The term ‘race’ was first used by Francois Bernier (1620-1688) who concluded that human beings do not make up the same ‘race’, but he never gave a concrete definition. The term ‘race’ did not have a fixed definition (you can see the term ‘race’ being constructed) until Carolus Linnaeus said there were four types of human beings with each corresponding to a particular geographic location. Linnaeus neglected to respect their differences according to Georges-Louis Buffon. Georges-Louis Buffon comes along in 1749 to “clear” things up. As you can probably guess the term ‘race’ still lacks a consistent definition (most likely because it is an ambiguous term). Wait, wait don’t worry finally someone gives ‘race’ a fixed definition, Philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant reacted very strongly to his predecessors. So, in 1777, Kant based his definition of ‘race’ on an individuals skin color. This classification of ‘race’ is still used today in the 21st century. In the early 1900s Kant’s student (Herder) rejected the idea of race saying,
No one people is superior to another. Furthermore, no people is without culture and no culture is better than another. Cultures differ from one another, ‘but these differences are of degree, not of kind.’
‘Overall and in the end,’ writes Herder, ‘everything is only a shade of one and the same great portrait that extends across all the spaces and times of the earth. All peoples contribute to humankind and encourage the progression toward humanity, ‘not as straight, nor as uniform, but as stretching in all directions, will all manner of turns and twists.’ Moreover, as Herder writes, ‘Every nation has its center of happiness within itself, as every ball has its center of gravity!” In other words, Herder was interested in the internal and external influences on a culture and emphasized the individuality of a given culture.
Yes, the idea of ‘race’ exists, the experience of ‘race’ exists, a racialized world exists. But, ‘race’ itself does not; it is only an idea brought about during a time in world history when human difference was first realized on a global scale.
As you can, ‘race’ is a social construct. It is not a fixed identity, it is socially decided. For example Brazil has 40 different ‘races’ but your ‘race’ is dependent on money. Even in Brazil the more money you have the whiter you are. Harris (1964) writes:
Richer a dark man gets the lighter the racial category to will he will be assigned by friends, family, business, and so on. Similarly, light skinned individuals who rank extremely low in terms of education and occupation criteria are frequently regarded as actually being darker in color than they really are.
Racial categories and the meaning attached to ‘race’ makes sense only in their historical context and in light of specific relations. ‘Race’ can be seen as an ideology whose components were spelled out explicitly in social policy. These components can be analytically derived from years of publications and racist behavior. Sociological and historical studies have decided on 6 widespread agreements from analyzing the publications.
1. Race-based societies perceive designated racial groups as biologically discrete and exclusive groups, and certain physical characteristics (e.g., skin color, hair texture, eye shape, and other facial features) become markers of race status.
2. They hold that races are naturally unequal and therefore must be ranked hierarchically (inequality is fundamental to all racial systems). In the United States and South Africa, Africans and their descendants occupy the lowest level of the hierarchy.
3. They assume that each race has distinctive cultural behaviors linked to their biology. The idea of inherited forms of behavior is fundamental to the concept of race and is one basis for the belief in the separation of races (as, e.g., Black music, Black theater, Black literature, Black dance, Black forms of dress, Black language, etc.).
4. They assume that both physical features and behavior are innate and inherited.
5. They assume that the differences among races are therefore profound and unalterable. This justifies segregation of the races in schools, neighborhoods, churches, recreational centers, health centers, and so forth, and proscriptions against intermarriage or inter-mating.
6. They have racial classifications stipulated in the legal and social system (racial identity by law). (This obtained until recently in the United States and South Africa.)
But, these components are not the sole reason, ‘race’ is culturally invented ideas and beliefs about these differences that constitute the meaning of race.