In the film The Power of an Illusion, it is stated that “Humans are 99.9% identical genetically. Of the tiny amount of difference that exists, 85% is found in any local group, be they Italians, Kurds, or Cherokees. For example, two random Koreans are likely to be genetically different as a Korean and Italian” (Adelman, 2003). This statement identifies the distinct lack of a factual basis for constructing a concept of race based on genetics. Nonetheless, race is a significant social issue; despite 99.9% of our genetic makeup between ethnicities being similar, many people find strong animosity or loyalty to certain races (Adelman, 2003). With this in mind, racism and the concept of race as a dividing factor among individuals cannot be a genetic one, but purely a social one. Social expectations, and the environment in which we live, are the sole factors that determine these divisions.
The statement given about genetic diversity in local groups being greater than that of different races gives further indication that race is a social construct. Even given the small amount of genetic diversity currently found, the social construct of people of certain races being prejudiced against another goes against the trends of genetic diversity; by all logic, people who wish to hate those who are the most different from them should look inward at others in their own local groups. However, race as a social construct indicates that the way in which we define each other as different from each other cannot possibly be based on any real, genetic predisposition.
What, then, are the criteria for separating and classifying races? For one, there seems to be a connection between racial divisions and in-group / out-group comparisons. Those who superficially look different than you, and particularly who live in a different place than you, are often classified as being of a different ‘race.’ People use race as an easy classifier to alienate others, when often it is the perception of one’s appearance, or their culture, that is simply thought to be distasteful. These are societal matters (perceptions of ideal beauty and normative culture) that create these divisions, not necessarily actual genetics. Races are divided by general appearance and (optionally) culture, not actual genetic differences. Because of the aforementioned identical genetics of all human beings, it does not make sense to base racial divisions on genetics. Add to that the near-lack of clear, 100% regional or racial ethnicities in many industrialized and integrated nations (like America), in which people have mixed ancestries, and you have a construct that is entirely fabricated by social notions of race and what might classify each.
The social justice implications of race classifications are substantial; by dividing individuals by arbitrary social constructs, entire groups of people can be alienated and placed in the out-group by those who may have more social or economic power. To that end, it can create clear and dangerous levels of inequality, as one group holds societal power over the other, withholding social justice from the other. Furthermore, the criteria for this is much more malicious than if simple genetic predisposition were at play; without that, it means that the societies that create race classifications are tacitly accepting of these classifications creating social justice inequalities, and that people’s personalities and innate fears of the Other (however that might be classified) hold substantial sway over their actions toward others.
Adelman, L. (Producer and Co-director). (2003). The Power of an Illusion. [Motion picture.] San Francisco, CA: California Newsreel.