Race (sociology)

The term race or racial group refers to dividing the human species according to physical characteristics that are inherited.[1] The most widely used human racial types are those based on visual traits (such as skin color, cranial, facial features, or type of hair).[2]

When classifications of human races were first done, there were relatively few inter-racial marriages. Since then the number of mixed-race people has increased greatly. For them, the old structure does not work well. Official forms, such as the census, usually ask people to describe their ethnic origin. This is a way of saying "what racial group do you think you are?"
A group of pages on
Main topics
Race (biology)
Race (sociology)
Historical definitions
Race and intelligence
Racial segregation
Anti-miscegenation laws
Race in the United States
Ethnic group
Human evolution
Category: Race
Some scientists argue that although race is a safe taxonomic concept in other species, it cannot be applied to humans.[3]

More recent genetic studies show that skin color may change a lot over as few as 100 generations, or about 2,500 years.[4]

The races

The 18th and 19th centuries

File:Huxley races.png
Huxley's rather complex map of 'racial categories' from On the geographical distribution of the chief modifications of mankind 1870.      1: Bushmen      2: Negroes      3: Negritoes      4: Melanochroi      5: Australoids      6: Xanthochroi      7: Polynesians      8: Mongoloids A      8: Mongoloids B      8: Mongoloids C      9: Esquimaux Huxley states: 'It is to the Xanthochroi and Melanochroi, taken together, that the absurd denomination of "Caucasian" is usually applied'.[5]

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach's classification, first proposed in 1779,[6] was widely used in the 19th century, with many variations.

The early 20th century

File:Meyers b11 s0476a.jpg
Map from Meyers (1885-90) with breakdown of Hungarians, Finns, American Indians (Amerindians) and Turkic peoples to the "Mongoloid race" and Semites by the "White race"

By about the First World War the scientifically inclined Europeans were sub-dividing the 'White race' in to three or four supposed sub-races, which were:

  • Blonde hair, white skinned, blue or grey eyes = Aryans/Nordic (e.g. across northern Europe from Russia to northern Britain)
  • Dark haired, white skinned, brown eyed = Alpine (e.g. some Russians, some French, northern Italians, Austrians, southern Germans, eastern europeans and Welsh).
  • Dark haired, suntanned/olive skinned, brown eyed = Mediterranean (e.g. southern Italians, Spaniards, southern French and Maltese).
  • Red hair, suntanned/olive or white skinned, brown eyes = Anglo-Celtic/Gaelic (e.g. Scots, Irish and Dutch).

There was much prejudice based upon this way of looking at the world. The Europeans and Orientals both regarded themselves as superior to the other skin colors. Racism, a non-scientific theory or ideology, was that a particular race was superior or inferior. It argued that in the races that make up the human race, there are deep, biologically determined differences. It also states races should live separately and not intermarry. A supporter of racism is called a racist. These attitudes in turn supported the horrors of African slavery, Apartheid, the Jim Crow laws, Nazism and Japanese imperialism.

Mid 20th century

File:Stoddard race map 1920.jpg
Stoddard 'race' map from the 1920s which divides humanity in to 4 skin colour groups (Black, Brown, Yellow and White).

The mid 20th century racial classification by American anthropologist Carleton S. Coon, divided humanity into five races:

  • Caucasoid (White) race
  • Negroid (Black) race
  • Capoid (Bushmen/Hottentots) race
  • Mongoloid (Oriental/ Amerindian) race
  • Australoid (Australian Aborigine and Papuan) race

In his landmark book The Races of Europe, Coon defined the Caucasian Race as including Europe, Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Northeast Africa.[7] His work drew some charges of obsolete thinking or outright racism from a few critics, but some of the terminology he employed continues to be used even today, although the "-oid" suffixes now have in part taken on negative connotations.[8]

In the 21st-Century, Coon's role came under further critical scrutiny when Prof. John P Jackon Jr, noted that the American Coon, "actively aided the segregationist cause in violation of his own standards for scientific objectivity.".[9]

Social Darwinism and race

Social Darwinism refers to various ideologies based on a concept that competition is active among all individuals, or even whole nations as social evolution in human societies.[10]

It is a social adaptation of the theory of natural selection as proposed by Charles Darwin. Natural selection explains success in various animal populations as the outcome of competition between individual organisms for limited resources. This idea is popularly known as "survival of the fittest", a term first used by Herbert Spencer, not Darwin.

Fascist movements have commonly held social Darwinist views of nations, races, and societies [11] In Nazi Germany, the Nazis used social Darwinism to promote their racialist idea of the German nation was part of the Aryan race and believed in the competition of races.[12] The Nazis tried to strengthen the ‘Aryan race’ in Germany by murdering those they regarded as inferior. By this they meant Jews, Slavs, Romanis, homosexuals and disabled people.

Race and intelligence (IQ)

Intelligence tests (in the form of scores in standardized tests) were first developed in the early 20th century. The idea at that time was to identify pupils which likely needed more help in a school setting. Since the tests have been developed there was some debate if race had an influence on intelligence. There is no definition of intelligence people generally agree on. In 2018, there was no evidence that could provide a direct link between race (as discussed in this article) and intelligence.

Many intelligence tests rely on the fact that the person tested has a certain cultural background. Studies have found that certain tests are biased against certain groups of people.[13][14][15][16] Comparing the scores of different tests for different cultures is problematic.[17][18] Several researchers have argued that because of cultural differences, standard IQ tests cannot be used in non-industrialized communities.[19][20]


In biology, a race is a population, a group within a species. The race will show differences from other groups in the species, but not so much as to form a subspecies. A subspecies is a formal category in the biological classification system; a race is not.

Pictures and maps

Related pages


  1. Heritable = passed on to succeeding generations
  2. Bamshad, Michael and Steve E. Olson. "Does race exist?", Scientific American (10 November 2003).
  3. Keita S.O.Y. et al. 2004 Conceptualizing human variation. Nature Genetics 36, S17-S20 [1]
  4. Your family may once have been a different color by Robert Krulwich. Morning Edition, National Public Radio. 2 Feb 2009.
  5. Huxley T.H. 1870. On the geographical distribution of the chief modifications of mankind Journal of the Ethnological Society of London
  6. The anthropological treatises of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. Google Books The anthropological treatises of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach
  7. Carleton S. Coon 1962. The origin of races New York: Knopf.
  8. "Race" in The American Heritage Book of English Usage A practical and authoritative guide to contemporary English.
  9. John P Jackon Jr 2001.“In ways unacademical”: the reception of Carleton S. Coon's The Origin of Races. Journal of the History of Biology.
  10. Template:Cite book
  11. Payne, Stanley G. 1945. pp. 485-486
  12. Hawkins, Mike. 1997. Social Darwinism in European and American thought, 1860-1945: nature as model and nature as threat. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 282 & 284
  13. Cronshaw et al. 2006, p. 278
  14. Verney et al. 2005
  15. Borsboom 2006
  16. Shuttleworth-Edwards et al. 2004
  17. Richardson 2004
  18. Hunt & Wittmann 2008
  19. Irvine 1983
  20. Irvine & Berry 1988 a collection of articles by several authors discussing the limits of assessment by intelligence tests in different communities in the world. In particular, Template:Harvp describes the difficulties in devising and administering tests for Kalahari bushmen.