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The term race distinguishes one population of an animal species from another of the same subspecies. The most widely used human racial categories are based on visible traits (especially skin colour and facial features), genes, and self-identification. Conceptions of race, as well as specific racial groupings, vary by culture and time and are often controversial due to their impact on social identity and identity politics, and many regard race as a social construct. Legal definitions, common usage, and scientific meaning can all be confounded, and care must be taken to note the context in which it is used.

Since the 1940s, evolutionary scientists have rejected the view of race according to which any number of finite lists of essential characteristics could be used to determine a like number of races. For example, the convention of categorizing the human population based on human skin colors has been used, but hair colors, eye colors, nose sizes, lip sizes, and heights have not. Many evolutionary and social scientists think common race definitions, or any race definitions pertaining to humans, lack taxonomic rigour and validity. They argue that race definitions are imprecise, arbitrary, derived from custom, have many exceptions, have many gradations, and that the numbers of races observed vary according to the culture examined. They further maintain that "race" as such is best understood as a social construct, and they prefer to conceptualize and analyze human genotypic and phenotypic variation in terms of populations and clines instead.

Some scientists, however, have argued that this position is motivated more by political than scientific reasons. Some others also argue that categories of self-identified race/ethnicity or biogeographic ancestry are both valid and useful, that these categories correspond to clusters inferred from multilocus genetic data, and that this correspondence implies that genetic factors might contribute to unexplained phenotypic variation among groups.


Popular concepts of "race"

Given visually complex social relationships, humans presumably have always observed and speculated about the physical differences between individuals and groups. But different societies have attributed markedly different meanings to these distinctions. The division of humanity into distinct "races" can be traced as far back as the Ancient Egyptian sacred text the Book of Gates, which identifies four categories that are now conventionally labelled "Egyptians", "Asiatics", "Libyans", and "Nubians". However, such distinctions tended to merge differences defined by features such as skin colour, with tribal and national identity. Classical civilizations from Rome to China tended to invest much more importance in family or tribal affiliations than in physical appearance (Dikötter 1992; Goldenberg 2003). Ancient Greek and Roman authors also attempted to explain and categorize visible biological differences between peoples known to them. Such categories often also included fantastical human-like beings that were supposed to exist in far-away lands. Some Roman writers adhered to an environmental determinism in which climate could affect the appearance and character of groups (Isaac 2004). But in many ancient civilizations, individuals with widely varying physical appearances could become full members of a society by growing up within that society or by adopting the society's cultural norms (Snowden 1983; Lewis 1990). Medieval models of race mixed Classical ideas with the notion that humanity as a whole was descended from Shem, Ham and Japheth, the three sons of Noah, producing distinct Semitic (Asian), Hamitic (African), and Japhetic (European) peoples. This scheme leaves out Asian, Meso-American, and Oceanic ethnic groups entirely.

After the end of the Reconquista, the Spanish Inquisition persecuted Jews and Muslims, theorizing a limpieza de sangre ("blood-purity" or "blood-cleansing") doctrine. Furthermore, after the discovery of the New World, Bartolomé de Las Casas opposed the conquistadores theories, upheld by Sepúlveda, on the pretended Amerindians's absence of souls.

It wasn't until the 16th century that the word race entered the English language, from the French race - "race, breed, lineage" (which in turn was probably a loan from Italian razza). Meanings of the term in the 16th century included "wines with a characteristic flavour", "people with common occupation", and " generation". The meaning "tribe" or " nation" emerged in the 17th century. The modern meaning, "one of the major divisions of mankind", dates to the late 18th century, but it never became exclusive (cf. continued use of "the human race"). The ultimate origin of the word is unknown; suggestions include Arabic ra'is meaning "head", but also "beginning" or "origin".

In Society Must be Defended (1978-79), Michel Foucault traced the "historical and political discourse" of "race struggle" to the 1688 "Glorious Revolution" in England and Louis XIV's reign in France, during which conflicting political values were ascribed to ancestral ethnicities (Saxon, Norman, Frankish etc). According to him, these debates initiated a form of "popular history" based on ethnic identity, as opposed to the classical juridical and philosophical discourse of sovereignty. In England, it was used by Edward Coke and John Lilburne to demand " inalienable rights" and oppose the monarchy. In France, Boulainvilliers, Nicolas Fréret, and then Sieyès, Augustin Thierry and Cournot reappropriated this discourse. During the 19th century, the discourse developed in two different directions. On the one hand, according to Foucault, Marxists seized this historical and political discourse, replacing the essentialist notion of "race" with the historical and social concept of " class struggle." On the other hand, also according to Foucault, at the end of the 19th century, the notion of "race" was adopted by racist biologists and eugenicists, who gave it the modern sense of "biological race", which was then integrated to " state racism". This displacement of discourse constitutes one of the basis of Foucault's thought: discourse is not tied to the subject, rather the "subject" is a construction of discourse.

The English word "race", along with many of the ideas now associated with the term, were products of the European era of exploration (Smedley 1999). As Europeans encountered people from different parts of the world, they speculated about the physical, social, and cultural differences among human groups. The rise of the African slave trade, which gradually displaced an earlier trade in slaves from throughout the world, created a further incentive to categorize human groups to justify the barbarous treatment of African slaves (Meltzer 1993). Drawing on classical sources and on their own internal interactions — for example, the hostility between the English and Irish was a powerful influence on early thinking about the differences between people (Takaki 1993) — Europeans began to sort themselves and others into groups associated with physical appearance and with deeply ingrained behaviors and capacities. A set of folk beliefs took hold that linked inherited physical differences between groups to inherited intellectual, behavioural, and moral qualities (Banton 1977). Although similar ideas can be found in other cultures (Lewis 1990; Dikötter 1992), they appear not to have had as much influence on social structures as they did in Europe and the parts of the world colonized by Europeans. However, often brutal conflicts between ethnic groups have existed throughout history and across the world, and racial prejudice against Africans also exists in non-colonised countries such as Japan and China.

Scientific concepts of "race"

The first scientific attempts to categorize race date from the 17th century, along with the development of European imperialism and colonization around the world. The first post- Classical published classification of humans into distinct races seems to be François Bernier's Nouvelle division de la terre par les différents espèces ou races qui l'habitent ("New division of Earth by the different species or races which inhabit it"), published in 1684.

17th and 18th century

In the 18th century, the differences between human groups became a focus of scientific investigation (Todorov 1993). Initially, scholars focused on cataloging and describing "The Natural Varieties of Mankind," as Johann Friedrich Blumenbach entitled his 1775 text (which established the five major divisions of humans still reflected in some racial classifications). From the 17th through the 19th centuries, the merging of folk beliefs about group differences with scientific explanations of those differences produced what one scholar has called an " ideology of race" (Smedley 1999). According to this ideology, races are primordial, natural, enduring, and distinct. Some groups might be the result of mixture between formerly distinct populations, but careful study can distinguish the ancestral races that had combined to produce admixed groups.

19th century

The 19th century saw attempts to change race from a taxonomic to a biological concept. In the 19th century a number of natural scientists wrote on race: Georges Cuvier, Charles Darwin, Alfred Wallace, Francis Galton, James Cowles Pritchard, Louis Agassiz, Charles Pickering, and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. As the science of anthropology took shape in the 19th century, European and American scientists increasingly sought explanations for the behavioural and cultural differences they attributed to groups (Stanton 1960). For example, using anthropometrics, invented by Francis Galton and Alphonse Bertillon, they measured the shapes and sizes of skulls and related the results to group differences in intelligence or other attributes (Lieberman 2001).

These scientists made three claims about race: first, that races are objective, naturally occurring divisions of humanity; second, that there is a strong relationship between biological races and other human phenomena (such as forms of activity and interpersonal relations and culture, and by extension the relative material success of cultures), thus biologizing the notion of "race", as Foucault demonstrated in his historical analysis; third, that race is therefore a valid scientific category that can be used to explain and predict individual and group behaviour. Races were distinguished by skin colour, facial type, cranial profile and size, texture and colour of hair. Moreover, races were almost universally considered to reflect group differences in moral character and intelligence.

The eugenics movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, inspired by Arthur Gobineau's An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853-1855), Vacher de Lapouge's "anthroposociology" asserted as self-evident the biological inferiority of particular groups (Kevles 1985). In many parts of the world, the idea of race became a way of rigidly dividing groups by culture as well as by physical appearances (Hannaford 1996). Campaigns of oppression and genocide were often motivated by supposed racial differences (Horowitz 2001).

In Charles Darwin's most controversial book, The Descent of Man, he made strong suggestions of racial differences and European superiority. In Darwin's view, stronger tribes of humans always replaced weaker tribes. As savage tribes came in conflict with civilized nations, such as England, the less advanced people were destroyed. The destruction of the weaker peoples seemed desirable to many scientists at the time. It was thought that "fit" people would replace the "unfit" and human evolution would be accelerated. Nevertheless, he also noted the great difficulty naturalists had in trying to decide how many "races" there actually were (Darwin was himself a monogenist on the question of race, believing that all humans were of the same species and finding "race" to be a somewhat arbitrary distinction between groups):

Man has been studied more carefully than any other animal, and yet there is the greatest possible diversity amongst capable judges whether he should be classed as a single species or race, or as two (Virey), as three (Jacquinot), as four (Kant), five (Blumenbach), six (Buffon), seven (Hunter), eight (Agassiz), eleven (Pickering), fifteen (Bory St. Vincent), sixteen (Desmoulins), twenty-two (Morton), sixty (Crawfurd), or as sixty- three, according to Burke. This diversity of judgment does not prove that the races ought not to be ranked as species, but it shews that they graduate into each other, and that it is hardly possible to discover clear distinctive characters between them.

20th century

At the beginning of the 20th century, anthropologists questioned, and subsequently abandoned, the claim that biologically distinct races are isomorphic with (related to) distinct linguistic, cultural, and social groups. Then, the rise of population genetics led some mainstream evolutionary scientists in anthropology and biology to question the very validity of race as scientific concept describing an objectively real phenomenon. Those who came to reject the validity of the concept, race, did so for four reasons: empirical, definitional, the availability of alternative concepts, and ethical (Lieberman and Byrne 1993).

The first to challenge the concept of race on empirical grounds were anthropologists Franz Boas, who demonstrated phenotypic plasticity due to environmental factors (Boas 1912) (see also ), and Ashley Montagu (1941, 1942), who relied on evidence from genetics. Zoologists Edward O. Wilson and W. Brown then challenged the concept from the perspective of general systematics, and further rejected the claim that "races" were equivalent to "subspecies" (Wilson and Brown 1953).

One of the crucial innovations in reconceptualizing genotypic and phenotypic variation was anthropologist C. Loring Brace's observation that such variations, insofar as they are affected by natural selection, migration, or genetic drift, are distributed along geographic gradations called " clines" (Brace 1964). This point called attention to a problem common to phenotypic-based descriptions of races (for example, those based on hair texture and skin colour): they ignore a host of other similarities and difference (for example, blood type) that do not correlate highly with the markers for race. Thus, anthropologist Frank Livingstone's conclusion that, since clines cross racial boundaries, "there are no races, only clines" (Livingstone 1962: 279). In 1964, biologists Paul Ehrlich and Holm pointed out cases where two or more clines are distributed discordantly—for example, melanin is distributed in a decreasing pattern from the equator north and south; frequencies for the haplotype for beta-S hemoglobin, on the other hand, radiate out of specific geographical points in Africa (Ehrlich and Holm 1964). As anthropologists Leonard Lieberman and Fatimah Linda Jackson observe, "Discordant patterns of heterogeneity falsify any description of a population as if it were genotypically or even phenotypically homogeneous" (Lieverman and Jackson 1995).

Finally, geneticist Richard Lewontin, observing that 85 percent of human variation occurs within populations, and not between populations, argued that neither "race" nor "subspecies" was an appropriate or useful way to describe populations (Lewontin 1973). This view is described by its opponents as Lewontin's Fallacy. Edwards claimed in 2003 that Lewontin's conclusion is unwarranted because the argument ignores the fact that most of the information that distinguishes populations is hidden in the correlation structure of the data and not simply in the variation of the individual factors. Dr. Leroi, an evolutionary developmental biologist at Imperial College in London, is one of the scientists that agrees with Edwards.

Some researchers report the variation between racial groups (measured by Sewall Wright's population structure statistic FST) accounts for as little as 5% of human genetic variation2. However, because of technical limitations of FST, many geneticists now believe that low FST values do not invalidate the suggestion that there might be different human races (Edwards, 2003). Meanwhile, neo-Marxists such as David Harvey (1982, 1984, 1992) believe that race is a social construct that serves in no way to help humans deal with their reality, and is used, instead, to justify and reinforce class differences.

These empirical challenges to the concept of race forced evolutionary sciences to reconsider their definition of race. Mid-century, anthropologist William Boyd defined race as:

A population which differs significantly from other populations in regard to the frequency of one or more of the genes it possesses. It is an arbitrary matter which, and how many, gene loci we choose to consider as a significant "constellation" (Boyd 1950).

Lieberman and Jackson (1994) have pointed out that "the weakness of this statement is that if one gene can distinguish races then the number of races is as numerous as the number of human couples reproducing." Moreover, anthropologist Stephen Molnar has suggested that the discordance of clines inevitably results in a multiplication of races that renders the concept itself useless (Molnar 1992).

Alongside empirical and conceptual problems with "race" following the Second World War, evolutionary and social scientists were acutely aware of how beliefs about race had been used to justify discrimination, apartheid, slavery, and genocide. This questioning gained momentum in the 1960s during the American Civil Rights Movement and the emergence of numerous anti-colonial movements worldwide.

In the face of these issues, some evolutionary scientists have simply abandoned the concept of race in favour of " population." What distinguishes population from previous groupings of humans by race is that it refers to a breeding population (essential to genetic calculations) and not to a biological taxon. Other evolutionary scientists have abandoned the concept of race in favour of cline (meaning, how the frequency of a trait changes along a geographic gradient). The concepts of population and cline are not, however, mutually exclusive and both are used by many evolutionary scientists.

In the face of this rejection of race by some evolutionary scientists, many social scientists have replaced the word race with the word "ethnicity" to refer to self-identifying groups based on beliefs in shared religion, nationality, or race. Moreover, they understood these shared beliefs to mean that religion, nationality, and race itself are social constructs and have no objective basis in the supernatural or natural realm (Gordon 1964). See also the American Anthropological Association's Statement on Race .

Summary of different definitions of race

Biological definitions of race (Long & Kittles, 2003) et al.
Concept Reference Definition
Essentialist Hooton (1926) "A great division of mankind, characterized as a group by the sharing of a certain combination of features, which have been derived from their common descent, and constitute a vague physical background, usually more or less obscured by individual variations, and realized best in a composite picture."
Taxonomic Mayr (1969) "An aggregate of phenotypically similar populations of a species, inhabiting a geographic subdivision of the range of a species, and differing taxonomically from other populations of the species."
Population Dobzhansky (1970) "Races are genetically distinct Mendelian populations. They are neither individuals nor particular genotypes, they consist of individuals who differ genetically among themselves."
Lineage Templeton (1998) "A subspecies (race) is a distinct evolutionary lineage within a species. This definition requires that a subspecies be genetically differentiated due to barriers to genetic exchange that have persisted for long periods of time; that is, the subspecies must have historical continuity in addition to current genetic differentiation."
Clade Levin (2002) Race "connotes geographic ancestry, by continent or large continental subregion" and "is used to denote continental or subcontinental clades". In "Cladistic taxonomy ... the basic taxon [is] the genealogical unit, ancestors-plus-line- (or tree) -of-descent, what according to the present analysis races are."

Human genetic variation

Physical variation in humans

Map of skin-color distribution for "native populations" collected by Renato Biasutti prior to 1940.
Map of skin-colour distribution for "native populations" collected by Renato Biasutti prior to 1940.

The distribution of many physical traits resembles the distribution of genetic variation within and between human populations ( American Association of Physical Anthropologists 1996; Keita and Kittles 1997). For example, ∼90% of the variation in human head shapes occurs within every human group, and ∼10% separates groups, with a greater variability of head shape among individuals with recent African ancestors (Relethford 2002).

A prominent exception to the common distribution of physical characteristics within and among groups is skin color. Approximately 10% of the variance in skin color occurs within groups, and ~90% occurs between groups (Relethford 2002). This distribution of skin colour and its geographic patterning—with people whose ancestors lived predominantly near the equator having darker skin than those with ancestors who lived predominantly in higher latitudes—indicate that this attribute has been under strong selective pressure. Darker skin appears to be strongly selected for in equatorial regions to prevent sunburn, skin cancer, the photolysis of folate, and damage to sweat glands (Sturm et al. 2001; Rees 2003). A leading hypothesis for the selection of lighter skin in higher latitudes is that it enables the body to form greater amounts of vitamin D, which helps prevent rickets (Jablonski 2004). Evidence for this includes the finding that a substantial portion of the differences of skin colour between Europeans and Africans resides in a single gene, SLC24A5 the threonine-111 allele of which was found in 98.7 to 100% among several European samples, while the alanine-111 form was found in 93 to 100% of samples of Africans, East Asians and Indigenous Americans (Lamason et al. 2005). However, the vitamin D hypothesis is not universally accepted (Aoki 2002), and lighter skin in high latitudes may correspond simply to an absence of selection for dark skin (Harding et al. 2000). Melanin which serves as the pigment, is located in the epidermis of the skin, and is based on hereditary gene expression.

Because skin color has been under strong selective pressure, similar skin colors can result from convergent adaptation rather than from genetic relatedness. Sub-Saharan Africans, tribal populations from southern India, and Indigenous Australians have similar skin pigmentation, but genetically they are no more similar than are other widely separated groups. Furthermore, in some parts of the world in which people from different regions have mixed extensively, the connection between skin colour and ancestry has been substantially weakened (Parra et al. 2004). In Brazil, for example, skin colour is not closely associated with the percentage of recent African ancestors a person has, as estimated from an analysis of genetic variants differing in frequency among continent groups (Parra et al. 2003).

Considerable speculation has surrounded the possible adaptive value of other physical features characteristic of groups, such as the constellation of facial features observed in many eastern and northeastern Asians (Guthrie 1996). However, any given physical characteristic generally is found in multiple groups (Lahr 1996), and demonstrating that environmental selective pressures shaped specific physical features will be difficult, since such features may have resulted from sexual selection for individuals with certain appearances or from genetic drift (Roseman 2004).


Human population structure can be inferred from multilocus DNA sequence data (Rosenberg et al. 2002, 2005). Individuals from 52 populations were examined at 993 DNA markers. This data was used to partitioned individuals into K = 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 clusters. In this figure, the average fractional membership of individuals from each population is represented by horizontal bars partitioned into K colored segments.
Human population structure can be inferred from multilocus DNA sequence data (Rosenberg et al. 2002, 2005). Individuals from 52 populations were examined at 993 DNA markers. This data was used to partitioned individuals into K = 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 clusters. In this figure, the average fractional membership of individuals from each population is represented by horizontal bars partitioned into K colored segments.

An alternative to the use of racial or ethnic categories is to categorize individuals in terms of ancestry. Ancestry may be defined geographically (e.g., Asian, sub-Saharan African, or northern European), geopolitically (e.g., Vietnamese, Zambian, or Norwegian), or culturally (e.g., Brahmin, Lemba, or Apache). The definition of ancestry may recognize a single predominant source or multiple sources. Ancestry can be ascribed to an individual by an observer, as was the case with the U.S. census prior to 1960; it can be identified by an individual from a list of possibilities or with use of terms drawn from that person's experience; or it can be calculated from genetic data by use of loci with allele frequencies that differ geographically, as described above. At least among those individuals who participate in biomedical research, genetic estimates of biogeographical ancestry generally agree with self-assessed ancestry (Tang et al. 2005), but in an unknown percentage of cases, they do not (Brodwin 2002; Kaplan 2003).

Genetic data can be used to infer population structure and assign individuals to groups that often correspond with their self-identified geographical ancestry. The inference of population structure from multilocus genotyping depends on the selection of a large number of informative genetic markers. These studies usually find that groups of humans living on the same continent are more similar to one another than to groups living on different continents. Many such studies are criticized for assigning group identity a priori. However, even if group identity is stripped and group identity assigned a posteriori using only genetic data, population structure can still be inferred. For example, using 993 markers, Rosenberg et al. (2005) were able to assign 1,048 individuals from 52 populations around the globe to one of six main genetic clusters, five of which corresponded to Africa, Europe and the part of Asia south and west of the Himalayas, East Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. In many cases, subclusters that corresponded to individual populations or to subsets of populations were also identified.

However, in analyses that assign individuals to group it becomes less apparent that self-described racial groups are reliable indicators of ancestry. One cause of the reduced power of the assignment of individuals to groups is admixture. Some racial or ethnic groups, especially Hispanic groups, do not have homogenous ancestry. For example, self-described African Americans tend to have a mix of West African and European ancestry. Shriver et al. (2003) found that on average African Americans have ~80% African ancestry. Likewise, many white Americans have mixed European and African ancestry, where ~30% of whites have less than 90% European ancestry. In this context, it is becoming more commonplace to describe "race" as fractional ancestry. Without the use of genotyping, this has been approximated by the self-described ancestry of an individual's grand-parents.

Nevertheless, recent research indicates that self-described race is a near-perfect indicator of an individual's genetic profile, at least in the United States. Using 326 genetic markers, Tang et al. (2005) identified 4 genetic clusters among 3,636 individuals sampled from 15 locations in the United States, and were able to correctly assign individuals to groups that correspond with their self-described race (white, African American, East Asian, or Hispanic) for all but 5 individuals (an error rate of 0.14%). They conclude that ancient ancestry, which correlates tightly with self-described race and not current residence, is the major determinant of genetic structure in the U.S. population.

Genetic techniques that distinguish ancestry between continents can also be used to describe ancestry within continents. However, the study of intra-continental ancestry may require a greater number of informative markers. Populations from neighboring geographic regions typically share more recent common ancestors. As a result, allele frequencies will be correlated between these groups. This phenomenon is often seen as a cline of allele frequencies. The existence of allelic clines has been offered as evidence that individuals cannot be allocated into genetic clusters (Kittles & Weiss 2003). However, others argue that low levels of differentiation between groups merely make the assignment to groups more difficult, not impossible (Bamshad et al. 2004).

Incongruities of racial classifications

Even as the idea of "race" was becoming a powerful organizing principle in many societies, the shortcomings of the concept were apparent. In the Old World, the gradual transition in appearances from one group to adjacent groups emphasized that "one variety of mankind does so sensibly pass into the other, that you cannot mark out the limits between them," as Blumenbach observed in his writings on human variation. In parts of the Americas, the situation was somewhat different. The immigrants to the New World came largely from widely separated regions of the Old World—western and northern Europe, western Africa, and, later, eastern Asia and southern and eastern Europe. In the Americas, the immigrant populations began to mix among themselves and with the indigenous inhabitants of the continent. In the United States, for example, most people who self-identify as African American have some European ancestors—in one analysis of genetic markers that have differing frequencies between continents, European ancestry ranged from an estimated 7% for a sample of Jamaicans to ∼23% for a sample of African Americans from New Orleans. Similarly, many people who identify as European American have some African or Native American ancestors, either through openly interracial marriages or through the gradual inclusion of people with mixed ancestry into the majority population. In a survey of college students who self-identified as white in a northeastern U.S. university, ∼30% were estimated to have <90% European ancestry.

In the United States, social and legal conventions developed over time that forced individuals of mixed ancestry into simplified racial categories. An example is the " one-drop rule" implemented in some state laws that treated anyone with a single known African American ancestor as black. The decennial censuses conducted since 1790 in the United States also created an incentive to establish racial categories and fit people into those categories. In other countries in the Americas where mixing among groups was more extensive, social categories have tended to be more numerous and fluid, with people moving into or out of categories on the basis of a combination of socioeconomic status, social class, ancestry, and appearance.

Efforts to sort the increasingly mixed population of the United States into discrete categories generated many difficulties.. By the standards used in past censuses, many millions of children born in the United States have belonged to a different race than have one of their biological parents. Efforts to track mixing between groups led to a proliferation of categories (such as mulatto and octoroon) and "blood quantum" distinctions that became increasingly untethered from self-reported ancestry. A person's racial identity can change over time, and self-ascribed race can differ from assigned race. Until the 2000 census, Latinos were required to identify with a single race despite the long history of mixing in Latin America; partly as a result of the confusion generated by the distinction, 42% of Latino respondents in the 2000 census ignored the specified racial categories and checked "some other race.".

Current views across disciplines

One result of debates over the meaning and validity of the concept "race" is that the current literature across different disciplines regarding human variation lacks consensus, though within some fields, such as biology, there is strong consensus. Some studies use the word race in its early essentialist taxonomic sense. Many others still use the term race, but use it to mean a population, clade, or haplogroup. Others eschew the word race altogether, and use the word population as a less value laden synonym.

In the 19th century, race was a central concept of anthropology. In 1866, James Hunt, the founder of the Anthropological Society of London, declared that anthropology’s primary truth “is the existence of well-marked psychological and moral distinctions in the different races of men.” However, this view became marginalised in the 20th century. Since 1932, college textbooks introducing physical anthropology have increasingly come to reject race as a valid concept: from 1932 to 1976, only seven out of thirty-two rejected race; from 1975 to 1984, thirteen out of thirty-three rejected race; from 1985 to 1993, thirteen out of nineteen rejected race. The American Anthropological Association, drawing on biological research, currently holds that "The concept of race is a social and cultural construction. . . . Race simply cannot be tested or proven scientifically," and that, "It is clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. The concept of 'race' has no validity . . . in the human species" . Nevertheless, many scientists, including many anthropologists, reject this position.

In an ongoing debate, some geneticists argue that race is neither a meaningful concept nor a useful heuristic device, and even that genetic differences almong groups are biologically meaningless, on the grounds that more genetic variation exists within such races than among them, and that racial traits overlap without discrete boundaries. Other geneticists, in contrast, argue that categories of self-identified race/ethnicity or biogeographic ancestry are both valid and useful. that these categories correspond with clusters inferred from multilocus genetic data, and that this correspondence implies that genetic factors might contribute to unexplained phenotypic variation between groups.

Biological interpretations of race

According to Arthur Jensen the traditional races of physical anthropology have been more or less confirmed by the research of Cavalli-Sforza.

On pgs 430-431 of the g factor Jensen writes:

Cavalli-Sforza et al. transformed the distance matrix to a correlation matrix consisting of 861 correlation coefficients among the forty-two populations, so they could apply principal components (PC) analysis on their genetic data...PC analysis is a wholly objective mathematical procedure. It requires no decisions or judgments on anyone's part and yields identical results for everyone who does the calculations correctly...The important point is that if various populations were fairly homogenous in genetic composition, differing no more genetically than could be attributable only to random variation, a PC analysis would not be able to cluster the populations into a number of groups according to their genetic propinquity. In fact, a PC analysis shows that most of the forty-two populations fall very distinctly into the quadrents formed by using the first and second principal component as axes...They form quite widely separated clusters of the various populations that resemble the "classic" major racial groups-Caucasoids in the upper right, Negroids in the lower right, North East Asians in the upper left, and South East Asians (including South Chinese) and Pacific Islanders in the lower left...I have tried other objective methods of clustering on the same data (varimax rotation of the principal components, common factor analysis, and hierarchical cluster analysis). All of these types of analysis yield essentially the same picture and identify the same major racial groupings.


Elsewhere in Jensen's writings, he equates North East Asians with Mongoloids, which along with Caucasoids and Negroids, form what Jensen describes as the three broadest population groups. To test the reliability of these broadgroupings, Jensen performed his own independent varimax rotated principal component analysis described on paged 518 of the g factor:

I have used a somewhat different collection of only 26 populations from around the world that were studied by the population genetecists Nei & Roychoudhury (1993), whose article provides the genetic distance matrix among the 26 population samples, based on 29 polymorphic genes with 121 alleles...Note that some groups have major and minor loadings on different components, which represent not discrete categories, but central tendencies. The six rotated components can display clusters that can be identified as follows: (1) Mongoloids, (2) Caucasoids, (3) Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders, (4) Negroids, (5) North and South Amerindians and Eskimos, (6) aboriginal Australians and Papuan New Guineans. The genetic groupings are clearly similar to those obtained by Cavali-Sforza et al. using other methods applied to other samples.

The following chart by Cavalli-Sforza shows the genetic distance between the major races that Jensen describes and the separate branches they sit on:



Dr. Eduardas Valaitis claims the traditional Races of physical anthropology have been unscientifically appropriated by geneticists. Valaitis, a statistician from Yale, has made a genetic similarity chart of the human species. His genetic distance chart does not coincide with Cavalli Sforza's genetic distance chart. Valaitis claims to have made a genetic distance chart by actual Euclidean distances given by the data. Valaitis contrasts his work with other genetic distance charts such which he claims were categorized in a priori or predefined groups. Namely, Valaitis accuses other genetic anthropologists of using hand-me-down racial groups from the earlier craniofacial races of the 19th century typologists. In particular, the genetic distance interpretations of Cavalli Sforza have been ridiculed for using "a priori" racial groups such as "Caucasian" not given by the actual genetic data itself. The genetic distance plot of Sforza which mirrors 19th century typological groups, has been used by Arthur Jensen a race and IQ psychologist to promote the idea that the traditional races of craniofacial anthropology have been confirmed by genetics.

Social interpretations of race

Historians, anthropologists and social scientists often describe human races as a social construct, preferring instead the term population, which can be given a clear operational definition. Even those who reject the formal concept of race, however, still use the word race in day-to-day speech. This may either be a matter of semantics, or an effect of an underlying cultural significance of race in racist societies.

In everyday speech, race often describes populations better defined as ethnic groups, often leading to discrepancies between scientific views on race and popular usage of the term. For instance in many parts of the United States, categories such as Hispanic or Latino are viewed to constitute a race, though others see Hispanic as a linguistic and cultural grouping coming from a variety of backgrounds. In Europe, such a distinction, suggesting that South Europeans are not European or white, would seem odd at least or possibly even insulting. In the United States, in what is referred to as the one-drop rule, the term Black subsumes people with a broad range of ancestries under one label, even though many who are termed Black could be more accurately described as white through simple anthropologic or taxonomic method. In much of Europe groups such as Roma and South Asians are commonly defined as racially distinct from "White" Europeans, though these groups could be considered "Caucasian" by old physical anthropological methods which employed finite nose measurements and skull structure as the standard form of racial classification.

Some argue it is preferable when considering biological relations to think in terms of populations, and when considering cultural relations to think in terms of ethnicity, rather than of race. Instead of classing people into one "group", say "Caucasians" or Europeans you have Britons, Frenchmen, Germans, Nords, western Slavs and Celts rather than having a term implying a (possible) ancestry group in the Caucasus which is definitely too distant for any real consideration, and moreover reaching to groups including eastern Slavs, Roma, as well as Georgians, and others who differ notably, both in culture, and to a noteworthy extent in physical appearance, from the aforementioned ethnic groups. There can be as much difference between two ethnicities grouped into a single "race" as there can be between ethnicities grouped (often arbitrarily) into an another "race".

These developments had important consequences. For example, some scientists developed the notion of "population" to take the place of race. This substitution is not simply a matter of exchanging one word for another. Populations are, in a sense, simply statistical clusters that emerge from the choice of variables of interest; there is no preferred set of variables. The "populationist" view does not deny that there are physical differences among peoples; it simply claims that the historical conceptions of "race" are not particularly useful in accounting for these differences scientifically.

Since the 1960s, some anthropologists and teachers of anthropology have re-conceived "race" as a cultural category or social construct, in other words, as a particular way that some people have of talking about themselves and others. As such it cannot be a useful analytical concept; rather, the use of the term "race" itself must be analyzed. Moreover, they argue that biology will not explain why or how people use the idea of race: history and social relationships will.

Race in physical anthropology

Scientific support for the Caucasoid, Negroid, Mongoloid terminology of racial classification has fallen steadily over the past century. Where 78 percent of the articles in the 1931 Journal of Physical Anthropology employed these or nearly synonymous terms reflecting a bio-race paradigm, only 36 percent did so in 1965, and just 28 percent did in 1996. In February, 2001, the editors of the medical journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine asked authors to no longer use "race" as an explanatory variable and not to use obsolescent terms. Other prestigious peer-reviewed journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the American Journal of Public Health, have done the same. Furthermore, the National Institutes of Health recently issued a program announcement for grant applications through February 1, 2006, specifically seeking researchers who can investigate and publicize among primary care physicians the detrimental effects on the nation's health of the practice of medical racial profiling using such terms. The program announcement quoted the editors of one journal as saying that, "analysis by race and ethnicity has become an analytical knee-jerk reflex." These terms originally denoted skull types and sprang from the technique known as craniofacial anthropometry, but have fallen somewhat in scientific use over the past century. The terms appear in two main usages today. They are used in forensic anthropology, and they are used in several fields as euphemisms for terms that came to be seen as offensive by some about thirty years ago. In the past, they were more widely used in craniofacial anthropometry in phylogeography.

The most recent survey, taken in 1985 (Lieberman et al. 1992), asked 1,200 scientists how many disagree with the following proposition: "There are biological races in the species Homo sapiens." The responses were:

  • biologists 16%
  • developmental psychologists 36%
  • physical anthropologists 41%
  • cultural anthropologists 53%

The figure for physical anthropologists at PhD granting departments was slightly higher, rising from 41% to 42%, with 50% agreeing. This survey, however, did not specify any particular definition of race; it is impossible to say whether those who supported the statement thought of race in taxonomic or population terms.

Race and intelligence

Researchers have reported significant differences in the average IQ test scores of various ethnic groups. The interpretation and causes of these differences are highly controversial. Some researchers, such as Arthur Jensen, Richard Herrnstein, and Richard Lynn have argued that such differences are at least partially genetic. Others, such as Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, believe categories such as "race" and "intelligence" are cultural constructs that render this sort of research scientifically flawed. Some, for example Thomas Sowell, bypass the issue of the origins of categorization and seek to explain test score gaps in terms of social differences that affect how much of one's innate capacities any individual person might achieve.

Race in biomedicine

There is an active debate among biomedical researchers about the meaning and importance of race in their research. The primary impetus for considering race in biomedical research is the possibility of improving the prevention and treatment of diseases by predicting hard-to-ascertain factors on the basis of more easily ascertained characteristics. Regardless of the name, a working concept of sub-species grouping can be useful, because in the absence of cheap and widespread genetic tests, various race-linked gene mutations (see Cystic fibrosis, Lactose intolerance, Tay-Sachs Disease and Sickle cell anaemia) are difficult to address without recourse to a category between "individual" and "species". The most well-known examples of genetically-determined disorders that vary in incidence between ethnic groups would be sickle cell disease and thalassaemia among black and Mediterranean populations and Tay-Sachs disease among people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Some fear that the use of racial labels in biomedical research runs the risk of unintentionally exacerbating health disparities, so they suggest alternatives to the use of racial taxonomies.

Case studies in the social construction of race

Race in the United States

In the United States since its early history, Native Americans, African-Americans and European-Americans were classified as belonging to different races. For nearly three centuries, the criteria for membership in these groups were similar, comprising a person’s appearance, his fraction of known non-White ancestry, and his social circle.2 But the criteria for membership in these races diverged in the late 19th century. During Reconstruction, increasing numbers of Americans began to consider anyone with " one drop" of "Black blood" to be Black.3 By the early 20th century, this notion of invisible blackness was made statutory in many states and widely adopted nationwide.4 In contrast, Amerindians continue to be defined by a certain percentage of "Indian blood" (called blood quantum) due in large part to American slavery ethics. Finally, for the past century or so, to be White one had to have "pure" White ancestry. (Utterly European-looking Americans of Hispanic or Arab ancestry are exceptions in being seen as White by most Americans despite traces of known African ancestry.)

Efforts to sort the increasingly mixed population of the United States into discrete categories generated many difficulties (Spickard 1992). By the standards used in past censuses, many millions of children born in the United States have belonged to a different race than have one of their biological parents. Efforts to track mixing between groups led to a proliferation of categories (such as "mulatto" and "octoroon") and "blood quantum" distinctions that became increasingly untethered from self-reported ancestry. A person's racial identity can change over time, and self-ascribed race can differ from assigned race (Kressin et al. 2003). Until the 2000 census, Latinos were required to identify with a single race despite the long history of mixing in Latin America; partly as a result of the confusion generated by the distinction, 32.9% (U.S. census records) of Latino respondents in the 2000 census ignored the specified racial categories and checked "some other race". (Mays et al. 2003 claim a figure of 42%)

The difference between how Native American and Black identities are defined today (blood quantum versus one-drop) has demanded explanation. According to anthropologists such as Gerald Sider, the goal of such racial designations was to concentrate power, wealth, privilege and land in the hands of Whites in a society of White hegemony and White privilege (Sider 1996; see also Fields 1990). The differences have little to do with biology and far more to do with the history of racism and specific forms of White supremacy (the social, geopolitical and economic agendas of dominant Whites vis-à-vis subordinate Blacks and Native Americans) especially the different roles Blacks and Amerindians occupied in White-dominated nineteenth-century America. The theory suggests that the blood quantum definition of Native American identity enabled Whites to acquire Amerindian lands, while the one-drop rule of Black identity enabled Whites to preserve their agricultural labor force. The contrast presumably emerged because as peoples transported far from their land and kinship ties on another continent, Black labor was relatively easy to control, thus reducing Blacks to valuable commodities as agricultural laborers. In contrast, Amerindian labor was more difficult to control; moreover, Amerindians occupied large territories that became valuable as agricultural lands, especially with the invention of new technologies such as railroads; thus, the blood quantum definition enhanced White acquisition of Amerindian lands in a doctrine of Manifest Destiny that subjected them to marginalization and multiple episodic localized campaigns of extermination.

The political economy of race had different consequences for the descendants of aboriginal Americans and African slaves. The 19th-century blood quantum rule meant that it was relatively easier for a person of mixed Euro-Amerindian ancestry to be accepted as White. The offspring of only a few generations of intermarriage between Amerindians and Whites likely would not have been considered Amerindian at all—at least not in a legal sense. Amerindians could have treaty rights to land, but because an individual with one Amerindian great-grandparent no longer was classified as Amerindian, they lost any legal claim to Amerindian land. According to the theory, this enabled Whites to acquire Amerindian lands. The irony is that the same individuals who could be denied legal standing because they were "too White" to claim property rights, might still be Amerindian enough to be considered as "breeds," stigmatized for their Native American ancestry.

The 20th-century one-drop rule, on the other hand, made it relatively difficult for anyone of known Black ancestry to be accepted as White. The child of an African-American sharecropper and a White person was considered Black. And, significant in terms of the economics of sharecropping, such a person also would likely be a sharecropper as well, thus adding to the employer's labor force.

In short, this theory suggests that in a 20th-century economy that benefited from sharecropping, it was useful to have as many Blacks as possible. Conversely, in a 19th-century nation bent on westward expansion, it was advantageous to diminish the numbers of those who could claim title to Amerindian lands by simply defining them out of existence.

It must be mentioned, however, that although some scholars of the Jim Crow period agree that the 20th-century notion of invisible Blackness shifted the color line in the direction of paleness, thereby swelling the labor force in response to Southern Blacks' great migration northwards, others (Joel Williamson, C. Vann Woodward, George M. Fredrickson, Stetson Kennedy) see the one-drop rule as a simple consequence of the need to define Whiteness as being pure, thus justifying White-on-Black oppression. In any event, over the centuries when Whites wielded power over both Blacks and Amerindians and widely believed in their inherent superiority over people of colour, it is no coincidence that the hardest racial group in which to prove membership was the White one.

The identification of Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas as "Latin America" was first promoted by supporters of Maximilian, who had been installed as emperor of Mexico in 1864 by the French emperor Napoleon III, as a way of extending French influence in the Americas. Since French and Spanish are both languages derived from Latin, the French identified Spanish-speakers as "Latin" in order to emphasize a fictive kinship with the French, and in the — unfulfilled — hope of legitimizing Maximilian.

The term "Hispanic" as an ethnonym emerged in the twentieth century with the rise of migration of laborers from Spanish-speaking countries to the United States; it thus includes people who had been considered racially distinct (Black, White, Amerindian) in their home countries. Today, the word "Latino" is often used as a synonym for "Hispanic". In contrast to "Latino," "Anglo" is now used in a similar way to refer to the descendants of British colonists, and values and practices derived from British culture.

Race Definitions in the United States

The United States government has provided definitions regarding race (see for example Race (U.S. Census)). Racial classification in the U.S. 2000 census was based solely on self-identification, did not pre-suppose disjointedness, and included a category "Hispanic," which is considered an ethnicity, rather than a race, by the U.S. Census. The concept of race as used by the Census Bureau reflects self-identification by people according to the race or races with which they most closely identify. These categories are sociopolitical constructs and should not be interpreted as being scientific or anthropological in nature. They change from one census to another, and the racial categories include both racial and national-origin groups .

On the other hand, the EEOC explicitly defines Hispanics as a separate and distinct "race."

Race in Brazil

Compared to 19th-century United States, 20th-century Brazil was characterized by a relative absence of sharply defined racial groups. According to anthropologist Marvin Harris (1989) this pattern reflects a different history and different social relations. Basically, race in Brazil was "biologized," but in a way that recognized the difference between ancestry (which determines genotype) and phenotypic differences. There, racial identity was not governed by a rigid descent rule. A Brazilian child was never automatically identified with the racial type of one or both parents, nor were there only two categories to choose from. Over a dozen racial categories would be recognized in conformity with the combinations of hair color, hair texture, eye color, and skin colour. These types grade into each other like the colors of the spectrum, and no one category stands significantly isolated from the rest. That is, race referred to appearance, not heredity.

Through this system of racial identification, parents and children and even brothers and sisters were frequently accepted as representatives of opposite racial types. In a fishing village in the state of Bahia, an investigator showed 100 people pictures of three sisters and asked them to identify the races of each. In only six responses were the sisters identified by the same racial term. Fourteen responses used a different term for each sister. In another experiment nine portraits were shown to a hundred people. Forty different racial types were elicited. It was found, in addition, that a given Brazilian might be called by as many as thirteen different terms by other members of the community. These terms are spread out across practically the entire spectrum of theoretical racial types. A further consequence of the absence of a descent rule was that Brazilians apparently not only disagreed about the racial identity of specific individuals, but they also seemed to be in disagreement about the abstract meaning of the racial terms as defined by words and phrases. For example, 40% of a sample ranked moreno claro ("light" person of primarily European ancestry with dark hair) as a lighter type than mulato claro ("light" person of mixed European and African ancestry), while 60% reversed this order. A further note of confusion is that one person might employ different racial terms to describe the same person over a short time span. [For a solid discussion of Brazilian racial terms, see Livio Sansone's Blackness Without Ethnicity (2003) and France Winddance Twine's Racism in a Racial Democracy (1998).] The choice of which racial description to use may vary according to the relationship (be it personal, class-based, or otherwise) between the speaker and the person concerned and moods of the individuals involved. The Brazilian census lists one's race according to the preference of the person being interviewed. As a consequence, hundreds of races appeared in the census results, ranging from blue (which is blacker than the usual black) to green (which is whiter than the usual white).

So, although the identification of a person by race is far more fluid and flexible in Brazil than in the U.S., there still are racial stereotypes and prejudices. African features have been considered less desirable; Blacks have been considered socially inferior, and Whites superior. These white supremacist values seem to be an obvious legacy of European colonization and the slave-based plantation system (Some people argues that in Brazil the racial prejudice is linked to social prejudice). The complexity of racial classifications in Brazil is reflective of the extent of miscegenation in Brazilian society, which remains highly, but not strictly, stratified along colour lines. Henceforth, the Brazilian narrative of a perfect "post-racist" country, composed of the " cosmic race" celebrated in 1925 by José Vasconcelos, must be met with caution, as sociologist Gilberto Freyre demonstrated in 1933 in Casa Grande e Senzala.

Race in politics and ethics

During the Enlightenment, racial classifications were used to justify enslavement of those deemed to be of "inferior", non-White races, and thus supposedly best fitted for lives of toil under White supervision. These classifications made the distance between races seem nearly as broad as that between species, easing unsettling questions about the appropriateness of such treatment of humans. The practice was at the time generally accepted by both scientific and lay communities.

Arthur Gobineau's An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853-1855) was one of the milestone in the new racist discourse, along with Vacher de Lapouge's "anthroposociology." They posited the historical existence of national races such as German and French, branching from basal races supposed to have existed for millennia, such as the Aryan race, and believed political boundaries should mirror these supposed racial ones.

Later, one of Hitler's favorite sayings was, "Politics is applied biology". It appears he knew a certain amount about politics, but considerably less about biology. Hitler's ideas of racial purity led to unprecedented atrocities in Europe. Hitler and others enacted race laws used to persecute and murder millions of Jews, who were seen as a race. Since then, ethnic cleansing has occurred in the Balkans and Rwanda. In one sense, ethnic cleansing is another name for the tribal warfare and mass murder that has afflicted human society for ages, but these crimes seem to gain intensity when believed to be scientifically sanctioned, although this may be purely an unjustified assertion arising from anti-scientific prejudice.

Racial inequality has been a concern of United States politicians and legislators since the country's founding. In the 19th century most White Americans (including abolitionists) explained racial inequality as an inevitable consequence of biological differences. Since the mid-20th century, political and civic leaders as well as scientists have debated to what extent racial inequality is cultural in origin. Some argue that current inequalities between Blacks and Whites are primarily cultural and historical, the result of past racism, slavery and segregation, and could be redressed through such programs as affirmative action and Head Start. Others work to reduce tax funding of remedial programs for minorities. They have based their advocacy on aptitude test data that, according to them, shows that racial ability differences are biological in origin and cannot be leveled even by intensive educational efforts. In electoral politics, many more ethnic minorities have won important offices in Western nations than in earlier times, although the highest offices tend to remain in the hands of Whites.

In his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed:

History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals.

Dr. King's hope, expressed in his I Have a Dream speech, was that the civil rights struggle would one day produce a society where people were not "judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Because of the identification of the concept of race with political oppression, many natural and social scientists today are wary of using race to describe human variation. Some, however, argue that race is nevertheless of continuing utility and validity in scientific research. Science and politics frequently take opposite sides in debates that relate to human intelligence and biomedicine.

The concept of race is also based on mere conventions, traditions, statistics, and an arbitrary number of categories. Often the partially unique individual human being is ignored. The criteria used to divide up the human species is also arbitrary, and often only focuses on skin color, geographical area, and a very few genes. The varied expression of the same mix of genes is rarely studied. The exact percentage of exceptions to any probable group, or the margin of error can also be overlooked. Other possible criteria of height, eye color, hair color, size of feet, and so on indicate the primary and customary use of skin colour to determine groups.

Race in law enforcement

In the U.S., the FBI identifies fugitives to categories they define as sex, physical features, occupation, nationality, and race. From left to right, the FBI assigns the above individuals to the following races: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian. Top row males, bottom row females.
In the U.S., the FBI identifies fugitives to categories they define as sex, physical features, occupation, nationality, and race. From left to right, the FBI assigns the above individuals to the following races: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian. Top row males, bottom row females.

In an attempt to provide general descriptions that may facilitate the job of law enforcement officers seeking to apprehend suspects, the United States FBI employs the term "race" to summarize the general appearance (skin colour, hair texture, eye shape, and other such easily noticed characteristics) of individuals whom they are attempting to apprehend. From the perspective of law enforcement officers, it is generally more important to arrive at a description that will readily suggest the general appearance of an individual than to make a scientifically valid categorization. Thus in addition to assigning a wanted individual to a racial category, such a description will include: height, weight, eye colour, scars and other distinguishing characteristics, etc. Scotland Yard use a classification based in the ethnic background of British society: W1 (White-British), W2 (White-Irish), W9 (Any other white background); M1 (White and black Caribbean), M2 (White and black African), M3 (White and Asian), M9 (Any other mixed background); A1 (Asian-Indian), A2 (Asian-Pakistani), A3 (Asian-Bangladeshi), A9 (Any other Asian background); B1 (Black Caribbean), B2 (Black African), B3 (Any other black background); O1 (Chinese), O9 (Any other).

In many countries, the state is legally banned from maintaining data based on race, which often makes the police issue wanted notices to the public that include labels like "dark skin complexion", etc. There is controversy over the actual relationship between crimes, their assigned punishments, and the division of people into the so called "races." In the United States, the practice of racial profiling has been ruled to be both unconstitutional and also to constitute a violation of civil rights. There is active debate regarding the cause of a marked correlation between the recorded crimes, punishments meted out, and the country's "racially divided" people. Many consider de facto racial profiling an example of institutional racism in law enforcement.

More recent work in racial taxonomy based on DNA cluster analysis (See Lewontin's Fallacy) has led law enforcement to pursue suspects based on their racial classification as derived from their DNA evidence left at the crime scene . While controversial, DNA analysis has been successful in helping police identify the race of both victims and perpetrators. . In an attempt to be less subjective, this classification is called "biogeographical ancestry" rather than "race" , but the terms for the BGA categories are the same. The difference is that ancestry-informative DNA markers identify continent-of-ancestry admixture, not ethnic self-identity. Hence, they cannot match the U.S. "races". For example, the DNA of an Arab-American, an African-American, and a Hispanic of precisely the same Afro-European genetic admixture would be "racially" indistinguishable. And a "White" woman with, say, 25% African ancestry such as Carol Channing would show exactly the same BGA as a "Black" man of the same admixture (like Gregory Howard Williams).

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