Recently, I watched two videos (links below) by Philosophy tube and they confused me a bit. The general idea that I took from these two videos is that any group of people can be termed a race if there are instances of discrimination against them. Doesn't this make racism and discrimination synonymous with each other?

He preemptively said that going by the text book definition of racism would be begging the question. Still people raised issues with that definition like the following comment which I find reasonable.

No. Stop with the newspeak and trying to redefine words like racism. We already have the term institutional racism for that. Racism is just discrimination based on race. You have to know that all that is going to do is make people think that they can be discriminatory towards white people because "I'm not being racist".

Am I missing something here?

Link to the videos:

  1. Racism, Law, & Politics (Race Part 1)
  2. Islamophobia, Racism, & Feminism (Race Part 2)
  • 4
    It would be hard to consider women, the holders of any given religion that is not hereditary or regional (especially those who have created their own new sect, or any religion made up largely of converts), the mentally ill, the elderly, or homosexuals "races", and those certainly are targets of discrimination in various parts of the world. So he is a bit beyond the logical limits of usage here. Focussing on race as the ultimate natural form of discrimination is just a way of undercutting other oppressed statuses that cannot be inherited.
    – user9166
    Jun 21 '16 at 16:38
  • 1
    @jobermark What is the use of broadening the definition of racism so much? What can the word "racism" achieve that "discrimination" can't? Jun 21 '16 at 16:55
  • 2
    Since race can often be determined by a quick and relatively objective physical examination, it is clearly not a social construct. The reaction to and treatment of race certainly is. Jun 21 '16 at 16:57
  • 2
    @kbelder except that in many cases it can't be: Take my case, my physical appearance falls squarely in the category of "white" - but my dad is from Africa and I spent a significant part of my childhood there, and most of my cultural background (in terms of food, religious and family traditions, language spoken at home, etc...) is African and Middle Eastern. People laugh at my face when I claim that I am not "White", until they know more about me...recently someone actually said it, after spending 5 minutes at my place, "OMG, I always thought your were a white guy..." Jun 21 '16 at 18:15
  • 2
    @kbelder Biological variant, like a rose-type or a dog breed is not the same thing as race among humans. And interbreeding even destroys the testability of variants. So there is no reasonable biological definition of race, except as a trend toward a set of ethnic features. Having type-B or type-O blood does not make one Middle-Eastern or African, even if those types predominate in those regions.
    – user9166
    Jun 21 '16 at 21:23

Race is a social construct, although one loosely based around some biological realities. Consider the following:

  • "Black/African" is usually identified as a monolithic racial category. But, genetically speaking, Africa is more diverse than the rest of the world combined. The latest scientific theories confirm that all Asians and Europeans are descendents of a small handful of tribes that emigrated from Africa (as opposed to the larger group that stayed within the continent). So if race was actually directly correlated with historical genetic divergence, we would probably identify ten or twelve distinct African races, one European race and one Asian/American race. Another way of framing this is that the genetic distance between members of any two widely separated African lineages is as great as the expected distance between an African and a European --potentially even larger.

  • The "black" American racial category (due to historical realities of slavery) is actually a wide mixture of many distinct African lineages as combined with an often significant (and occasionally even majority) European ancestry. Likewise, up to 30% of "white" Americans (typically without their knowledge) have enough African ancestry that they would have been legally been considered black in an earlier era.

  • In Britain, historically, "Irish" and "Welsh" were considered distinct (and often construed as inferior) races from "English," something hard to imagine for a modern American who sees "white" as a single category.

  • Also in America, groupings such as "Jewish" and "Middle Eastern" have sometimes been construed as "white" and sometimes not.

  • Again, in America, "Hispanic" is considered a racial category, although those in that category might have any given mixture of African, European or Native American DNA.

Just because race is a social construct, however, doesn't mean it lacks a substantive and consequential reality in our lives, or that it can be reconstructed at will. As philosopher Frantz Fanon described, race is at the center of a complex psychosocial matrix that can be difficult or impossible to escape. As a social construct, it gains power from the ability of the in-group to distance itself from unwanted traits by displacing them onto the outgroup. There's some justification for discerning commonalities in other situations with in-group/out-group power differentials. However, labeling all of these as "racism" seems like a questionable decision.

  • 1
    To put it another way, many people confuse "social concept" with mere "social concept" (with the latter implying this means it is somehow not "real" ; race is very much actual in the lives of many people regardless of its relation to biology and physics)
    – virmaior
    Jun 22 '16 at 23:58
  • Great answer. This article is good: 'Sorry, but the Irish were always ‘white’ (and so were Italians, Jews and so on)' washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/03/22/…
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 11 at 12:25

Biological differences are not a mere social construct, because plenty of evidence can be used to tie the perception of these differences not to "opinions", but rather the way our senses work. E.g. toddlers already recognize beautiful faces from less attractive ones.

OTOH it's possible to generate social beliefs around biological differences, which are opinions, but not necessarily true deciptions. An example would be to claim that members of group A always have [a negative characteristic]. This is stereotyping and a central cornerstone in practical racism. Because it causes people to be prejudiced against based on group characteristics.

It's about a bit both. Social constructions in the sense of biases that follow from quick stereotyping (all fat people are lazy). Something else based on psychobiological evidence on how our senses and brains discriminate things.

One should perhaps also question the concept of race, since it may allow multiple definitions. Then the question is too broad, since some definitions might be more social and some definitions might be more biological. Based on e.g. Merriam-Webster definition:

any one of the groups that humans are often divided into based on physical traits regarded as common among people of shared ancestry

For there to exist races would require that not all are inherited from the same ancestry. OTOH one would argue that this definition is too broad, if it assumes that racial differences must be determined from some (possibly hypothetical and not truly determinable) original ancestor.

One could also point out that "anti-racism" is also at least partly fueled by "designated" propaganda, which may be aimed to discredit racist beliefs, but which may not as such be "science-capable definitions". Such as lifting/modifying the argument that racial differences do not exist, because there's not enough variation:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/looking-in-the-cultural-mirror/201109/the-main-reason-races-don-t-exist (now this may be valid science as such, but it may be applied in biased ways)

But I find that it's fundamentally still a matter of definition.

It's also important to note that:

social races exist--though racial systems of classification differ from one culture to another--and form the basis for unequal treatment of differently categorized groups

I.e. the idea of social hierarchy changes.

  • "social races exist--though racial systems of classification differ" Seems like this is exactly saying race is a social construct. If society highlighted and added consequences to whether people had blue or brown eyes, you'd be saying 'eye colour differences are not just a mere social construct'.
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 16 at 9:35
  • @CriglCragl Yes, but a mere social construct is a meaningless classification, because it does not reference anything non-subjective and thus it can be arbitrary. Therefore for even the concept of race to be meaningful, it has to have some physical resemblance, or the concept is useless. It does have physical resemblance, but what it is is perhaps a matter of definition. So perhaps say, racial differences are not social constructs, but their social implications are. That makes the difference between treating people equally vs discriminatively.
    – mavavilj
    Jul 16 at 10:06
  • Is or is not money a social construct?
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 16 at 14:15
  • @CriglCragl The physical manifestation is not, but the value attributed to it is. Since it exists relative to e.g. wealth or ownership disparities and labour supply which are somewhat random. There's no fundamental reason why a package of spinach costs amount X. It's just socially agreed on that it costs that amount.
    – mavavilj
    Jul 16 at 14:43
  • So is race like bits of paper that is objectively determined, or is it about values we put on things like skin colour?
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 16 at 17:12

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