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Ethnicity and Race in Africa

Race In Africa, The Concept Of Ethnicity, Ethnicity Debates In Africa, Ethnic Experiments In Africa

There is an abiding paradox in the concept of race. It is a biological fiction but a social reality. Biologically it is now established beyond doubt that there are no distinct races among human beings and that the genetic variation within particular groups of people is much higher than between groups. The view that people possess inherent personality characteristics attached to particular irreducible phenotypes has been systematically discredited, yet the outward appearance of people still plays a profound social role in the manner in which different people relate to each other. These readily perceived phenotypical differences are often the bases upon which people construct social differences between themselves. Skin color is the most obvious of these differences. The apartheid (translates as "separateness") regime in South Africa represented the clearest possible expression of the political use of skin color to discriminate against blacks, by disenfranchising them, excluding them from the central institutions of the state, and by ensuring that they would be available as cheap labor in the mines, on the farms, and in the factories.

The instrumental use of race as a convenient means to attain political and economic goals was forcefully articulated by Oliver Cox when he insisted that race should be defined socially, not biologically, since it connotes social relations of exploitation between people and not biological differences. There is an ongoing debate about the origin of the concept of race and its adjuncts, racism and racialism. While some argue that these are concepts that are as old as humanity itself, others argue that they arose as a direct result of the modern era and are intimately connected to colonial conquest and the slave trade. Anthony Appiah has drawn an interesting distinction between racialism and racism. Racism refers to negative varieties of discrimination on the basis of an ideology that orders society into a hierarchy of supremacy and domination, where some people may see others as inherently inferior on the basis of an undefined racial essence. It has both an institutionalized form (for example, apartheid) and an interpersonal presence. Racism thus consists of the view that this unspecified racial essence translates into certain inherent, usually objectionable properties (such as laziness, filth, lack of punctuality, and so on) that justify treating people differently, usually unequally. On the other hand, racialism refers to the recognition of physical difference between people as being socially and psychologically significant in the sense that they share certain traits and characteristics, but without attaching any inherently inferior or superior characteristics to different people. Many argue that this position is debatable, suggesting that perceiving such differences almost invariably implies the acceptance of inequality between people.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ephemeris to Evolution - Historical Background