some characteristic communities that allow them to discuss groups from the point of view of their ethnicity. In particular, such characteristics include the following: the existence of ideas of a common territorial and historical origin shared by group members; the presence of a single language, or common features of material and spiritual culture; politically formed ideas about the homeland and special institutions, such as statehood, which can be considered part of what constitutes an idea of nationality; a sense of distinctiveness, that is, an awareness of members of a group of their belonging to it, and forms of solidarity and joint actions based on this understanding (Nandi & Platt, 2012). In this regard, ethnic community is attributed to those groups of people who have common cultural characteristics or adhere to the same culture, can be called in the same way, and have a single version of their origin as a people, or a common history of their formation. In addition, it is also customary to consider an ethnos as a society that connects itself with a conditional or exact geographical territory and has an internal group connection and solidarity.

Indigenous peoples, in turn, are united by their historical hereditary connection with a certain territory from the time that preceded colonization, and their strong link with their lands. They have retained at least some of their special social, economic and political foundations, and have their own languages, traditions, beliefs, and knowledge systems. Indigenous peoples are committed to maintaining their identity and developing their own institutions. They belong to non-dominant groups of society. However, the very concept of an indigenous people also does not have a clear definition. In particular, it is not included in the UN Declaration. Nevertheless, according to the Declaration, the fundamental criterion is their own recognition of themselves as an indigenous people (United Nations, 2007). The Declaration decrees that indigenous peoples have the right to determine themselves or their ethnicity in accordance with their customs and traditions. Indigenous peoples face many challenges. Among them, it is possible to note the frequent lack of the ability to have the right to self-determination. In addition, indigenous peoples are deprived of full rights to development, the basis of which could be their traditions, values, and worldview. Most of them do not have full representation in the political arena and live in poverty, without having the opportunity to use social resources on an equal basis with representatives of the majority. Often, authorities do not consult with representatives of these peoples regarding projects concerning their lands or administrative and legislative measures that could harm their interests. The example of US history shows that indigenous peoples were often forced to migrate and leave their territories. In this regard, the category of indigeneity implies significantly fewer privileges when comparing it with the concepts of race or ethnicity.

An understanding of indigenous or ethnic differences depends heavily on the influence of racial framings that reinforce the individual differences between groups. In this regard, ethnic groups can be formed under the influence of racial social experience and then exist in conjunction with this experience. Some participants in these processes are identified by others as members of a particular ethnic group. If considering ethnicity from within the group, then it is necessary to pay attention to the fact that its basis may be racial traits inherent in a particular community. With their help, people begin to identify themselves or distinguish themselves from other communities, even if some common cultural frameworks connect them. In this case, the differences can be imperceptible or, conversely, very complex and multi-level. In other words, the internal and external definitions of an ethnic group (people, ethnos) include both objective and subjective racial criteria. It sometimes happens that even physiological criteria, such as blood kinship, are not significant. At the same time, both ethnicity and race can become tools for differentiating communities or groups that have social (and, sometimes, blood) connections and interactions. In this case, ethnic and racial markers also suggest that there is a difference between the groups, which may lie in the appearance of their representatives, their geographical location, linguistic characteristics, religious beliefs, and even taste preferences. Racial concepts also have a similar effect on indigenous perceptions. It is necessary to note that the indigenous origin of a person in the broad sense is also often associated with race, which can affect the regimes of privileges associated with this origin. In particular, indigenous peoples who are of European descent or have white skin will be perceived by society as a more civilized group equated with the white race, while black Aborigines will be subject to racial discrimination as well as any other national minorities. Indigenous peoples, who occupy a small percentage of other races, will also have significantly fewer privileges, despite their originality, individuality, and uniqueness of their culture and traditions. Therefore, race, as a social construct, locates indigenous peoples or ethnic groups on the class ladder. In this case, a noteworthy work is The History Of White People, a book by Nell Irvin Painter, which describes the concept of establishing a white race and racial superiority (Wray, 2010). In this case, the individuality of a person, regardless of his/her place of origin or ethnicity, was explained solely from the standpoint of the purity of his/her blood. Consequently, the perception of indigenous peoples or ethnic groups also directly depends on their race.


In this regard, a person’s identity can be considered from the perspective of racial, cultural, or territorial differences, despite the fact that the category of race is still a priority and determines the difference between the scope of privileges of representatives of different ethnic groups. Constructs of race, ethnicity, or indigeneity have much in common, and, at the same time, are radically different in terms of definitions, characteristics, and key attributes. In this case, the race becomes the main tool that determines the hierarchical position of a person in society, regardless of his/her belonging to indigenous peoples or ethnic groups.


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College of the Canyons. (2019). 15.6: Community, Society, and Culture. Retrieved December 5, 2019, from

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2019). Ethnic group. Retrieved December 5, 2019, from

Jablonski, N. (2014). 2014 : What Scientific Idea Is Ready for Retirement?. Retrieved December 5, 2019, from

Nandi, A., & Platt, L. (2012). Developing ethnic identity questions for Understanding Society. Longitudinal And Life Course Studies, 3(1), 80-100. DOI: 10.14301/llcs.v3i1.163

United Nations. (2007). United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. New York, NY: United Nations.

Wray, M. (2010). The History of White People. By Nell Irvin Painter. (New York: Norton, 2010. xiv, 496 pp. $27.95, ISBN 978-0-393-04934-3.). Journal of American History, 97(2), 474-475. DOI: 10.1093/jahist/97.2.474

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