The Traditional Nature Of Phenotypes Cultural Studies Essay

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The notion of one's race is mistakenly implied by one's phenotypes: the physical attributes that is clearly visible. Humans display hundreds of different phenotypes ranging from hair color, the color of one's skin , eye color, and etc. In theory, a biological race is defined as a geographically isolated subdivision of a species, this so called "subspecies," would be capable of interbreeding with other subspecies of the same species but would not do so because of the geographical isolation. However, racial classifications based on phenotypes bring about the issue of determining which traits should define one's race. Should races be defined by skin color, height, nose lengths or facial feature? Even though different races may differ in physical attributes for a certain trait, which allows biologists to classify different races exclusively, many races share similar phenotypes, making this biological attempt ineffective. Races are not as biologically distinct as most people might believe. One obvious issue with the "color-based" racial labels is that the terms do not accurately portray skin color. For example "White people are more pink, beige, or tan than white. Black people are various shades of brown, and yellow people are tan or beige" (textbook pg 117). A conclusive dilemma with the tripartite scheme is that most populations and ethnic groups do not fit any of the three great races: "Does the bronze color of the Polynesians connect them to the Caucasoids or to the Mongoloids?" (textbook pg 120). Does the dark skin color of the ethnic groups in southern India classify them with black Africans or with the Caucasian race because of their facial features and hair form? These issues arise when races are classified with merely one's skin color, so how do we classify a population based on their phenotypes? Would it better to base racial classifications on a combination of physical traits? This interpretation brings upon more complexities, as skin color, stature, skull form and facial features don't come together as a combined unit: because a single "race" of people contain many different kinds of phenotypes depending on the individual, it's difficult to classify an entire group of people just based on a common physical trait these people may or may not share. The most desirable way to classify races and ethnic groups is by allocating the groups under a cultural perspective and not with a biological basis. The concept of race can be further defined as self-identification by people according to the races or groups in which they most comfortably identify as their own. Race is not in fact a biologically structured inescapable identity that humans are born with, but rather a social construct created by society, the population, and most importantly, ourselves.

One example of a country with a culturally constructed race system is the United States, where one acquires his or her racial identity at birth, as a ingrained status, but isn't based on biology or on one's ancestry (textbook pg 342). In the standpoint of a racially mixed marriage in America involving one black and one white parent, the child is biologically 50 percent white and 50 percent black, but American culture overlooks this biological heredity and culturally classifies this child as black. This is the rule of descent, more specifically hypodescent: "it automatically places the children of a union between members of different groups in the minority group" (textbook pg 342). The practice of hypodescent began with the founding of the earlier American colonies with the installation of slavery. But with the abolishing of slavery in the early 20th century, a person's racial status became solidified in legal definitions and application. With the induction of the Jim Crow laws, the State added stringent laws classifying populations as black based on traceable and/or noticeable ancestry. Hypodescent is arbitrary in that it was maintained and created by a certain culture, therefore it being a cultural construction. Unlike the biological implications of race and ethnic groups, culturally constructed notions of race are not static, but rather continuously changing over time as different divisions of societies fluctuates and diverges.

As a country of immigrants, as the world's great big melting pot, consisting of thousands of races congregating in one society, American culture today, is pretty much for the most part, culturally understanding, aware and ignores considerable diversity in biology, language and geographical origin. When one hastily examines the country of Japan however, one can assume that Japan is "homogeneous in race, ethnicity, and culture" and for the most part, in a biological standpoint, the people of Japan are all of the identical race. With closer inspection of the social structure and stratification of Japan's culture this can not be more further from the truth, "10 percent of Japan's national population are minorities of various sorts, including the aboriginal Ainu, annexed Okinawans, outcast burakumin, children of mixed marriages, and immigrant nationalities, especially Koreans, who number more than 700,000" (textbook, 344). The racial approach in Japan can best be described as, "intrinsic racism": the belief that a racial difference is a sufficient reason to value one person less than another. (textbook, 344). Japan's social culture also operates with a pseudo-hypodescent where mixed offspring automatically become members of the minority group, while children of mixed marriages between the majority Japanese and other are denounced for not being "pure" Japanese. Race is culturally constructed in Japan with the definition of themselves with the opposition to members of a different race. Any race or ethnic group that is "not us" is discouraged from assimilation, and residential segregation, and taboos on mixed marriages work to separate the "pure" Japanese from the minorities. Even though the many different ethnic groups in Japan may be genetically, and biologically similar, the rigid culturally constructed notions of race in Japan discriminates against many groups such as the burakumin: "The burakumin often live in villages and neighborhoods with poor housing and sanitation. The have limited access to education, jobs, amenities and health facilities" (textbook 345). Even though Japan is currently working to decimate the segregation against the burakumin by dismantling their legal structure of discrimination, they have yet to install affirmative-action programs for education and jobs, making it difficult for the burakumin to find work, and respect even in this modern age and time.

Unlike some of the more exclusive and methodical constructions of race in America and Japan, Brazil's culture employs less systematic exclusionary categories, which condones members of a certain ethnic group to alter their racial classification. Not that Brazil has as much racial antipathy as Japan or even America, but because Brazilian racial classification pays attention to an individual's expressed physical characteristics, an individual is able to change his or her phenotype and racial label with environmental factors: "A Brazilian can change his or her race by changing his or manner of dress language, location and even attitude" (textbook, 346). Even though America and Brazil both are similar in a demographic and sociological sense, the race construction in these two countries cultivated independently. Just simply because of the way America and Brazil differed in their method of settlement, the social class and ethnic structure of these two societies differ, not because of the biological genetics of the individuals, but purely because of the culturally constructed notions of race in both respective countries.