Campus Commentary

In the “Examining Race: The Non-Existence of Biological Race” lecture, Dr. Helen Cho argues that race is not biologically supported, but is instead a social construct. She argues that although people are quick to cognitively categorize people based on phenotypes (physical characteristics of an individual), these phenotypes are not unique nationalities. Phenotypes can be found amongst a spectrum per nationality. For instance, Indian’s skin color can range from really light whitish to really dark. In effect, Dr. Cho affirms that the concept of “race” exists, however it isn’t a scientifically valid way to categorize humans. 

In one of my classes, Stereotypes and Humor, we discussed the essence of categorization and its salience in human functioning. Reviewing the studies of sociologists and psychologists, the conclusion was drawn that reality is potentially too complex for the human mind to comprehend at once, so categorization allows the mind to simplify the world to a level we can comprehend it. For this reason, categorization is an essential cognitive operation that is not innately negative. However, misuse of this operation has led society to the harmful effects of race and stereotypes. I was reminded of this conclusion during Dr. Cho examination of race and categorization. When she mentioned that people can purposefully ignore race, I couldn’t help but think that just because people ignore it, doesn’t mean they don’t recognize it as existing. Doing so would be almost impossible because as stated previously, categorization is an innate, helpful cognitive process that everybody possesses. Moreover, categorization, whether that be race, genders, etc., is heavily prevalent and emphasized in American culture. Thus, the denial of races existing from an American born-and-raised individual is near impossible.

I was reminded of the movie Black Venus during the lecture’s mention of previous anthropologists centuries before establishing certain attributes to race. Saartjie being presented as a member of an African Tribe, is considered by audience members to be a savage animal and is consistently animalized throughout the movie. Furthermore, the movie presents her blackness as a being placed low on the hierarchy ranking of races just as the early anthropologists did. 

Finally, I’ll end my campus commentary by answering Dr. Cho’s question of what phenotypes I use to classify an individual to a particular race:

  • Skin color
  • Hair style 
  • Eye shape & nose