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The Irony of the Concept of Race

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Race is an aspect that impacts our lives on a daily basis, whether it be negatively or positively. This is largely due to the hierarchy of the races that exists in the United states.

In the 19th century, scientists and scholars began attempts to scientifically justify the existence of races and the inferiority of non-white races compared to their white counterparts. Dr. Samuel Morton, for example, used craniometry to provide biological evidence of the inferiority of non-whites. Through measuring the crania of different populations, he found that white people had the largest brains, blacks having the smallest, with Native-American people in-between the two (“Race”: The Evolution of a Concept-Part II). This “discovery” helped support the decision in one of this country’s most revolutionary Supreme Court cases, Dred Scott v. Sandford, in which Chief Justice Roger Taney declared that “the Negro is an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the white race”.

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George Gliddon, author of the 1854 book ‘Types of Mankind’, claimed that black people were closer to apes than they were to humans, and whites were at the apex of the human pyramid (“Race”: The Evolution of a Concept-Part II). The myths spread by “scholars” such as Gliddon about the so-called inferiority of black people and other non-white races were soon considered fact and accepted by most white people, providing them a sense of comfort that even the poorest, least educated of white people are at the top of the social hierarchy.

The irony of the concept of race is that although scientists and scholars have gone to great lengths to justify its existence, there have been several occasions in which society has proved that it is in fact a social construct, not only lacking in scientific backing, but also varying time and place (Race and Ethnicity: Constancy in Change, pg XII). The one-drop rule said that an individual with any trace of African ancestry was considered black, but the amount of ancestry required to be considered a black person varied between states. If there was a scientific basis for race, it would be constant regardless of location. Despite the falsehood of the concept of race, society is still ran based on it. We often perceive and treat people based on their race, which we can identify through things such as skin color, hair texture, and other phenotypical attributes. Almost two hundred years later from ‘the Types of Mankind’, we see that white people remain at the apex of this social human pyramid, with anyone who is non-white below them, black people being at the very bottom. The farther we travel up this human pyramid, the more universal acceptance we see, the fairer, less unjust treatment we see, because as we get closer to the top, we see more whiteness, whether it be in physical appearance or other possessions associated with whiteness. It is only natural for humans to want to strive for what is at the top, what is thought to be the best. The status of white people at the tip of this pyramid has established them as the standard for every aspect of society, whether it be in beauty, education, entertainment, and other aspects of everyday living. As a result, non-white individuals in the United States spend a great deal of their lives as mimic men, striving to acquire whiteness by imitating aspects of the dominant culture, in an attempt to achieve the same success and acceptance through assimilation.

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The Irony of the Concept of Race. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from
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