The Lakota, also called Sioux, are a Native American people whose members live mainly in North Dakota and South Dakota in the United States. 1
Young Woman from Central Africa
Most peoples of sub-Saharan Africa have dark skin and tightly curled hair. Many scientists believe these physical characteristics evolved as forms of protection from the intense solar radiation of tropical Africa. This woman is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 2
Huli Wigman from Papua New Guinea
The Huli people, who live in the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea, are known for their elaborate wigs. The ceremonial wigs are made of human hair and adorned with flowers, bird feathers, and fur. 3
Many European peoples have light skin and hair. Researchers believe that light skin evolved as an environmental adaptation that allowed people to thrive in northern latitudes. 4
Young Miao (Hmong) Girl
The Miao, or Hmong, are an ethnic group living in the Guizhou region of southern China. 5
Bedouins are nomadic Arabs who live in the desert areas of Egypt. Their clothing keeps them cool in the hot climate and is in keeping with their Muslim faith. 6
The Quechua-speaking peoples of the Andes Mountains live in hundreds of villages stretching from Ecuador through Peru and into Bolivia. 7
Race, term historically used to describe a human population distinguishable from others based on shared biological traits. All living human beings belong to one species, Homo sapiens. The concept of race stems from the idea that the human species can be naturally subdivided into biologically distinct groups. In practice, however, scientists have found it impossible to separate humans into clearly defined races. Most scientists today reject the concept of biological race and instead see human biological variation as falling along a continuum. Nevertheless, race persists as a powerful social and cultural concept used to categorize people based on perceived differences in physical appearance and behavior.8
Example of Racial Classification Scheme
Example of Racial Classification Scheme
For many years, scientists devised lists of human races that they believed represented biologically distinct groups of people. One popular classification scheme, shown here, divided humanity into nine major races corresponding to geographic regions. Today, most scientists recognize that human biological variation does not fall into discrete categories and that racial classification schemes are arbitrary. 9
Adaptation to Heat
Adaptation to Heat
Masai people, who live in the arid lands of eastern Africa, tend to have tall, lean bodies that disperse heat well. 12
Adaptation to Cold
Inuit people, who live in the extreme cold of the Arctic, tend to have short, stout bodies that conserve heat. 13
Adaptation to Cold
Race & Society
RACE AND SOCIETY Based on years of research into human variation, the majority of anthropologists and biologists now reject race as a biological concept. However, the idea that people belong to different races remains deeply embedded in many societies. People continue to classify themselves and others as members of particular races, usually based on skin color, hair, and facial features. More importantly, race continues to define how many people think about and behave toward one another. Many people are treated unfairly or discriminated against because of their perceived race. Thus, race remains very important as a social concept—one that social scientists must take into account to understand society and human behavior.
In many societies, a dominant group of people exercises greater influence over government, business, and culture than do other groups. Minority groups differ from the dominant group in some way, and they often suffer from discrimination and have less political power. Traditionally, racial minority groups are defined on the basis of physical differences from the dominant group, and ethnic minority groups on the basis of cultural differences, such as language or religion. In practice, however, many minority groups are defined by both physical and cultural differences. Examples of minority groups in the United States include African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans or Latinos, and Jews. Statistically, many minorities have a lower average socioeconomic status than the dominant group in their society. Minorities also often face barriers in education and employment. For these reasons, race and racial discrimination have become important political issues in countries with diverse populations.15
Prejudice, Racism & Discrimination
Prejudice, Racism, and Discrimination
Prejudice refers to preconceived attitudes or opinions about other people. Prejudices may be favorable or unfavorable, but the term usually refers to negative attitudes held toward others based solely on their membership in a specific group. Racism is a form of prejudice based on perceived physical differences and usually refers to unfavorable or hostile attitudes toward people perceived to belong to another race. Racism usually results in a belief in the superiority of one’s own race. One cause of prejudice and racism is the human tendency to form stereotypes, generalized beliefs that associate whole groups of people with particular traits. Racial stereotypes are exaggerated or oversimplified characterizations of the appearance, personality, and behavior of a group of people. For example, at one time or another, certain racial groups have been described as lazy, stupid, athletic, dishonest, violent, or miserly.
Whereas prejudice and racism refer to beliefs or attitudes about people, discrimination refers to actual behavior based on these attitudes. For example, racial discrimination takes place when an African American couple is denied a bank loan for a house that a similarly qualified white couple would have received. In the United States prior to the 1960s, a lack of federal laws permitted discrimination against black Americans in housing, employment, education, public accommodations, voting, and access to the judicial system. These forms of discrimination led to the civil rights movement in the United States, a movement by black Americans to achieve racial equality. Today, federal laws and government policies have outlawed most forms of racial discrimination. Some policies are designed to redress the effects of past discrimination. For example, affirmative action programs are designed to favor racial minorities in hiring and promotion, college admissions, and the awarding of government contracts. See Discrimination: Racial Discrimination.
Much of human suffering throughout history has resulted directly from racism and racial discrimination. For example, beginning in the 17th century, Europeans sailed to West Africa and imprisoned people to be sold into slavery in the Americas. Millions of Africans were taken as slaves. In South Africa in the 20th century, a system of enforced racial segregation known as apartheid caused blacks and so-called Coloured people to suffer severe mistreatment, violence, and even death at the hands of a ruling white population. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Nazi Party of Germany believed in the superiority of the “Aryan race.” The Nazi party conducted a horrific campaign of racial extermination, known as the Holocaust, against Jews and other people who were believed to belong to inferior races. Millions of Jews were killed.
In some cases, the mistreatment of a group of people is based primarily on cultural differences but also involves prejudice based on racial stereotypes. The term ethnic conflict refers to strife among people who differ more culturally than physically. One example of a serious ethnic conflict is the wars among Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian Muslim, and Albanian ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s (see Yugoslav Succession, Wars of). Another is the mass genocide of ethnic Tutsis by ethnic Hutus in the African country of Rwanda in 1994.16
Race & Intelligence
Race and Intelligence Although cultural differences among peoples may not be rooted in biology, such differences often coincide with differences in physical appearance. Therefore the two types of variation can appear to be somehow related. It can be particularly difficult to determine whether differences in behavior—such as in basic temperament, styles of communication, or forms of ritual—have any genetic basis. Thus, many people tend to associate the behavioral and cultural differences among peoples with the physical differences among them, often unconsciously. These kinds of associations can be difficult to avoid, even though scientific evidence does not support them.
The problems of presuming that human physical variation corresponds with cultural variation have become clear in many attempts to draw links between race and intelligence. Numerous studies find a difference in average intelligence test (IQ) scores among racial groups. For instance, the average IQ of white Americans exceeds that of black Americans by about 15 points. Some people have interpreted this difference, on the basis of totally inadequate scientific evidence, as due to genetic differences. These people believe that whites are innately more intelligent than blacks. However, this conclusion fails to consider two important facts. First, cultural and environmental factors undoubtedly have a strong influence on the skills measured by IQ tests. Because of years of prejudice and discrimination, black Americans are more likely than white Americans to live in poverty, to have less access to good education, and to encounter prejudices in the classroom—all factors likely to affect IQ scores. Second, the comparison between “blacks” and “whites” reflects socially constructed racial categories, not genetic ones. According to genetic studies, two whites or two blacks picked at random are almost as different genetically, on average, as a black person and a white person. In addition, a substantial portion of the “black” gene pool was contributed by whites.