Saturday, October 10, 2009

Is Race Real?

What is race? What makes a person "Latino" or "black" or "Native American"? Skin color, hair texture, facial features? Can you be "white" and "Hispanic" at the same time? Is someone from Spain of the same "race" as a person from Brazil? Is "race" defined by physical characteristics or are customs and beliefs better determinants of the category or categories to which we belong? If our culture and sociohistorical background more accurately describe who we are, perhaps, ethnicity (ethnic background) is a more meaningful category.

Answers to these questions vary, even among scholars, however, social anthropologists tend to prefer "ethnicity" over "race". The website from the PBS series Race: The Power of Illusion has an interesting interactive feature that allows you to try sorting people into races based on their physical characteristics. If you'd like to give it a try, click HERE. Go on, try it! It is fun and instructive.

View Part I of this PBS series "The Difference Between Us" at


Anonymous said...

Professor Kulik,

This is a very interesting topic to speak about. I loved the video and I think it was very well put together. Race is something that was a bigger issue years back, now however, people are mixing races, religions, nationalities, like it is nothing. When you say: "can someone be white and Spanish" they most definitely can be especially now with mixing races being so normal. A lot of people actually have difficulty with that when they're filling out applications for jobs or college as to which to check off; most people just check other. Good blog, good topic!

- online student for SOC320

Marilyn Kulik said...

Thank you for posting your observations. I agree that identifying one's background on applications has become more complex as the population becomes more diverse. For example, professional golfer, Tiger Woods has called himself Cablinansian - Caucasian, Black, Native American, Asian. So, this raises the question of how we identify ourselves. The option of checking off multiple categories on a form, for example, allows people to choose their cultural identity. You mentioned religion and nationality, which are part of someone's cultural or ethnic identity. Good point. A light-skinned person with red hair may identify as Latina, but a dark-skinned person with black curly hair may also call herself a Latina because they share similar cultural beliefs, etc. Social scientists are more interested in ethnicity (our beliefs, values, customs, etc.) than so-called "race", that is, physical features, such as hair, skin color, etc. The sorting exercise (link in this post) makes us examine the issue of "ethnicity" vs. "race". We will be discussing this topic in our discussion forum in our online class this week. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!