You may know what race you are, but how would you prove it if someone disagreed with you? The fact is, race is a social and political construct that has evolved in fascinating and often confusing ways over the centuries.
Race is a social construct
With the 1776 edition of his book, On the Natural Variety of Mankind, German scientist Johan Friedrich Blumenbach is credited with creating one of the first race-based classifications. He decided on five categories: "Caucasian, the white race; Mongolian, the yellow race; Malayan, the brown race, Ethiopian, the black race, and American, the red race." Each race was ranked, and he put "Caucasian" at the top. This seemingly arbitrary ranking was the impetus for centuries of discrimination and inequality.
The US Census proves race is subjective
The evolution of race in the US Census illustrates just how hard it is to categorize people in a way that is inclusive and accurate. For example, in 1929, people who were of Mexican birth or ancestry in the United States were considered white. In 1930, they were considered non-white. In 1942, they were switched back to white. These dates are interesting because they align directly with the shifting political and economic agendas of the time.
Racial categories are not backed by science
Dorothy Roberts, the author of Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century explains that when the medical community links race to health outcomes, it's really just using race as a proxy for other factors such as where your ancestors came from, access to healthcare, and socioeconomic status. Sickle-cell anemia is a prime example of this. Commonly linked to race, this adaption is actually a product of environments where Malaria is prevalent, including some parts of Europe and Asia, in addition to Africa.
Although race isn't real, racism certainly is
The racial categories to which we're assigned, based on how we look to others or how we identify ourselves, can determine real-life experiences, inspire hate, drive political outcomes, and make the difference between life and death. But these important consequences are a result of a relatively new idea that was based on shaky reasoning and shady motivations.