Meaning of Race: Biological Concept and Determinants of Race!
Race is one of those terms which are used with a variety of meanings. The Greeks classified all mankind as either Greek or barbarian, yet none of these is a racial group. The term ‘race’ is sometimes used as synonymous with nationality; thus French, Chinese and German are spoken of as races. The German and French are nations.
A nation does not necessarily consist of individuals with uniform physical characteristics. Sometimes it has been frequently confused with language, as well as with religion, for example, we speak of Aryan race. But there is an Aryan language, and no Aryan race. The Negroes speak English language but that does not make them English.
The word ‘race’ has been sometimes used to denote the classification of human beings on the basis of the skin’s colour such as black race or white race. But race cannot be equated with colour of the skin. Sometimes we use the word race in a very wide sense and speak of human race thus including all the human beings.
Race a Biological Concept:
This confusion arises as a result of failure to realize that race is not a sociological term but is distinctly a biological and anthropological concept. It signifies a biological category. According to A.W. Green, “A race is a large, biological human grouping, with a number of distinctive inherited characteristics which vary within a certain range.”
Language and religion are cultural concepts and, therefore, on their basis race a physiological concept cannot be accurately defined. Ethnic differences between men are matters of blood. They are biologically inherited along with such physical characteristics as eye, skin and hair colour. By race anthropologists understand a group of individuals who possess common hereditary traits which separate them from other groups.
According to Biesanz “a race is a large group of people distinguished by inherited physical differences.” It refers to “a subdivision of the human species, the members of which possess common certain hereditary physical characteristics which distinguish them from those of other sub-divisions.”
According to Linton, a race consists of a “number of breeds which share certain physical characteristics.” It is a collection of individuals who share in common “certain observable physiological traits transmissible by biological inheritance.” MacIver observes, “The term ‘race’, when properly used, signifies a biological category. It refers to human states that are genetically distinguished, to major human types that owe their differences from one another—especially their physiological differences, to a remote separation of ancestry.” According to Paul, A. F., “A race is a large division of human beings distinguished from others by relatively obvious physical characteristics presumed to be biologically inherited and remaining relatively constant through numerous generations.
According to Professor Dunn, races are “biological subgroups within a single species. Homo Sapiens in which the similar heredity which the whole species has in common far outweighs the relative and minor ways in which the sub-groups differ.” According to A.L. Kroeber, “A race is a valid biological concept. It is a group united by heredity, a breed or genetic strain or sub-species.” According to Boas Franz, “Race as a scientific concept applies only to the biological groupings of human types.”
According to Mazumdar, H.T.,”A group of individuals is said to belong to a race when all its members share in common certain significant physical traits that are transmitted biologically through the mechanism of heredity.” Thus, we may define race as a large group of individuals who have a distinctive physiological likeness as a result of biological inheritance.
The traits which mark off one race from another should be hereditary and remain relatively constant despite changes in the environment. Further, these traits must be common to a fairly large group. A family marked by certain hereditary traits cannot be regarded as a race because it is a very small group, of course, when family multiplies and expands over a geographical area, it may be called a race.
Some writers are of the opinion that the biological interpretation of the term race is not adequate. It is incorrect to attribute race to heredity because races have been largely inter-mixed. So the term should be used in its genetic sense.
According to Penniman, race is a genetic class in which there are many indefinite and mutually related genetic characteristics, by means of which it can be distinguished from other classes, and on the basis of which the conditions of continuous separation among its offspring and future generation can be distinguished. Julian Huxley also does not subscribe to the biological meaning of race. He wanted the term ‘race’ to be substituted by the word ‘ethnic group’. Lapiere, Dawson and Gettys also have used the word ethnic group in place of ‘race’.
Horton and Hunt are of the opinion that it is wrong to define race only as a biologically distinct group. According to them, it is a socially significant concept also. Accordingly they define race “as a group of people somewhat different from other groups in a combination of inherited physical characteristics but race is also substantially determined by popular social definition.”
Thus whether or not one is a Negro depends on whether or not people think he is, not on any specific hair colour, hair type, head form or, degree of darker skin colour. Some people considered Whites have darkness of skins than some people considered Negro. What ultimately determines whether or not one is Negro is whether he is believed to have any Negro ancestry.
Determinants of Race:
!n determining race, physical traits are examined but it is often very difficult to be certain that the differences of traits are due to heredity and not to environmental modifications as well.
Among the physical traits that are generally taken into consideration, following are the important ones:
(i) The form, colour and distribution of the hair on the head, the face and the body; hair forms are grouped as:
(i) Leiotrichy (soft straight hair) as of the Mongols and Chinese;
(ii) Cymotrichy (smooth curly hair) as of the inhabitants of India, Western Europe, Australia and North East Africa and
(iii) Ulotrichy (thick curly hair) as of the Negroes.
(ii) The principal diameter of the body, stature, chest and shoulders;
(iii) The form of the head, especially the length and breadth of the skull, the face, and length and breadth of the nose; heads are classified into (i) Dolichocephalic, (ii) Meso-cephalic, (iii) Brachycephalic.
(iv) The facial characteristics such as the nasal-form, lip-form, the form of eye-lids, cheek bones, chin, ear and jaws. Nasal forms, are classified into three types (i) Leptorrhine, (ii) Mesorrhine and (iii) Platyrrhine.
(v) The complexion of the skin and eyes.
Of the colour of the skin three distinctions are made:
(vi) The length of the arms and of the leg.
(vii) Blood types: There are four types of blood, O.A.B, and AB. Blood type O can be successfully mixed with A, B and AB but the other three cannot be generally mixed.
No Single Trait is Fundamental:
It is the combination of these traits that is used to distinguish racial groups. A Negro, for instance, has curly hair, dark complexion, a big head with a small nose and thick lips. He differs from a Chinese who has straight hair, flat nose, and yellow complexion. But as said above sometimes it becomes difficult to tell whether the differences of traits are hereditary or environmental.
Such attributes as stature, weight and colour of the skin can be greatly modified by the environment, and as such they are of little value in distinguishing races. Hair form and eye colour are considered to be more stable genetic factors. However, there is no one trait which can be regarded as fundamental.
When anthropology was first developing, it was thought that head form was the best criterion of race, since the skull approaches its full growth early in life and was not subject to environmental changes. But since Boas discovered that the cephalic index may be materially altered by the environment into which the individual is born, this trait is no longer considered as the principal criterion of race. Thus, anthropologists have used different bases for their classification of races.
Now one character, or combination of characters is regarded as fundamental, and now another. Some anthropologists regard colour as the proper basis, others prefer hair form, head-shape or some other. It may also be noted that within the same race there may be some variations of physical traits or the people of two races may possess a similar physical trait.
This much can be, however, concluded that:
(i) There are in mankind real physiological traits by which individuals differ from each other.
(ii) Some of these traits are widely predominant in certain groups, especially among primitives;
(iii) These traits are biologically transmitted;
(iv) These groups of men are known by the name of race or races.