One of the courses I’m taking at my university is a sociology course. First year, basic sociology 100. I’ve never been that interested in taking these kinds of courses, hence why I’ve also never taken a political science course, philosophy, history, anthropology. I’m more of a science person. Studying people genetically, anatomically, mentally, but never really socially. One course that led me astray from the genetics of human behavior was forensic psychology. We learned about the legal side of psychology. Topics included eye-witness testimony, jury selection, the insanity plea, polygraph tests, interrogation tactics. It was fascinating to say the least. These topics really peaked an interest in my brain and guided me onto a new path. I decided to double major in psychology and criminology (I was originally specializing in psychology). Of course, one of the requirements for entering the criminology program was taking your first year, basic sociology 100.
By the time you read this post, the semester will be over and I will no longer be taking SOC100. Nevertheless, we take these courses to learn as well as to get into the program we want. We covered many topics in this course. We learned about the many theorists who contributed their ideas to understanding human behavior, we learned about the methods of socialization (integration of roles to promote a successful society), the impact of culture and religion, we learned about imposed gender roles, and much more. One of the many topics we discussed was quite a shock to not only myself, but many other class mates. A lot of students spoke out before the professor could even finish a sentence because of their outrage. With calm, the professor continued on with the lecture and by the end of it, everyone was in agreement. This topic was race.
When we think about race, we typically think about the differences (good or bad) between one skin tone and another, we may think about stereotypes that have emerged within a particular group of people, we may think about the prejudice between one group of people who believe they’re superior to another group of people (also known as racism). We often associate the word race with a genetic marker. Why wouldn’t we? All racial groups have a common genetic flag that indicates them as belonging to that particular group. We can’t help but categorize people by the way that they look and we know that the way we look is determined by our genetics. Therefore genetics leads to race, right? Here’s the thing, race is not a genetic construct.
Before you get angry with me, let me explain. Between you and family member, your genetic code, your DNA, has a 99% match. Between you and your friend, another 99% match. Between you and I there is yet another 99% genetic match. We are 99% the same to almost every other person on this planet. That 1% is what makes you different. That 1% holds the code to your hair color, eye color, hair texture, maximum height, finger lengths, brow and cheek bone protrusion, whether you nose has a bump, your skin color. So fundamentally, we are all the same. Yet, we aren’t (both superficially and socially). We know this because of the never-ending inequality that certain groups of people face every single day, an inequality that stems from our perceived race. As I mentioned, we are all practically genetically identical which means race can’t be a genetic construct. Many geneticists have advocated that exact fact. Believe it or not, race is actually a social construct. Race is an idea that we have ascribed to biology. It doesn’t matter if you are black, white, asian, or hispanic. We are all fundamentally, biologically identical. We, as people, have created this notion that we are different because of superficial differences. So then why do we see more of a particular skin color health care positions? In white-collar jobs? Business positions? As professional athletes? The answer is simple. People discriminate without even knowing they’re doing it. Teachers are more likely to provide assistance and extra help to people of lighter skin tones. This means they are more likely to excel, get good grades, get into an elite school, and get into a job that pays well. Jobs are more likely to hire a person that meets their “racial” profile. These people get the job, do great in it, get promotions, get paid more, afford more luxurious items like a nicer car and a larger house. When it comes to schooling, darker skin tones are less likely to be given opportunities to express their intelligence, teachers are less likely to provide extra help, and apply less pressure to motivate them to perform better (IQ is one part genetics, two parts the surrounding environment). Because of this discrimination against darker skin tones, they are less likely to get into elite schools, less likely to get the job that pays, and are more likely to turn to professional sports.
These differing paths are not from genetic differences, these paths were imposed onto these unsuspecting victims by society. Agents of socialization, like teachers, parents, friends, peers, have imposed onto us our “race” and have treated us in a particular way because of it. Consequently, they behave towards us in a way that may allow us to excel in the world, or crumble. Our genetics are not to blame for the inequalities people experience everyday, instead it is our society who is to blame.