The Physical Traits of Race

by Farzana on September 14, 2016 - 4:39pm

We tend to believe that we can classify individuals into certain categories based on their “race”. After taking this anthropology class I realised that we, human, do not know much about “race”. In this essay I will provide reasons on why my view on the concept of race started to change. 

First of all, I thought that the concept of “race” is a social construct in order to classify individuals depending on their skin color or other physical traits that might belong to a specific group of peopleWe learned in class that in fact “race” is relatedto physical appearance, but it does not necessarily define it. Wealso learned that we cannot classify someone by just looking at him/her and that their race has nothing to do with their biological traits so we should not associate someone to a race by simply using physical traits and most commonly their skin color. In the Diamond’s article, we had to read for this class, the author specifies that in fact physical traits can be impacted by the environment in which one is living. Body shapes can differ from one place to another, “Among the tallest and most long-limbed peoples in the world are the Nilotic peoples, such as the Dinkas, who live in the hot, dry areas of East Africa. At the opposite extreme in body shape are the Inuits, or Eskimo, who have compact bodies and relatively short arms and legs” (Diamond, 1994, para.20). Diamond is suggesting that the body shapes of these two groups of people from different continents are impacted by their environment and that has to do with heat loss. The group that lives in a “hot and dry areas of East Africa” (Diamond, 1994, para.20), their body adjust themselves in order to have larger members that will make them sweat more and keep their body temperature cooler, while on the other hand Inuits and Eskimos live in a much cooler environment so their body compacted in order to prevent heat loss and keep them hot in their environment. Diamond suggests in his article that “human traits [evolves] by natural selection” (Diamond, 1994, para.17) to help them survive in their habitat. As an example to support his idea, he mentions the fact that people from the tropical parts of the world evolved in order to protect themselves from malaria. It is said in the article that some individuals from these areas have a mutation in their sickle-cell gene which makes “the red blood cells of people with that mutation […] assume a sickle shape” (Diamond, 1994, para.17), while people from northern Europe does not have that gene, because malaria does not exist in these parts of the world. Diamond’s ideas support what we learned in class. One’s “race” cannot be distinguished by physical traits, because the human body adapts itself to its environment for survival reasons. This means that physical traits such as the pigmentation, length, strength, etc areimpacted by the environment regardless the individual’s “race” so it becomes more difficult to associate people with a specific “race”. 

To come to a conclusion, the Anthropology class, and Diamond’s article helped me understand better that a “race” does not have a specific trait. Groups of individuals of a certain “race” have physical traits in common mostly because of their environment and continue evolving in order to adapt their body to it. This phenomenon is called natural selection. Therefore, we cannot say that a certain trait belongs to a certain “race”. So should we continue using the term race to indicate and separate groups of people?


I really enjoyed your perspective and how it drew me in immediately to question what I have known, or thought I've known, about what race means. I completely agree that it is human natural inclination to make assumptions and categorize people based on physical attributes, but in reality, their physical attributes are based off of where they live not their ethnic decent. Your argument is so interesting, and I would love to see it expanded onto how this principle impacts the social realm. I would assume that it only paralyzes relationships by relying on bias to try to understand people before getting to know them. Speaking from personal experience, people can be so wrong by trying to assume people's history, racial background, and/or family lifestyle, which only prevents future relationships from blossoming; this principle, I imagine, could not benefit society in any way. I found a really interesting article on the main statements or questions made by people that appear to multiracial that only further shows how these quick judgements inevitably impact people and their position in society. When people hastily ask these questions or say these things, they take into no consideration where the other individual is coming from. History and personal experience cannot be determined by skin color or any other physical trait, and people only make people feel lesser when they say these 21 things.

I thought that your take on race was very interesting. I like your point of view that race is not necessarily physical traits because the physical body adapts itself to certain environments for a number of reasons. I also think that race cannot define physical traits but instead other factors such as natural selection and the environment, which you mentioned, play a major role. It is very common in todays culture to connect race with physical traits and many stereotypes can come from it. People are born with an already predisposed group of talents based on race alone and when they don't carry the talents that was expected, they are seen as less than even by members of their own race. For example, a common idea that people throw around is that "black people are athletic". People believe that they, as a race, can jump higher and play sports like basketball really well and when someone who is black doesn't fit into this category they are outcasts. This is a common misconception and shows the dangers of linking race with physical traits.

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